An increasing number of people are talking up cannabinoids as an effective pathway toward better sleep. CBD, CBN, and THC are the three most studied cannabinoids and they all have an effect on sleep.
In the case of CBD, it’s more that its ability to relieve pain and anxiety facilitates sleep. CBN and THC, however, both have sedative effects. Especially when combined.
THC seems to play the most active role in helping people to sleep. Even so, it turns out there can be a rather unsavory THC and REM sleep connection.
What Are The Stages of Sleep?
When you shut your eyes and lay your head to sleep, it may seem like not much is happening. But sleep studies show that a full cycle of sleep contains two different kinds of sleep. Non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep has four different stages that move you from light to deep sleep. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, by contrast, is an entirely separate stage from NREM.
Here are the differences and how cannabis impacts them:
Light Sleep (Stages 1 and 2 NREM)
Stages 1 and 2 of NREM sleep are considered light sleep, but are the gateways to the deeper sleep that comes with stages 3 and 4. Light sleep changes nervous system activity, hormones, and brain waves.
Dreaming and cognitive processing start to occur in stage 1 while stage 2 marks the emergence of sleep spindles. Sleep spindles help the brain create space for new information by transferring memories. Throughout the night, we move in and out of light sleep.
Using cannabis tends to lengthen stages 1 and 2, while shortening sleep latency. This means cannabis can help you fall asleep faster too. What hasn’t been fully determined is whether elongating these early sleep stages has a positive impact on the brain.
Deep Sleep (Stages 3 and 4 NREM)
Deep sleep, also known as slow-wave sleep, is when the body engages in some seriously restorative work. During stages 3 and 4 of slow-wave sleep, the body has a chance to repair cells and tissue, strengthen the immune system, and contribute to some memory processing.
Things get even hazier when it comes to the impact of cannabis on slow-wave or deep sleep. Some studies show it decreases or has little impact on it, while others say it increases it. And as far as the studies that show an increase, it’s difficult to say whether it’s a long-term phenomenon.
It is during the rapid eye movement stage of sleeping that we do our most active dreaming. It’s also the time when the brain consolidates acquired information while processing memories and emotional experiences.
REM sleep is important because it’s during this time that brain wipes the slate clean. It helps to prepare the brain for all of the cognitive and emotional activity that occurs during our waking lives.
At this stage of research, it appears that THC reduces the levels of REM sleep. And the higher the potency, the larger the impact. Suppressing REM sleep forces the brain to backlog its intended work. Thus, when people use a lot of THC to sleep and then stop, the brain has to ‘make up’ for lost time and dreams can be particularly vivid.
There is a bright side though. For folks who suffer with disruptive dreams as a result of PTSD or REM Sleep Behavior Disorder, this ability to suppress REM sleep has been a therapeutic tool.
So there IS a silver lining.
More Research Needed to Understand the THC and REM Sleep Connection
As with the whole cannabis and sleep connection, the THC and REM sleep relationship is complex. There’s still so much research that needs to be conducted. As more states legalize cannabis, that research is bound to happen.
In the meantime, for more informative articles on all things cannabis, keep checking back with our blog.
And if you’re a cannabis business owner and your current marketing strategy is putting people to sleep, it’s time to contact us. We know how to make you shine in this saturated market.