After a long week of work commitments, wrangling kids, and slogging through the daily commute, most of us feel simultaneously overtired and wired - and more and more North Americans are opting for a few tokes to ease the transition from work-mode to dreamland.
But a herbal nightcap has a more complicated effect on shut-eye than you might realize: here are 5 ways cannabis impacts sleep.
1. Nod off faster
A lot of what we know about the effects of THC on sleep comes from a 1973 study. "THC was found to significantly decrease the time it takes to fall asleep in physically healthy insomniacs," according to lead authors Kenneth Cousens and Alberto DiMascio at Napa State University. "The THC tended to be associated with some decrease in awakenings in the first half of the night." A more recent study of a small group of male cannabis smokers linked cannabis use with less difficulty falling asleep - but also the need for "more daytime sleep the following day." So while you might fall asleep faster after a puff, heavier users might also experience next-day grogginess.
2. Plays well with other herbal remedies
Terpenes are aromatic essential oils that interact with cannabinoids to create a strain's signature high. While cannabis can contain hundreds of different terpenes, some, like alpha bisabolol and linalool are also found in other herbal sleep aids like chamomile and lavender. Pairing the terpenes in your cannabis with additional, sleep-inducing herbs can, according to some experts, produce powerful synergistic effects. Drinking chamomile tea, busting out lavender essential oil, or taking melatonin, 5-HTP, or valerian root supplements may also help improve your sleep quality according to Leafly.
3. Indicas rule
More consumers are learning the differences between indicas and sativas: generally, indicas offer more chilled-out, sleepy effects, while sativas are more uplifting and cerebral. Top-rated indicas for insomnia include Bubba Kush and Northern Lights, which are best "smoked by medical marijuana patients in the late evening or even right before bed," according to The Weed Blog. A too-high dose of any strain, however, can have the opposite effect: try smoking out of a one-hitter or chillum to moderate your dose. If you're unaccustomed to cannabis, smoking an hour or two before bed gives the effects time to mellow out.
4. Inhibits dreaming
While cannabis can amplify creativity during waking hours, it can silence your subconscious when it's time to hit the hay: most long-term users report a reduction in the frequency and intensity of the dreams they're able to remember. "Marijuana reduces REM sleep, thus greatly reducing the occurrence of dreaming," according to the Colorado Pot Guide. "Though we are unsure why, it is possible that this is because of marijuana's tendency to blunt dopamine response. Dopamine, which is responsible for directing our attention, also plays a valuable role during sleep by creating dreams (and helping you pay attention to them)." So if you love the ability to dream in technicolor, you may want to take a tolerance break. While brings us to our next point...
5. Time your tolerance breaks
If you've relied for a while on cannabis to help you drift off, cutting out the habit entirely can wreak havoc on your sleep cycle. According to one 2008 study which tracked the sleep patterns of heavy marijuana users after a period of abstinence, "up to 76% of those who abruptly stop using marijuana report disturbed sleep (strange dreams, insomnia, poor sleep quality." While a tolerance break can be a great idea, you'll want to time it so that it doesn't coincide with other, important obligations that require you to get sufficient shut-eye.