People are more likely to experience sleep problems when they use marijuana, especially if they smoke it frequently. Researchers looked at the data from a large study conducted over eight years and found that cannabis users were 70 percent more likely to have trouble sleeping than those who don’t use marijuana.
Most of us need around eight hours of sleep each night to prevent feeling like a zombie at work the following day. While some individuals use coffee to stay awake throughout the day, others use cannabis to help them sleep.
Now, a large-scale research on the effects of cannabis on sleep length and quality has cast doubt on the drug’s reputation as a good pre-sleep option.
The US National Health and Nutrition Examination Study (NHANES), a cross-sectional survey sponsored by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), included information on cannabis usage and sleep duration for 21,729 persons (CDC).
The authors of the current study, lead by University of Toronto academics in Canada, aimed to see whether there was a link between recent cannabis usage and sleep length in a nationally representative sample of Americans. Participants were asked to provide information on their age, race, sex, post-secondary education, average weekly hours worked, and other health-related factors.
Short sleep was defined as fewer than 6 hours on average weeknights or worknights, while lengthy sleep was defined as more than 9 hours on average weeknights or worknights.
The poll also included questions regarding sleep quality, such as trouble getting asleep, staying asleep, sleeping too much in the previous two weeks, and if individuals had sought medical advice about sleeping problems.
Participants were classified as ‘users’ if they had used cannabis in the previous 30 days, which accounted for 3,132 persons, or 14.5 percent of those polled. These users were then divided into two groups based on how many times they had smoked in the previous 30 days:’moderate usage,’ which was fewer than 20 times, and ‘heavy use,’ which was more than 20 times.
After controlling for any confounding variables, cannabis users were 34 percent more likely than non-users to report sleeping less than 6 hours per night, and 56 percent more likely to report sleeping more than 9 hours.
Recent cannabis users were also more likely to have trouble falling asleep, remaining asleep, sleeping too much, and having ever informed a doctor about sleeping issues in the previous two weeks. Cannabis use, on the other hand, was not linked to excessive daytime drowsiness.
“We found a probable exposure-response association between frequency of use and sleep length; heavy users were at the highest risk of both extremities of nightly sleep duration when compared to non-users,” the researchers wrote.
“We can only guess that these results are attributable to an undiscovered effect of recurrent cannabis exposure alone or are a reflection of other underlying sociodemographic or health characteristics based on our cross-sectional studies.”
Previous research on the usefulness of cannabis as a sleeping aid has had conflicting results, with some studies indicating that even a single cannabis exposure may shorten sleep-onset latency, increase total sleep length, and result in reduced interruption while asleep.
“Despite sleeplessness being one of the most often claimed causes for self-medication with cannabis or cannabinoids, as documented in a previous systematic review, the evidence base is generally inconsistent and of low quality,” the authors write.
Overall, the researchers sought to see whether there was a link between recent cannabis usage and sleep difficulties, particularly now that it’s becoming more readily accessible. They believe that prolonged administration of the medicine may cause the body to acquire used to it, resulting in more sleep disturbance.
The researchers caution that there is still a lot we don’t know about how cannabis and its many chemicals impact our sleep.
They add, “A deeper knowledge of endocannabinoid-mediated sleep effects might influence the formulation of treatment recommendations to target improved long-term health outcomes at the patient and community levels.”
Sleep deprivation has become a serious public health problem in the United States, with just two-thirds of the population getting the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep each night and over half of American adults suffering daytime drowsiness on a daily basis.
Furthermore, since the early 2000s, more widespread legalization and decriminalization of cannabis in the United States and Canada has resulted in a considerable uptake, with 45 million reported users in 2019.
“Inadequate sleep is a rising public health concern in the contemporary world, and sleep disorders may be a key risk factor for cannabis use,” the authors warn.
“This may perpetuate cycles of increasing cannabis use, progressive sleep disruptions, and abrupt cessation leading to withdrawal, which may have further deleterious consequences on sleep architecture and quality,” says the study.