Sleep is a crucial human act, and its disruption can seriously affect health. So, getting a good night's sleep is the foundation of healthy life. Sadly, many of us go without this essential requirement. According to the NHS, over 30% of the UK suffers from poor sleep. A survey, undertaken at the end of 2020 by Anxiety UK revealed that of the 1200 participants, 63% were going without restorative sleep regularly. Only 3% said they had never experienced poor sleep. In the US, 50 to 70 million adults are affected by a sleep disorder.
In Europe, chronic Insomnia afflicts more than 10% of the European population and is the most frequent sleep disorder, according to European Sleep Research Society. 39% of Japanese consumers said that 'difficulty sleeping' is the primary physical effect of stress Source: Rakuten Insight
The knock-on effects of this are considerably more than just feeling tired. Chronic lack of quality Sleep has been shown to put you at higher risk of brain fog, high blood pressure, depleted immunity, weight gain, depression & anxiety, diabetes, heart disease, low sex drive and more! And to compound the issue, the Sleep Foundation found that sleepy workers who get 6 hours of sleep or less a night are 70% more likely to be involved in an accident. Taking all this into account, it's no wonder that the global sleep aids market size was valued at USD 78.72 billion in 2022.
Fortunately, we know that some of the most popular sleep supplements are cannabinoid-based. According to a study performed by CBD guru Dr Julie Moltke, 42.5% of CBD consumers use CBD products as a sleep aid (only coming an extremely close second to self-perceived anxiety at 42.6%). And, of course, CBD is not the only compound from Cannabis known for encouraging better sleep. In countries where legal (the US and Canada), CBN and THC are favoured as sleep aids by many and somnolescent terpenes, such as Myrcene.
To begin with, everyone is different, and every human body is distinct. So, naturally, the amount of sleep we need can vary dramatically from person to person. However, looking at a few recent studies, real-world and recommendations from the sleep foundation can provide insights into some averages to look out for, but first, let us look at the stages of sleep.
Stage 1, ‘wakefulness sleep’ – lasts 1-5 minutes – This is when you’re falling asleep and throughout the night when you’re most easily disturbed.
Stage 2, ‘light sleep’ – last 10-60 minutes – Brain waves show a new pattern, and eye movement stops. Your breathing slows, and your muscles relax.
Stage 3, ‘deep sleep’ – (NREM/Slow-Wave Sleep (SWS), Delta Sleep, Deep Sleep) – lasts 20 – 40 minutes – The stage when muscle tone, pulse, and breathing rate all decrease and your brain falls into a pattern of' delta waves. Many experts believe that this stage is critical to restorative sleep, allowing for physical recovery and growth and is potentially the most beneficial period of rest.
Stage 4 ‘REM sleep’ – last 10 – 60 minutes – When you experience temporary paralysis of the muscles, apart from eyes and the muscles that control breathing. This is when we have our most vivid dreams due to increased brain activity. This stage is believed to be essential to cognitive functions like memory, learning, and creativity.
A real word example from WHOOP, which is a health and fitness wearable that provides insight into recovery, strain, and sleep for consumers who like to track things. The middle 50% of all WHOOP members average 7 hours per night, and the following per night was the breakdown:
• 3:28-3:59 of Light Sleep (44-51%)
• 1:44-2:00 of REM sleep (22-26%)
• 1:23-1:32 of Deep Sleep (17-20%)
• 0:43-0:50 Awake (9-11%)
The sleep foundation recommends that most adults aim for seven to nine hours of sleep, and 13% and 23% of that time should be in a deep sleep. Please keep in mind that sleep stage scoring, even when done in a lab, is not an exact science. The sleep experts conducting them only agree about 80% of the time!
Cannabis appears to improve sleep in some instances, especially for people with certain conditions such as chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), restless legs syndrome and multiple sclerosis.
So, let’s look at how cannabinoids promote better sleep to help you decide which to include in your new formulations for the best results.
First, it's probably worth addressing that although around 50–60% of cannabis users report using the plant for sleep improvement, there is a widespread belief that cannabis use (particularly chronic, high-THC cannabis use) can hinder sleep. However, the truth appears to be less black and white.
Some evidence suggests that even in low doses, THC use supports the body in stages 1, 2, and 3 but can reduce REM sleep. Again, the results are mixed, and it seems to come down to getting the dose just right (as with almost all cannabinoid applications!).
There are several ways in which CBD might support restorative sleep without altering ‘sleep architecture’ like THC.
Serotonin Boost: The CBD molecule activates serotonin receptors, providing a boost of this essential neurotransmitter which is vital for sleep. Without healthy serotonin levels, your body cannot create melatonin (a natural hormone that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle).
Stress/anxiety Relief: Stress and anxiety prevent sleep due to the excessive release of cortisol into the bloodstream and a trigger fight or flight response. When in survival mode, the body is alert and ready to go! Not ready to sleep. Taking CBD can help with this, as it supports the endocannabinoid system in the synthesis and release of endocannabinoid Anandamide, which acts as a gatekeeper for stress. When appropriate levels of Anandamide are present in the brain, the fight or flight response is less likely to be unnecessarily set off. THC can also help here, as this molecule mimics Anandamide and fits into those receptors like the lock and key mechanism.
But getting the dose right is imperative! While 15mg of CBD has been shown to be alerting, a large retrospective case series at a psychiatric clinic found that 160mg, 300mg - 600mg appear to make you sleepy and increase sleep duration. In addition, after a month of CBD treatment, 79.2% and 66.7% of all patients experienced an improvement in anxiety and sleep, respectively.
Interestingly, some research suggests that administering CBD and THC together can be problematic for sleep. This is because at lower doses (15mg) CBD can have ‘wake-promoting’ properties, which may cancel out the sedative effects of equal amounts of THC.
CBN has risen to fame for its supposed ability to help with sleep problems in lower doses than CBD – appealing to consumers and brands. However, despite its popularity, there’s little evidence to suggest CBN helps with sleep! It’s anecdotal mainly or from studies which combine CBN with THC, in which case it’s highly likely THC is having the effects, not CBN. So, until there are more studies to say otherwise, these products might be popular thanks to rumours, but maybe not all that effective – unless adjunctive ingredients, such as THC and certain terpenes, like Myrcene, are also in the mix.
After saying all that, we have seen some good results when lower doses of CBD, THC and CBN have been combined with a quality terpene profile. In addition, some preliminary studies have been conducted with sleep clinics to test the blend.
Consumers will look for more products that support sleep health, knowing that sleep impacts overall health, notably the immune system and mental health. First, the pandemic has driven many consumers to look for convenient and functional solutions to benefit their longer-term physical, psychological and emotional health, and now we have the cost-of-living crisis causing sleepless nights
No region in the globe is sleeping enough, and with the vital benefits of nutrition on better sleep, developing more products that offer sleep benefits is a product opportunity.
Want to discuss developing a cannabinoid-based sleep aid that works? Or maybe you would like to see a private North American study involving sleeping Soft-gels pills that combined THC, CBD and CBN; please get in touch with us.
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