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Once I'm asleep, I sleep like I'm dead—I can't be roused by vacuuming, hurricanes, or all three of my morning workout alarms. It's getting to sleep that's the problem. Talk to me all you want about too much blue light and screen time, but even on the nights when I read from a real book, I'm still tossing and turning for at least an hour before I eventually fade out.
My trouble falling asleep has never been a major problem. But when I recently learned that nearly 60 percent of people taking cannabidiol—better known as CBD, one of the over 80 compounds found in the marijuana plant—are doing it to help with sleep, I was intrigued. (That stat's according to a survey conducted by Brightfield Group and HelloMD, an online community that brings doctors and cannabis patients together.)
Though it's derived from marijuana, CBD doesn't contain any psychoactive elements like pot. “What CBD does is help balance our endocannabinoid system, the main job of which is to keep our body in homeostasis,” says Aimée Gould Shunney, a licensed naturopathic doctor at Santa Cruz Integrative Medicine. In addition to affecting the receptors in our brain that impact our stress response, mood, inflammation, and pain, Shunney says, “it also prevents our major endocannabinoid, which is called anandamide, from being broken down—and when we have plenty of our own endocannabinoids circulating, not only are we not going to respond as much to a stress, but we're going to return to baseline faster, so it's like a recovery system.” (Related: The Best Health and Wellness CBD Products)
That's why it's being increasingly used as a sleep aid, she says. “The major reason why most people don't sleep is because they're stressed out, they're anxious, they can't shut their brain off,” she explains. “What CBD does is calm down your body's stress response and bring those cortisol and adrenaline levels back to baseline.” Science is scant, but what studies we do have back that up: CBD may increase the amount of time you sleep, according to an animal study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, and improve insomnia, research in the journal Current Psychiatry Reports found.
It's also safe to take up to 1,500 milligrams of CBD, according to a study published in Neurotherapeutics, which means there's not much risk—and maybe a fair amount to gain—in dosing yourself before bed. So over the course of two weeks, I experimented with four different kinds of CBD to see how it would affect my sleep. I took each one at the same time each night and each type for three nights. Here's what went down:
1. Plus CBD Oil Drops
The first product I tried was Plus CBD Oil Drops ($42; pluscbdoil.com). One serving—about half a dropper—contains 5mg. “Taking drops has the benefit of sublingual absorption, which means you're going to feel it a little faster than a pill, maybe in 15 or 30 minutes,” says Shunney. I did feel sleepy about 45 minutes after taking it (the last time I checked my phone) but I'm pretty sure I was still awake a while longer. I did sleep soundly, with some groggy effects when I woke up. The next two nights, I doubled my dosage (to 10mg) but I didn't fall asleep any faster.
2. Alchemist Kitchen Plant Alchemy Gel Caps
When I took the CBD in pill form—I tried Alchemist Kitchen's soon-to-be-released gel caps with 25mg of CBD and 1mg of melatonin—I definitely noticed the difference. “If you're swallowing a pill, I wouldn't expect you to feel all that much for 45 to 60 minutes,” says Shunney. And right around 45 minutes, I felt my whole body downshift into a lower stress gear. It was actually so obvious that I stopped reading and thought, “Huh, I must be relaxed now!” I'm not sure if it was the extra milligrams of CBD, the addition of melatonin, or just a superior formula, but I felt like I drifted off to sleep slightly earlier than when I took the drops.
3. CBD Sleep Syrup
A syrup is also absorbed sublingually, and I took Shunney's advice of swishing CBD Living's Sleep Aid ($26; cbdlivingwater.com) around my mouth for a minute before swallowing to promote absorption. One tablespoon contains 15mg of CBD plus 2mg of melatonin, and the cherry flavor tasted like Nyquil, which I kind of liked. Again, I could feel the effects of the CBD working through my system after about 40 minutes or so, but I didn't think I actually fell completely asleep any early than the other nights. (Related: Will Melatonin Really Help You Sleep Better?)
4. CBD Sleepy Z's Edibles
Greenish Route's CBD Sleepy Z's ($14; greenishroute.com) contained the most CBD at 30mg, plus 2mg of melatonin, and they came in gummy form, which I enjoyed because I'm 12 at heart. But I actually liked this product the least. I know they didn't contain actual marijuana, but it sure tasted like they did, and I hated having that lingering in my mouth (even after brushing my teeth). And it definitely didn't put me to sleep faster; on one night, I was tossing and turning until almost 1 a.m. Not ideal.
The Bottom Line
I was expecting CBD to work like a sleeping pill, in that it would put me to sleep almost instantly. It did not do that. And while it didn't seem to have any wild effects on how long it took me to get to sleep, the quality of my pre-sleep bedtime was way more relaxed than that of the week before, when I would lie awake thinking about deadlines, to-dos, and the way I really wish I had responded to that text. (Did I mention I'm Type A?)
“There's a certain level of individualized dosing with this ingredient, which makes it challenging,” says Shunney. “And think about the dynamic balance our bodies have with how we're responding to stress all the time; it's going to vary from person to person.” The reality is, it can take one person 15 minutes to feel the effects of CBD and another person 70 minutes. And it'll involve a fair amount of trial and error to figure out what dosage is right for you.
Maybe if I had stuck with one type of CBD for the whole two weeks, my body would have become more adjusted to it and I would have noticed more dramatic effects. While it was certainly relaxing (most nights), it wasn't a miracle sleep aid. If my struggle to fall asleep ever became a more serious problem, I'd probably head to a doctor to talk dosages and other options. But in the meantime, I'll be using it on those stress-y kind of nights that require a literal chill pill before bed.