Some of us can’t remember the last time we weren’t at least a little tired. For people with insomnia, the reality of seemingly endless exhaustion is significantly worse. There are many reasons why a lot of people do not get enough sleep. For some, it’s working too many hours. Others, it may be due to the lifestyle they lead. And there are those who are fighting a different battle in the form of insomnia. Insomnia is a difficult enemy to fight and the best way to overcome it isn’t always clear. We know that we all are supposed to get enough sleep, but is the recommended amount six hours, or eight hours? Is it a one-size-fits-all situation, or can there be other factors that determine how much sleep a person needs? What if I don’t really like sheep and would rather count bears, or chinchillas? What’s a person to do? The answer actually seems to lie in medical marijuana.
We know that insomnia is the persistent difficulty of falling or staying asleep. But insomnia is commonly a symptom, not a disorder itself. So it might help to look at it two ways.
- Nasal/sinus allergies
- Depression or anxiety
- Neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease
- Endocrine problems such as hyperthyroidism
- Chronic pain
- Gastrointestinal problems such as acid reflux
- Lifestyle-related influences
For a lot of these, the cause is medical and that leads to the discomfort which then leads to the difficulty sleeping. So, treat the underlying problem, treat the insomnia, right?
While “lifestyle choices” as a cause of insomnia seems pretty clear cut (eat right, don’t drink too much alcohol, exercise regularly) other causes are a bit more tricky. For many of the conditions listed above, the medications can also cause insomnia. Some common prescription medications that list insomnia as a known side-effect are:
- Cold medicines and decongestants
Examples: Mucinex, Coricidin, Sudafed
- Steroids (both corticosteroids for inflammation, and anabolic for testosterone purposes)
Examples: hydrocortisone, prednisone; testosterone, androstenedione
- Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs, typically used as antidepressants)
Examples: Prozac, Zoloft
- Beta agonists and theophylline (usually used for asthma and COPD)
Example: albuterol inhalers
- Dopamine agonists (Used to treat Parkinson’s, in most cases)
Examples: Pramipexole, Ropinorole
- Appetite suppressants (most commonly used for weight loss)
Examples: phentermine, some amphetamines as well
- Psychostimulants and amphetamines (usually prescribed for ADD/ADHD)
Examples: Ritalin, Adderall, Benzadrine
- Anti-convulsants (for seizure disorders/epilepsy)
Examples: Carbamazepine, diazepam, gabapentin
- Blood pressure medications
Examples: Lisinopril, atenolol
- Diuretics (any medication that leads to increased urine production)
Examples: furosemide, caffeine
So… that’s a lot. And obviously your doctor prescribed you the medication for a reason, so don’t just stop taking the medication because you’re a sleepyhead. But is the answer just to take more medication? There’s an old joke where a guy goes into the doctor because he’s got a headache, so doc puts him on a headache medication, but then the medication for his headache causes nausea, so he’s put on a nausea medication, and then that medication for his nausea causes muscle spasms, and the medication for his muscle spasms causes insomnia, and the medication for the insomnia causes…headaches. So more medicine might not be the answer, but what do I know? I’m not a doctor.
No, but I am a writer with enough time to do research. And the research is pretty conclusive that medical marijuana has proven to be effective in treating insomnia.
A quick refresher on sleep: we go through sleep cycles about every 90 minutes while we’re asleep, and those cycles each include 5 stages. Most of us know about REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and non-REM sleep, but the non-REM sleep itself is broken down further based on our brains producing delta waves and other features of our breathing and heart rate. (Sleep itself is a fair bit more complicated than this, but for the purposes of this article this information should prove adequate. If you want more detailed information on sleep cycles and REM sleep, you can check out this article which breaks it all down pretty nicely.) A good way I’ve found to remember the difference in the two is to think about when my dog is sleeping, because I don’t know about you but while I don’t really watch humans sleep, I will stare at my dog lovingly while she snoozes and she’ll either be peaceful and still with slow and normal breathing, or taking rapid shallow breaths and I can see her face twitching a bit (sometimes her legs too as she chases the dream bunny, but that’s more in canine sleep than human sleep as far as twitchy kicking legs go). That’s the REM sleep.
And to answer a couple of earlier questions, the recommended amount of sleep depends on your age, but adults should aim for between seven and nine hours of sleep.
There are a few ways cannabis can help with sleep. With CBD, it has been found to improve alertness in those who experience excessive tiredness during the day from less-than restful sleep. Additionally, the effectiveness of cannabis in relieving pain, relaxing muscles, and reducing stress also helps the body sleep more restfully and helps the user to fall asleep more quickly on its own, which makes perfect sense when considering some of the causes of insomnia listed previously.
Some of the more common sleep medications, like Ambien, Lunesta, some benzodiazepines (though these are more commonly used for anxiety, some doctors will prescribe them for insomnia), or non-prescription melatonin can be accompanied by a hefty list of side-effects including headaches, hallucinations, anxiety, and light-headedness to name a few. Many of them, although helping you to fall asleep and/or stay asleep, carry over into the next day in the form of feeling groggy and tired instead of feeling well-rested, which is commonly reported by those who have used melatonin in an effort to avoid prescription medications. On top of that, there is always the additional risk of dependence on the medications which can lead to further complications including life-threatening withdrawal symptoms in some cases.
Aside from the conspiracy theories and anti-Big Pharma attitudes many have, another big selling point of turning to cannabis to help with sleep is that it is a natural solution to sleep problems with a significantly limited risk of dependency and markedly fewer undesirable side-effects, regardless of opinions on pharmaceutical companies.
While lifestyle changes like eating healthier and limiting processed foods along with exercise and stress-relieving activities like meditation are also proven to help people gain more restful, quality sleep, a lot of that is easier said than done. Utilizing cannabis to open the door to more restfulness and to fight off insomnia may be exactly what some of us need to start the day clear-headed and ready to make the small changes in our life that are holding us back from achieving our potential.