Marijuana and Sleep

Marijuana and sleep do not go hand in hand. While marijuana may help your body feel more relaxed, it decreases REM sleep and can lead to insomnia.

Last updated: March 12, 2019
Homeboy passed out on the couch

Not only is marijuana one of the most widely used drugs across the United States, but more and more states are starting to legalize the substance. While over 50% of American adults say that they have tried marijuana at least once in their lives, 35 million smoke at least once per month. With so many people smoking marijuana these days, you would think that there would be accurate information about the substance. However, this isn’t always the case. It’s true that more research is being done into marijuana, but one of the largest stereotypes remains: that marijuana helps you sleep.

How does marijuana affect my sleep?

Many people, including long-time marijuana users, claim that smoking marijuana helps them get to sleep. However, studies have shown that this isn’t quite the case. Before we get into the details, it’s important to note that there are three main strains of cannabis: indica, sativa, and a hybrid of the two. While some claim that the indica strain in particular helps them to sleep, there has been little research on the effects of specific strains of marijuana and sleep. However, there have been many studies conducted on marijuana in general and its effects on sleep, which are surprising to many.

Research has shown that long-time marijuana use can lead to insomnia. For many weed-smokers, this is the opposite of the desired effect. It’s true that sometimes, marijuana can make your body feel relaxed and even drowsy. However, research has shown that those who smoke marijuana daily have much higher rates of insomnia than those who don’t smoke at all. While there is not definitive proof of why marijuana increases insomnia, experts think that it may have to do with the links between marijuana and anxiety, which we talk about here.

In the past, researchers believed that marijuana helped aid sleep because the cannabinoids in the drug, mainly THC and CBD, bind to cannabinoid receptors in the brain. This does produce a calming effect on the body. However, more advanced research has shown that regular use of marijuana- especially for those under the age of 25- can affect the brain. Overall, the use of marijuana can hinder sleep quality rather than improve it.

How does marijuana affect the different stages of sleep?

Marijuana effects each sleep stage. There are five stages of sleep: stage 1, stage 2, stage 3, stage 4 (deep sleep), and stage 5 (REM sleep). The first four sleep stages are referred to as non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. Sleep is light during the first two stages, starts to get deeper in stage 3, is deep in stage 4, and is crucial during stage 5. REM sleep is when the body regenerates and dreams.

Marijuana tends to have a positive impact on stage 1 sleep because marijuana can help the body relax and fall asleep easily. While marijuana doesn’t seem to have any impact on stage 2 sleep, it can be beneficial to stage 3 and stage 4 sleep. This is because, during these phases of deep sleep, the body is likely still at ease do to the marijuana- unless it causes anxiety. However, the real problem comes in REM sleep. During this sleep phase, marijuana can have disastrous effects.

How does marijuana affect my dreaming?

Dream occurs during REM sleep. However, those who use marijuana regularly can suffer during this sleep phase. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that needs to be present in order for REM sleep, as well as dreaming, to occur. While the act of using marijuana causes dopamine to be released in the moment, use of marijuana over a long period of time has been linked to low levels of dopamine in the body. By abusing marijuana, you may be left with lower levels of dopamine in the striatum. This means that REM sleep is decreased in marijuana users and dreaming is much less likely to occur.

How does withdrawal from marijuana affect my sleep?

If you used marijuana regularly, your body likely developed a dependence on the substance. For this reason, you may experience worse sleep for the first few days after quitting marijuana. However, as time goes on, your sleep quality will improve. We asked people in our app to report on when their quality of sleep decreased on each milestone they reached:

Responses for decreased sleep quality

 MilestoneTotalYesPercent
 1 days205
89
43%
 2 days344
130
37%
 3 days392
135
34%
 4 days358
114
31%
 5 days382
128
33%
 6 days356
83
23%
 7 days471
111
23%
 10 days457
104
22%
 2 weeks473
86
18%
 3 weeks405
65
16%
 25 days363
69
19%
 1 months324
65
20%
 5 weeks286
65
22%
 6 weeks250
44
17%
 50 days247
41
16%
 2 months229
35
15%
 10 weeks184
35
19%

As you can see above, days 1-3 tend be reported as the worst.

When will my sleep quality start to improve in sobriety?

For those who used to use marijuana regularly, it’s fair to expect an adjustment period after getting sober. We also asked people to report when their quality of sleep improved on each milestone they reached:

Responses for improved sleep quality

 MilestoneTotalYesPercent
 1 days205
13
6%
 2 days344
54
15%
 3 days392
83
21%
 4 days358
95
26%
 5 days382
102
26%
 6 days356
124
34%
 7 days471
167
35%
 10 days457
194
42%
 2 weeks473
219
46%
 3 weeks405
211
52%
 25 days363
170
46%
 1 months324
182
56%
 5 weeks286
154
53%
 6 weeks250
152
60%
 50 days247
143
57%
 2 months229
133
58%
 10 weeks184
108
58%

Most people experienced their worst quality of sleep after three days sober. However, the majority of former marijuana users report that by two weeks sober, their sleep quality had improved drastically. And by 6 weeks, the percent of users that said their sleep improved peaked.

What are ways I can improve my sleep?

There are several ways that you can improve the quality of your sleep. For those in the process of getting sober from marijuana, it’s likely that you are experiencing poor sleep. However, take a few of these tips for better sleep and you’ll be amazed by the results:

  • Cut out caffeine after 3pm. If this doesn’t help aid sleep, cut out caffeine entirely.
  • Eliminate screen time before bed.
  • Stop napping.
  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Take a melatonin supplement.
  • Reduce alcohol consumption- especially before bed.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Meditate.

In all, marijuana may help your body feel more relaxed- and may even help you fall asleep faster- but it can drastically reduce the quality of your sleep. REM sleep is the most important sleep stage in order for your body to regenerate and for you to wake up feeling refreshed. However, regular marijuana users have very short REM sleep stages and oftentimes don’t dream at all. If your body goes without proper REM sleep for too long, you can experience irritability, dehydration, and depression. You can also be at a higher risk for becoming obese or developing diseases like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. If you are an avid marijuana user and feel as though your sleep quality is decreasing, don’t worry. You aren’t alone. Many others have been where you are and have taken back control of their lives by getting sober. It’s not an easy road, but it’s a rewarding one- and we are here to help.

Resources:

Count Your Days Clean From marijuana

Staying clean and sober from our addictions is difficult. One way you can get a little extra support and motivation is by using a sobriety tracker. I Am Sober is free to download, and you can get it for your iPhone or Android device.

Sobriety, one day at a time.

Download the app today!