Why the Quality of Your Sleep Matters
“…The innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care,
The death of each day's life, sore labor's bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,
Chief nourisher in life's feast.”
This extraordinary passage from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, spoken in regret by the play’s murderous protagonist after he has committed the first of his horrifying crimes - he fears he has murdered sleep itself, as well as his victims – is literature’s most beautiful evocation of the sacred importance of sleep in our lives. Sleep rebuilds our minds, soothes our pain, nourishes our souls. Without it, we are incomplete.
According to the UK’s National Health Service, “Regular poor sleep puts you at risk of serious medical conditions, including obesity, coronary heart disease and diabetes – and it shortens your life expectancy.” A RAND Europe study estimates the cost to US productivity as a result of lost sleep to be over $400 billion, and in excess of a million American workdays. Sleep deprivation hits our bodies and our wallets equally hard.
Sleep should come easily – when we’re tired, we’re tired – but the reality of our modern busy lives is that circumstances often seem to conspire to make it close to impossible. In addition to illness, sleep disorders and medications, stress and anxiety can regularly threaten this ‘balm of hurt minds’, and deny us the relief from the discomfort these conditions have themselves brought about.
The Mechanisms of Sleep
In healthy sleep, our rest is divided into four repeating stages: three of NREM (non-rapid eye movement) and one of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. The third stage of NREM sleep is our deepest, and is crucial to the efficient recuperation of our entire being. This stage is followed by the intense dream-state of the REM phase, during which our bodies are temporarily paralyzed, and brain activity markedly increases. The bulk of our REM sleep occurs later in the night, through to wakefulness, and can be vivid enough to make crossing the threshold into the start of the day as confusing as it is often unwelcome (it’s as if the early morning dream state is preparing us for the busy day ahead with some gymnastic mental rehearsals of its own).
The Case for Cannabis in Restful Sleep
The cannabis plant, Cannabis sativa L., contains two important cannabinoids called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound that creates the ‘high’, and cannabidiol (CBD), which triggers positive responses in the body without the high (or the other potential side effects of THC, such as paranoia or anxiety). Because of the efficaciousness of these compounds in treating both physical and emotional distress, cannabis relaxes the user and helps them more easily drift into normal, healthy sleep. Its cannabinoids also trigger the release of the ‘sleep chemical’ adenosine, which suppresses the brain’s arousal system and promotes that luxurious feeling of sleepiness we all crave when desiring rest.
However, there is evidence to suggest that at higher doses, THC and CBD may have contrary effects, with THC acting more as a stimulant, and CBD triggering an even deeper sleepiness. THC is believed to reduce the duration of REM sleep cycles, within which we experience our most intense dreams, and also process the mental data flow of our daily lives. This would appear to benefit sufferers of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), for whom dreams often become nightmares. But because our REM cycles are also important in regulating our immune systems, and maintaining healthy cognition, a balance must be struck between appropriate dosage and desired benefits.
The same is true for CBD, which in some users producers a stimulant effect at low doses (which may make it suitable for the treatment of conditions such as Excessive Daytime Sleepiness Disorder). Does all this seem confusingly counterintuitive? The key is to start with moderate doses, and journal your feelings daily about the different ways in which your mind and body respond. As little as 25mg of CBD oil a day, taken orally as a tincture, chewed as a gummy, or smoked as a vape, can have a noticeable effect on the quality of our sleep.
When used judiciously, and with patience, cannabis may indeed knit up the raveled sleeves of our worry, and thus protect us from the murderous disruption of restlessness and insomnia.
Cannabis and Pain Management
Are you interested in learning about how cannabis is used in pain management? You can find listen to a LabAroma podcast episode about it here.