The popularity of CBD oil is booming. In addition to helping with chronic pain and anxiety disorders, the oil is claimed to improve insomnia and sleep disturbances caused by various conditions. But is the use of CBD oil as a sleep aid backed by science? And what’s the best way to take it? Read below to find out.
What Is CBD Oil?
CBD oil is a therapeutic oil made from the cannabis compound cannabidiol or CBD. It’s usually derived from hemp (not marijuana) and unlike THC, it won’t get you high.
The only FDA-approved use of CBD oil is for reducing epileptic seizures. However, many people take CBD oil for other investigational, non-proven uses .
Although CBD oil is most commonly used for chronic pain and anxiety, ~25% of the 1,483 people who reported that they used CBD oil for a medical condition responded that they used it for insomnia and other sleep disorders in an online survey .
According to another study on almost 100 people using medical marijuana for sleep disorders, most preferred CBD- over THC-rich varieties. This was especially the case in people with insomnia, taking longer to fall asleep, or using marijuana frequently .
CBD Oil for Better Sleep: Does It Work?
Cues from Studies in Healthy People
A series of small clinical trials from the 70s on 40 healthy people given CBD found increased drowsiness as an occasional side effect [4+].
A moderate dose had no effect on the sleep-wake cycle in a recent clinical trial on 27 healthy people, but twice this dose promoted sleepiness in another trial on 11 people [5, 6].
In contrast, low doses of CBD suppressed the sleep-promoting effect of THC in a clinical trial on 8 healthy people .
Hints from Early Animal Studies
In an old study in rats, injected CBD increased the duration of the highly restorative deep sleep and reduced wakefulness after 5 hours but had no effect on REM sleep .
In a longer study (48 hours), CBD increased total sleep at various dosages. At high doses, it also increased deep sleep. But there’s a downside: giving the rats high doses during daytime increased their REM sleep latency – the time it takes to go into the dreaming phase of sleep .
Other studies in rats found that CBD promoted wakefulness.
Moderate IV doses at the start of the day increased levels of the wake-promoting neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the brain. Acetylcholine and its cholinergic activity also enhance cognition and learning .
What’s more, direct CBD injections into the brain reduced the duration of REM and deep sleep and promoted the buildup of adenosine and dopamine in two wake-inducing brain regions (lateral hypothalamus and dorsal raphe nuclei) [11, 12, 13, 14].
Comparison to THC
THC reduces REM sleep. But unlike CBD, it triggers a fuzzy high and impairs sleep quality in the long run. This might explain why heavy marijuana-smokers rarely dream. But when they stop marijuana, they often have vivid, strange dreams [15, 16, 17].
Different Doses, Opposing Effects
Because its effects on the sleep-wake cycle greatly vary with the dose and timing, CBD has been proposed to have a biphasic effect: that is, low doses promote wakefulness while higher doses increase sleep [18+].
Circadian Rhythm Dominance
Here’s another extraordinary fact: the effects of CBD may be dependant on your circadian rhythm.
More precisely, the 24h light/dark cycle (so-called diurnal rhythm) directly affects the activity of your cannabinoid receptors. This might explain why CBD promotes sleep later in the day, but energizes you in the morning. Scientists first discovered this link in 2017 and have yet to look into it in more detail .
Benefits for Insomnia
Few studies have looked at CBD’s benefits for insomnia, while more focused on its anti-anxiety effects. However, many people with anxiety suffer from insomnia. If you’re one of them, you’re likely to get the most out of CBD oil .
In a small trial from the 80s on 15 people with insomnia, CBD improved sleep quality and reduced dream recall, suggesting the participants got more restorative deep sleep over REM [4+].
In a large 2019 case series on 72 people with anxiety and sleep disorders, lower-dose CBD capsules improved sleep quality in 2 out of 3 people. However, the effect on sleep disorders was not sustained over time; CBD was more effective for anxiety than sleep disorders in the long-term .
Another recent study used a mobile app to track over 1k people in the US with insomnia who use medical marijuana. They discovered that people who use CBD-rich strains sleep better than those who use strains high in THC. Both groups experienced similar side effects .
To sum up, the evidence to support the benefits of CBD in people with insomnia due to anxiety is promising but insufficient. Further clinical research is needed to confirm these preliminary results.
Sleep Issues from Other Health Conditions
CBD oil is most commonly used for chronic pain and anxiety, which are often accompanied by poor sleep. Most CBD clinical studies investigated sleep disorders as a secondary issue. We’ll dive into these studies to uncover additional cues about CBD’s sleep-enhancing potential [16+, 22+].
Insufficient Evidence for Insomnia from:
Severe epilepsy is often accompanied by reduced sleep quality due to seizures. In 3 studies on over 200 children with treatment-resistant epilepsy, CBD-enriched cannabis preparations helped the children sleep better in ~50% of cases [23, 24, 25].
Although promising, the evidence to support the benefits of CBD oil in sleep disturbances caused by epilepsy is insufficient. More trials testing CBD alone are needed.
A range of traumatic experiences can lead to PTSD in some people. PTSD is tightly linked with insomnia, anxiety, and changes in REM sleep. In 2 studies, 9 out of 22 people said they slept better after taking CBD oil as an add-on therapy [26, 27].
In rats with PTSD, CBD preserved normal REM sleep but failed to affect other measures of sleep. It probably works by reducing the anxiety component of PTSD, which helps some people get decent sleep .
A small clinical trial and a study in rats cannot be considered sufficient evidence that CBD oil helps with insomnia from PTSD. Further clinical research is required.
REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) is a frequent symptom of early Parkinson’s disease. People with other neurological disorders such as dementia are also more likely to suffer from it [29+, 30].
People with this condition physically act out their vivid dreams and nightmares, often in a violent manner. They move their limbs, shriek, or even get up to engage in activities while the dream is taking place. The body should normally be paralyzed during REM sleep – the dreaming phase – but this starts to backfire in people with RBD .
CBD reduced agitation, aggressiveness, and nightmares during REM sleep in 4 people with Parkinson’s disease and RBD [29+].
In another trial on 6 people with Parkinson’s, CBD oil greatly improved sleep disturbances. According to a questionnaire, it also helped reduce psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations and delusions [31+].
The evidence backing the beneficial effects of CBD oil in insomnia caused by Parkinson’s disease is very limited. Larger, more robust trials should confirm these preliminary findings.
Fragile X Syndrome
Fragile X syndrome is a genetic condition that causes intellectual disability, but it can also result in sleep disorders. In 3 people with this syndrome, oral CBD-enriched solutions reduced anxiety and improved sleep quality. This limited evidence is, however, insufficient to claim that CBD oil helps with sleep disturbances due to this syndrome .
Lack of Evidence for:
Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder, which unpredictably causes breathing to stop at times during sleep. It strongly reduces sleep quality. Although CBD oil is sometimes recommended for this condition, only synthetic THC called dronabinol has been tested for this purpose. Dronabinol reduced apnea and improved sleep quality in 3 clinical trials on over 100 people [33, 34, 35].
Because there are no trials testing CBD, there is no evidence that CBD oil improves sleep apnea.
Possibly Ineffective for Insomnia from:
Although many people use medical cannabis and even CBD oil for sleep disturbances due to the following conditions, the purported benefits seem to be mostly due to THC or only observed if CBD is combined with this cannabinoid.
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, neurodegenerative disease. It causes nerve pain, involuntary muscle contraction, and bladder issues, all of which also reduce sleep quality. In 8 trials on almost 1.5k people with multiple sclerosis, cannabis-based medicines combining THC and CBD in different proportions reduced sleep disturbances. Conversely, both CBD and THC alone were ineffective [36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43].
Chronic pain reduces sleep quality. In 5 clinical trials on over 800 people with chronic pain – from nerve injury, repeated nerve cell stimulation, and diabetes – different cannabis preparations improved sleep quality. However, those containing only THC or a combination of THC and CBD were more effective than CBD alone [44, 45, 46, 47, 48].
Complex Movement Disorders
Complex movement disorders are an umbrella term for all conditions with abnormal movements and postures. Such movement disorders are mostly caused by brain injury (especially brain palsy) and strongly reduce a person’s quality of life [49+].
Medical cannabis preparations improved many symptoms of these disorders, including sleep problems, in a clinical trial on 25 children. However, those with the highest CBD-to-THC content were the least effective [49+].
In 2 studies on over 100 people with IBD, cannabis (both oils and joints) improved sleep quality. However, the effects were reduced by over 50% in people smoking joints from THC-free flowers [50, 51].
Want to Learn More?
If you’re curious about CBD, read about its 24 potential health benefits in this post.
CBD Oil Dosage for Sleep
Because CBD oil is not approved for sleep disturbances, there is no official dose. Users and supplement manufacturers have established unofficial doses based on their experience.
The most effective doses to improve sleep quality in clinical trials depended on the condition:
- Insomnia: 25-175 mg/day [4, 20]
- Chronic pain: 15-120 mg/day (combined with THC) [39, 46+, 48+]
- Epilepsy: 0.5-28.6 mg/kg per day [23, 25]
- PTSD: 25-100 mg/day (adults) and 12-25 mg/day (children) [26, 27]
- Parkinson’s disease: 75-400 mg/day [29+, 31+]
- Complex movement disorders: 6-18 mg/day (combined with THC) [49+]
- Fragile X syndrome: 32-64 mg/day 
CBD oil is generally safe. In healthy people, only extremely high doses have been reported to cause unwanted drowsiness (about 600 mg/day). Overall, CBD may promote wakefulness at low doses (15 mg/day) in people without sleep issues [6, 7].
Consult with your doctor before using CBD oil for insomnia and never take it in place of what your doctor recommends or prescribes. Your doctor may recommend a starting dose based on your weight and health condition. If you tolerate CBD oil well, you may increase the dosage gradually until you achieve the desired effect.
How to Use & When to Take
CBD oil comes in different forms:
- Oil tinctures
- Capsules and tablets
- Mouth sprays
- Gummies and lollipops
- Vaping oil
Your form of choice may depend on your sleeping patterns. Vaping, mouth sprays, and oil tinctures are absorbed more quickly and may be a good choice if you take a long time to fall asleep.
In contrast, capsules, gummies, lollipops, and teas release the CBD more slowly and may help you sleep longer and without interruption.
Whatever form you choose, manufacturers often recommend taking CBD oil one hour before going to sleep.
Best CBD Oil for Sleep
In addition to choosing a CBD oil adjusted to your budget (you may want to calculate the price per mL to compare different brands), you should also evaluate the product quality. Here are some parameters to take into account:
- Hemp cultivation: be sure to investigate the conditions in which the hemp plants were grown to reduce your exposure to heavy metals and pesticides.
- Extraction method: some manufacturers extract and process the oil with toxic solvents such as propane and butane. Instead, choose those using safer methods such as alcohol, carbon dioxide, or cold-pressed extraction.
- Independent testing: CBD oils tested by third-party laboratories are more likely to be safe and meet quality standards.
- CBD content: make sure that the oil contains enough CBD. The CBD content should be clearly stated on the label. If you want to avoid unwanted effects of THC or drug tests are part of your daily life, choose one with little or no THC.
- Flavor: some CBD oils have added flavors such as vanilla, mint, or cinnamon to make them more appealing. Others are flavor-free. Choose the one you prefer.
- Company reputation: do your homework and investigate the company to make sure it’s a reputable seller.
- Legality: Unlike marijuana-derived products, hemp-derived CBD oil is legal in all US states and in many countries around the world. Go for CBD oil from hemp to stay on the safe side and read through this post to make sure you’re not breaking any regulations.
The opinions expressed in this section are solely those of CBD oil users who may or may not have medical or scientific training. Their reviews do not represent the opinions of SelfHacked. SelfHacked does not endorse any specific product, service, or treatment.
Do not consider user experiences as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare providers because of something you have read on SelfHacked. We understand that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified healthcare provider.
There are no CBD oil products specifically formulated as sleep aids. Still, many people take CBD oil to improve insomnia and other sleep disturbances. They were generally satisfied and reported good results.
In some cases, the users complained that the oil didn’t work for them. Adverse effects reported in negative reviews included upset digestion, dry mouth, headaches, and fatigue. Depending on the brand, some users complained about its high price or poor customer service.
CBD Oil Side Effects
Overall, CBD oil is exceptionally safe and side effects are rare. However, keep in mind that it’s an insufficiently researched supplement with a relatively unknown safety profile. The list of side effects below is, therefore, not a definite one. You should consult your doctor about other potential side effects based on your health condition and possible drug or supplement interactions.
In a survey on over 700 people using CBD for different medical conditions, the adverse effects most commonly reported were :
- Dry mouth
- Red eyes
Additionally, CBD may add to the effect of drugs that reduce inflammation and anxiety. It blocks a liver enzyme that breaks down many drugs (CYP2C19) and may increase their effects in the body [52, 53].
Talk to your doctor about your intention to use CBD oil if you’re on prescription drugs. He or she may need to readjust the dosage of the medication you’re taking.
CBD oil may calm your mind without getting you high or making you overly drowsy. Preliminary research suggests it helps with a range of sleep disorders, from insomnia to sleep issues caused by other health conditions.
However, CBD oil may be best at reducing anxiety. It may also improve sleep quality, but its sleep-promoting effects may wane with time. People suffering from both anxiety and sleep problems may benefit from it the most. You may take it a couple of hours before bed and start with a lower dosage.