CBD, Terpenes & Insomnia

August 16, 2022

CBD, Terpenes & Insomnia

It's no secret that insomnia is a widespread problem in the United States. According to the National Sleep Foundation, roughly 40 million Americans report struggling with insomnia annually, with ten percent reporting chronic insomnia. Whatever the cause of the disorder, the effects of insomnia can be serious, leading to fatigue, poor concentration or even depression.

Fortunately, there are a number of options in the fight against insomnia. One of the most recent and promising prospects in the treatment of its symptoms and related conditions is the supplementary use of natural cannabis compounds like cannabidiol (CBD) and terpenes to complement conventional courses of treatment.

What are CBD and terpenes?

CBD is one of the two primary cannabinoids found in cannabis plants. Unlike the more well-known tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD doesn’t cause the psychoactive effects associated with marijuana use. Instead, CBD has been shown to have a range of potential health benefits, including anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and anxiolytic effects.

As more research is conducted on CBD, it’s increasingly well-documented as a viable supplement to conventional therapies for a variety of health issues. This in turn has drawn the interest of consumers from practically all walks of life; from workers in skilled trades to athletes and celebrities. CBD is available in several practical formats, including edible gummies and infused salves.

Terpenes are organic compounds produced by virtually all plants in nature. They are the building blocks of essential oils, giving fruits, flowers, herbs and spices their characteristic flavor and aroma profiles. Some terpenes act as attractants for pollinators, while others repel herbivores, pests and parasites. Some terpenes even have antibacterial or antifungal properties, protecting plants from diseases.

Outside of nature, terpenes are used in perfumery, bath products and even fine dining. Terpenes are currently being studied for their own therapeutic potential, with researchers looking into their possible applications in the treatment of everything from muscle spasms to mood disorders.

Aside from common physiological conditions with physical symptoms, there are numerous forms of sleep dysfunction whose severity can be reduced by cannabinoids and terpenes. In this post, we examine insomnia in particular; from its root causes to how CBD and terpenes can help to treat typical symptoms associated with it.

Common Causes of Insomnia

There are many different causes of insomnia, but some of the most common include stress, anxiety, adverse reactions to medication, and existing medical conditions. Stress can be caused by a variety of factors, including work, finances, family matters and personal relationships. Anxiety can also be a major cause of insomnia; this may be due to general anxiety (GAD), social anxiety (SAD) or anxiety about specific things, such as highly consequential upcoming events like job interviews.

Both prescription and over-the-counter medications can also cause insomnia. For decades, sleep dysfunction has been listed as a common side effect of a variety of drugs including decongestants, beta blockers and antidepressants.

By far the most common root causes of insomnia are existing medical conditions, which can affect how individuals sleep as well as how they react to conventional sleep aids. Medical conditions that can significantly affect an individual’s susceptibility to insomnia include:

  • Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is a neurological disorder that causes an overwhelming urge to move the legs. This urge is often accompanied by uncomfortable sensations, such as tingling, cramping, or crawling. Onsets of RLS can occur at any time, but it’s most commonly experienced at night when trying to sleep.

  • Sleep Apnea is another common disorder that can lead to insomnia. Sleep apnea typically manifests as repeated interruptions to a person's breathing during sleep. This can also cause loud snoring and other disruptive symptoms. Sleep apnea can be particularly dangerous because it leads to poor sleep quality from repeatedly waking up, and may significantly impact daytime productivity. 

  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is a condition in which stomach acid flows back up into the esophagus. This can cause heartburn, chest pain, and other symptoms. GERD can also lead to insomnia. When stomach acid flows back up into the esophagus, it can irritate the lining of the esophagus and cause a burning sensation. This can make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep.

How Cannabinoids & Terpenes Can Help

The therapeutic potential of cannabinoids is primarily derived from their interactions on and within the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which plays a large role in important physiological functions ranging from the regulation of mood to the release of endorphins. CBD’s modulatory influence on the ECS can affect the nervous system’s sensitivity and response to melatonin — or what’s commonly called the “sleep hormone” — to normalize and promote healthy sleep-wake cycles.

Terpenes don’t interact directly with the ECS, instead complementing the effects of cannabinoids in a synergistic interaction known as the Entourage Effect. The most notable example of terpene-cannabinoid entourage effects is the documented ability of the terpene myrcene to lower resistance across the blood-brain barrier, allowing for better absorption of cannabinoids like CBD in the brain. Other terpenes like pinene and citronellol can increase skin permeability, allowing better absorption of cannabinoid-infused topicals that can relieve chronic pain and inflammatory conditions contributing to bouts of insomnia.

Another complement to using CBD for sleep is a technology researched by NASA scientists that has since taken off as a wildly popular bio-hacking tool; this is known as red light therapy and has proven benefits of markedly improved sleep quality for many people.

There’s no shortage of natural solutions to sleep disorders like insomnia. However, it’s always best for individuals to consult with their physicians before supplementing with CBD or terpenes, or starting on red light therapy. Proper consultation ensures no potential conflicts with current prescriptions, dietary and supplement regimens, thereby keeping the risk of side effects low.

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