November 10, 2020
As I've written quite a bit about in the past, there's a whole heckuva lot you can do to give your body a little extra nudge in the sleep and recovery direction: acupuncture, cryotherapy, prolotherapy, vibration therapy, compression, magnets, kinesiotape, foam rolling, electrostimulation, photobiomodulation, PEMF therapy, inversion, enzymes, magnesium, etc.—all of which I've used (and written about in articles like this) for rapidly increasing my time to recovery.
However, because I know my body was designed with its very own built-in nighttime recovery system that goes leaps and bounds beyond any fancy biohack, supplement, or recovery protocol that requires me to spend hours rolling around on the floor with a chunk of foam every day, there's something I prioritize far more than everything I just mentioned…
Arguably the most important and effective tool you have for physical and mental recovery, getting your “eight hours” is paramount to feeling, looking, and performing your best. But for so many people, sleep is viewed as more of a luxury (or as a confusing obstacle they just can't seem to properly figure out) than an essential daily process.
So in today's article, you'll discover some of the devastating effects poor sleep can have on your body, how your endocannabinoid system (ECS) fits into the sleep equation, how to support your ECS with food, herbs, and potent supplements, where CBD fits in, and much more.
Effects of Sleep Deprivation
In this age of social media, rapid communication, and the exponential growth of technology, instant gratification is at the forefront of our cultural and personal desires. Sleep often takes a backseat to a night out with friends, work, scrolling through Instagram feeds, and late-night workout sessions.
And for those who do realize the importance of rest and recovery, achieving consistent and adequate levels of deep sleep can become a fleeting and daunting task in which you seek and utilize more impactful tools to knock yourself out for the night, cross your fingers, and hope that when you wake up your sleep tracking device will tell you that “You done good!”
At the forefront of what can affect your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep are stress and anxiety. Moreover, a lack of sleep will further push your mind and body into a state of anxiety and tension…and the cycle continues. When sleep suffers, you lose your overall sense of balance in your personal life, career, and social life. Sleep deprivation has been shown in study after study to result in a host of general negative health effects, including…
- Impaired brain function…
- Greater risk of obesity and diabetes (impaired glucose sensitivity and craving unhealthy foods)…
- Increased pro-inflammatory cytokines, which impair immune function, muscle recovery, and repair from damage…
- Minimized growth hormone, increased cortisol (stress hormone) secretion…
- Imbalances in autonomic nervous system, similar to what we would see in overtrained athletes, and…
- Altered pain perception.
Then there are the deleterious effects in athletic performance, including decreased…
- Sub-maximal strength…
- Running performance…
- Muscle glycogen concentration…
- Time to exhaustion…
- Isokinetic torque…
- Minute ventilation…
- Distance covered…
- Sprint times…
- And more.
It's clear to see that by neglecting sleep, you're hindering your body's essential processes for recovery that reinforce peak performance as well as short- and long-term health. I won't get too into the weeds in terms of the negative effects of sleep deprivation because I've covered it extensively in my article “The Last Resource On Sleep You’ll Ever Need: Ben Greenfield’s Ultimate Guide To Napping, Jet Lag, Sleep Cycles, Insomnia, Sleep Food, Sleep Supplements, Exercise Before Bed & Much, Much More!“, but I will mention one last interesting tidbit of information regarding sleep deprivation…
…do you remember the disaster at Three Mile Island? Chernobyl? The gas leak at Bhopal? The Zeebrugge ferry accident? The Exxon Valdez oil spill? If you do a little research, you’ll find that these, and many other major industrial disasters, have all been directly linked to sleep deprivation. I cover that pretty extensively in my new book Boundless if you want to take a deeper dive.
Get the picture now? Sleep. Is. Important.
How Your Endocannabinoid System Works
Spanning your brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells there lies a brilliant system known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The main function of the ECS is to maintain a state of homeostasis and balance within your body.
A chemical-signaling system that senses disruptions or certain input from your environment, your ECS reacts by releasing compounds within your body known as endocannabinoids (endo meaning created from inside).
To illustrate how these endocannabinoids work in your body, imagine you are hiking in the forest on a beautiful day and you stop to grab your phone to snap a picture. You hold your phone out in front of you to grab a selfie, look at the screen, and a large black bear decides to photobomb the picture. Your body is instantly flooded with stress hormones as part of its fight or flight response.
As you come face to face with this threat, your body temperature rapidly increases, adrenaline courses through your veins, blood rushes to your limbs, pupils dilate, all of your energy stores move away from digestion, and your body leaves its state of relaxation and enters a state of protection and defense—which has been hardwired into your nervous system for hundreds of thousands of years. You are now ready to avoid becoming bear food at all costs.
Now that you've escaped (assuming you are fit and have been training for this exact scenario), your body recognizes the threat is no longer present and begins to release endocannabinoids, which then bind to receptors found in nearly every cell in your body, initiating an excitatory or relaxatory effect on various organs and physiological systems. In this case, it’s now time for your body to return back to its healthy state of relaxation, recovery, and growth. Your ECS begins to release hormones and neurotransmitters to slowly reduce your heart rate, calm your nervous system, and bring you back to a sense of safety as you return to your typical state.
Now, do you understand just how crucial your ECS is to preparing your body for R&R?
Assuming you are fueling your body with proper nutrients and are not experiencing consistent levels of excess stress and inflammation, your ECS should do its job with relative ease. When this isn't the case, ECS deficiencies have been shown to be the root cause of everything from migraines to fibromyalgia to IBS and other related conditions with common clinical, biochemical, and pathophysiological patterns.
Your ECS assists your body in balancing or regulating everything from stress to pain management to hormone production to appetite to bone growth to fertility to memory, to—you guessed it, sleep. While the word “cannabinoid” may remind you of the term “cannabis,” don’t fret, smoking a joint isn’t required to ensure an optimized ECS.
How To Support Your Endocannabinoid System
There are many natural ways to support your ECS, including consuming certain foods and supplements, as well as avoiding certain ECS-disrupting compounds.
Proper omega 6 to omega 3 ratios, chocolate, and various herbs can all support ECS function.
For example, as you probably already know, omega 6:3 ratios are way out of wack for most people, with an ideal ratio being 1:1. (The typical omega 6:3 ratio of a Western dieter can be up to 40:1!) A healthy omega 6:3 ratio has been shown to enhance the activity of the ECS, and with such high omega-6 intake in the standard American diet, omega-3 fatty acids are needed to balance the ratio and ensure proper ECS function. Animal sources of omega-3s, such as fatty fish, grass-fed meats, and pastured eggs are your best bet, but hemp seeds and hemp oil, flax seeds or flax oil, chia seeds, walnuts, or a good fish oil supplement are good options as well.
In addition, certain foods, like chocolate (hooray!), actually contain compounds very similar to cannabinoids, with darker chocolates or raw cacao having the highest concentrations of these compounds. These compounds within cacao can actually increase endocannabinoid levels by inhibiting their breakdown. Tea Plant, or camelia sinensis, also contains a compound that prevents the breakdown of endocannabinoids. Black pepper, lemon balm, hops, cloves, oregano, and cinnamon all contain the terpene beta-caryophyllene, which has recently been identified as a natural selective agonist of the cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2). Turmeric has also been shown to raise endocannabinoid levels.
Perhaps more important than what you should consume, is what you should avoid. Pesticides are known ECS disrupters. (Add this to the ever-growing list of reasons to eat organic.) Phthalates, often used in personal care products and plastics, are known hormone disruptors that may contribute to certain types of cancers, reproductive toxicity, sperm damage, altered genital development in boys, infertility, testicular dysgenesis, obesity, endocrine system issues, and fibroids…and unfortunately, they are also known to block cannabinoid receptors. Alcohol, when used in moderate to high quantities, can also impair your ECS.
To summarize: Aim for a 1:1 omega-6 to 3 ratio; consume primarily animal sources of omega-3s; add black pepper, lemon balm, hops, cloves, oregano, cinnamon, and turmeric to your diet whenever possible; treat yourself to some dark chocolate or cacao; avoid pesticides and phthalates, and use alcohol sparingly to support your ECS.
Nature's Most Perfect Endocannabinoid System-Supporting Molecule
Nothing works on your ECS quite like cannabidiol (CBD) oil. There are two distinct mechanisms or pathways of action via which CBD elicits its positive effects towards improving sleep, reducing anxiety and fear, improving mood, and minimizing pain and excess inflammation so you can rest and recover.
The first pathway is through the optimization of the ECS via indirect stimulation of the cannabinoid receptors. The second pathway is via serotonergic pathways, as studies show CBD to be an agonist of the serotonin receptor.
The ECS contains two receptors known as CB1 and CB2. Surprisingly, CBD itself does not directly bind to either of these receptors. Instead, it allows one of the primary endocannabinoids (anandamide) to remain at cannabinoid receptor sites for longer periods of time, thereby increasing its effect on the body. CBD does this by inhibiting the production of the FAAH enzyme, which is responsible for the breakdown of anandamide.
One fascinating study showed that after 14 days of CBD administration, anti-anxiety effects were seen in response to chronic unpredictable stress (CUS).
“CBD had decreased FAAH levels and prevented behavior effects caused by CUS probably due to facilitation of endocannabinoid neurotransmission and consequent CB1/CB2 receptors activation, which could recruit intracellular/synaptic proteins involved in neurogenesis and dendritic remodeling.”
With regard to the serotonergic pathway, CBD was found to act as a modest affinity agonist at the 5-HT1a receptor (serotonin), binding in a similar fashion as serotonin. CBD was able to “relieve pain-induced anxiety-like behavior specifically through 5-HT1a receptor-mediated mechanisms.” This particular study displayed the anti-anxiety effect of CBD to be mediated by 5-HT receptors and not CB1 cannabinoid receptors as shown in previous models.
So how does this all relate to sleep?
Anxiety is one of the main factors leading to insomnia and other sleep-related issues, and while the specific mechanism for how CBD improves sleep is not fully understood, its effects on reducing anxiety and learned fear expression are attributed at least in part to mediation by serotonin receptors and indirect action through cannabinoid receptors via prolonged binding and action of endocannabinoid. CBD has been shown to significantly reduce anxiety as well as cognitive impairment and discomfort in speech performance.
While sleep quality might be a highly complex area of study, achieving deep, restorative sleep is most easily obtained by simplifying your life and your habits.
Complicating your supplement protocols and overanalyzing your nighttime eating habits and techniques for relaxation can actually be counterproductive for hitting the hay faster, deeper, and longer.
Sure, there's plenty you can glean from comprehensive sleep protocols, supplement regimens, and newfangled biohacking devices like the ones I've covered in previous articles:
- The Last Resource On Sleep You’ll Ever Need: Ben Greenfield’s Ultimate Guide To Napping, Jet Lag, Sleep Cycles, Insomnia, Sleep Food, Sleep Supplements, Exercise Before Bed & Much, Much More!
- Deep Sleep Decoded: Everything You Need To Know To Increase Your Deep Sleep Percentages.
- My Latest Sleep Biohacks, Habits, Routines, Rituals, Longevity Tips, Parenting Strategies, Spiritual Disciplines & More!
But simple strategies such as the ones I've recommended in more recent articles…
- Sabbath Ramblings: Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep (5 Key Principles For A Good Night’s Rest).
- 10-3-2-1-0: Five Numbers To Remember For Lulling Yourself Into A Deep, Restorative Slumber (Without Fancy Biohacks Or Supplements).
…are just as, if not more, effective for those of you who thrive in simplicity.
This includes simple ECS supporting strategies I've discussed in this article, such as increasing your omega-3 intake, munching on cacao nibs, drinking some comforting tea, or supplementing with CBD.
I've tried a ton of CBD supplements over the years, but for deep, restorative sleep, nothing beats Element Health’s Full-Spectrum CBD Oils. They've been a complete game-changer for me for minimizing stress and anxiety, managing excess inflammation, improving focus and overall mood, and most importantly—supporting adequate levels of deep sleep. Element Health’s oils are handcrafted on small family farms, using nutrient-dense soil and meticulous growing and extraction techniques. They aren't the only high-quality CBD out there, and there are others that I've used for focus, inflammation, taking the edge off THC, etc., but particularly for sleep, I've personally found the Element products to be at the top of the totem pole.
I use their “Maximum Strength” formula, which you can get here and save 15% when you use code BEN15. It has an exceptionally concentrated amount of cannabinoids and a powerful terpene profile which is very effective for maximizing deep sleep. Regarding dosage, in most studies, you'll see anywhere from 10-800 mg of CBD used, but as is the case with most supplements, everyone reacts differently, and you'll likely need to experiment with a dosage range that works for you.
Oh, and when it comes to CBD, full-spectrum is important because it contains not only cannabidiol, but a host of other plant compounds from the hemp plant including other powerful cannabinoids, plant terpenes, and essential oils. This whole-plant extract form has been found to produce greater overall health benefits than CBD in its isolated form.
Want to learn more about CBD?
Check out my podcast with Element Health founder Adam Wenguer, “The Official CBD FAQ: Everything You’ve Always Wanted To Know About CBD, Combining Psychedelics With Cannabinoids, Smokeable Ayahuasca, Microdosing With Plant Medicine & Much More!,” in which you'll discover:
- The difference between full-spectrum CBD, broad-spectrum CBD, CBD isolate, and other forms of CBD…
- How CBD is extracted, and which method is best…
- How to decide between vaping vs. edibles vs. oils vs. capsules vs. soft gels, etc…
- What to stack CBD with…
- Whether the time of day you use CBD matters…
- How CBD interacts with your serotonin receptors…
- How the endocannabinoid system works with fertility…
- And much more!
What about you? Have you had any success with natural remedies for supporting your endocannabinoid system? Leave your thoughts, comments, or questions below, and I'll respond!
7 thoughts on “CBD For Sleep: Why Your Endocannabinoid System Is A Notoriously Unaddressed Key To Optimizing Sleep (And Methods For Supporting It Naturally).”
Hi Ben – you’re a big inspiration brother, I appreciate your work.
My question is, does smoking marijuana provide some of these sleep-aiding effects also? I’ve heard people say yes and no to this, you might have addressed this already – apologies if I missed it. If that’s the case a link to that article would be much appreciated!
Referencing Ben’s interview on Rogan, he mentions THC being useful for falling asleep quicker but having the disadvantage of reducing deep sleep which is the most important part of sleep. So he said a good strategy would be b4 bed to vape (or smoke) THC so it hits you quick (say 15mins) but only lasts a couple of hours. Also b4 bed take CBD oil orally which will take a couple of hrs to take effect, but last several hours after that. CBD boosts deep sleep so as the THC is wearing off the CBD kicks in. CBD counters effects of THC so the absorption offset works well.
But if you’re just smoking it, perhaps try to choose a high CBD strain.
Great reply! One of the main issue with providing a concrete answer regarding THC for sleep is that 1) there have been limited studies done. 2) there are many different strains of cannabis with different effects and 3) there are so many mental, physical and psychological factors that affect quality of sleep that cannabis is somewhat of a mixed bag in terms of the specific effects.
Higher THC cannabis has been documented to reduce the time it takes for individuals to fall asleep while also reducing the amount of time in REM sleep. THC is a partial agonist to cannabinoid receptors while CBD elicits its effects on the ECS by allow our body’s own cannabinoids to bind for longer at these receptor sites.
For me – the anti-anxiety effects that have been demonstrated from CBD supplementation by ECS optimization and simultaneously being an agonist of the 5-HT1a receptor make it a better choice for improving sleep quality. I do think that THC is very useful for reducing the intensity of dreams which sometimes causes individuals to wake and feel like they didn’t get restful sleep.
Also keep in mind – dosage makes a huge difference. As I explained on Ben’s podcast about CBD, I do use my own CBD almost every night in moderate doses (or high if I really need to crash hard) but I also enjoy using a very small amount of THC orally.
More and more studies are being done now that CBD has become a mainstream supplement and THC is becoming legalized all over the US.
What is the best time to take full spectrum CBD for sleep? In the morning, early afternoon, or closer to bed? I’m trying it for the first time and would like a consistent schedule to optimize its sleep benefits.
My question also. My personal experience of taking a regular CBD supplement has me figuring the answer might be that it doesn’t matter too much as the effect becomes cumulative; but for often being carried in oil i would figure have it near some fats in my diet which is supported by something glanced through in a linked article here. Look forwards to any other reply on your question.
Great questions Jeremy and Alex,
I always recommend that our CBD drops be administered under the tongue (sublingual). I personally leave it there for over a minute before washing it down. While you are correct that for maximum effectiveness it is recommended to use daily/consistently, keep in mind there is also an acute effect which was discussed in this article and on the recent CBD podcast.
We do use Organic Hemp Seed oil as a carrier oil, which I prefer way more than MCT. Still, I do try to take the CBD after a meal containing dietary fat. If I end up having a early dinner, say 6 or 7pm but I don’t plan to head to sleep till 10/11ish, I will wait to take the CBD. 30 minutes before jumping in bed is ideal in my experience. Always Sublingual.
Thank you Adam for this detailed response from your experience.
I’ll look over the article again and look out the CBD podcast. And i’ll definitely give a go the CBD half hour before bed – is already for myself a commitment to have eaten dinner before 7 and bed 10/11 so will try this.