People report problems getting to sleep, and then terrible nightmares once they doze off. Here, a couple of experts give their advice.
Throughout the pandemic, cannabis has been the most popular and most frequently used drug, according to research by Drugs and Me. In fact, in a survey from April of last year, 49 percent of participants reported daily usage, and 88 percent consumed it once a week or more often.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, cannabis was the drug most participants felt dependent on (31 percent) and wanted to stop taking (27 percent). But for those who rely on cannabis as a sleep aid, this can prove near impossible: research from 2008 found that up to 65 percent of former cannabis users identified poor sleep as a reason for relapsing
Cannabidiol or CBD is a compound found in cannabis, for a long time believed to actually have the same effects as weed. However, CBD oil doesn’t contain the active compound THC, so it won’t make you high.
Instead, CBD oil is supposed to help you fall asleep, and for that reason, it is often used in cases of anxiety, depression, insomnia, and other sleep disorders.
But, because the studies on the effects of CBD oil are scarce, it is often seen as a codependent substance promoted as an alternative to weed. Most people who quit smoking marijuana tend to turn to cannabidiol.
Cannabidiol is not only believed to help you fall asleep but also to have several (serious) side effects, which include diarrhea, digestion problems, excessive appetite, drastic changes in weight, lack of physical activity, etc.
Michael*, a sales manager living in South Africa, has felt dependant on cannabis to get to sleep for the last decade. “When I take a break from smoking, I literally can’t sleep,” he says. “I will lie up until two or three o’clock in the morning – it’s almost like my mind won’t stop racing.”
This is a genuine psychological and physiological reality, says Deirdre Conroy, Clinical Director of Behavioral Sleep Medicine at the University of Michigan, and is mostly caused by the withdrawal symptoms from quitting cannabis.
So: if you’re looking to ditch the spliffs without forfeiting a good night’s sleep, what can you do?
Get to the Root of the Problem
According to Conroy, if it’s actually a mental health issue preventing you from being able to fall asleep, you should address that straight away. “If, for example, you were addressing your anxiety through other methods, like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or medication, those things could help you sleep,” she says.
Obviously, professional help isn’t always accessible. That’s why it’s important to be mindful and set boundaries throughout the day, especially if you’re working from home. “Try not to work from your bedroom and, if you have to, try to face away from the bed. You should also have a concrete cut-off point for your working day.”
It also helps to write down all of your worries a few hours before bed, to avoid bringing them with you, says Conroy.
Forget About Instant Gratification
Importantly, says Conroy, “it’s normal if you have to stare at the ceiling for a little bit before you sleep”. We often expect to fall asleep as soon as our head hits the pillow, and if we can’t, we crave a quick remedy.
Our brains can’t switch off on demand, so it’s important to commit to a nightly “wind-down period”. Here, says sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley, we should limit distractions and avoid anything too stimulating. Practically, Conroy suggests putting down your phone a little while before bed, “and definitely keep it on silent”.
You should also leave enough time to actually wind down. As Stanley says, “Are you willing to miss an hour of Netflix, in order to get a better night’s sleep?” (You should be.)
Prepare for Bad Dreams
Many people report suffering from extremely vivid and scary dreams when they stop smoking cannabis. This happens because cannabis can account for REM sleep suppression, says Conroy. “So, when you stop smoking, you will experience a rebound of REM sleep and may have more bizarre dreams.”
London-based journalist Sarah* has smoked almost every day for the last couple of years, since finding that cannabis helped quell her anxiety and ADHD. The main obstacle to quitting for Sarah is, without weed, she is “plagued by traumatic nightmares nearly every night”.
To remedy this, Conroy suggests limiting your exposure to anything you find stressful before bed, be it horror movies or the daily news cycle.
Find What Works for You
“Somebody once said: one man’s torture is another’s pleasure,” says Stanley. “There’s no point in drinking chamomile tea if you don’t like chamomile tea.”
Nobody is the same, and both Conroy and Stanley believe that the best method of getting to sleep will be the one you enjoy. “So whether it’s reading a book, mindfulness, yoga, chamomile tea, listening to Pink Floyd really loudly, I don’t care,” says Stanley, “as long as you stick to it.”
7 Best Methods For Falling Asleep Without Weed
1. Physical Activity like Running
Studies have shown that regular physical activity and exercise can help your brain establish a regular and healthy circadian rhythm, which regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Physical activity is one of the most common ways to battle insomnia and sleeping disorders, whether you’re a stoner or not. Not to mention that it helps you undo all the ‘damage’ weed has done to your brain, meaning that physical activity improves cognitive function, and helps your body relax on its own. Chances are you thought that relaxation only comes with weed consumption, so this might be important information for you.
Note: We recommend you try running, or if you’re on the more ‘chill’ side, you can try yoga or Tai Chi. Regardless of which physical activity or exercise you choose, it will surely help you better your mood and a little sweat will signal to your brain that it needs to rest, hence fall asleep.
Alongside all these benefits, physical activity will also decrease chances you become anxious and depressed after you halt cannabis consumption, which is also good to know.
2. Nice And Clean Sleeping Environment
People tend to neglect the importance of a fresh and clean sleeping environment when they discuss sleeping problems. Of course, you may not see the connection between stopping weed consumption and clean bedsheets, but listen out. The place where you sleep needs to be clean, fresh, and comfortable enough so the chances of you getting agitated and irritated are slim. Because you’re struggling with falling asleep, as well as weed withdrawal symptoms, a comfortable and clean sleeping place will only help you out and calm you down. It might also help your brain induce sleep, increase melatonin production, and act as a stress relief.
On the other hand, if you don’t really change your sheets regularly, you don’t clean the bedroom or don’t open windows for some fresh air, you’ll have a hard time falling asleep with or without weed. So, establish a cleaning routine for your bedroom, and keep it clean and comfortable. Think to yourself; is this a place where I want to sleep or where I would let a guest sleep? If the answer is ‘yes’ then you’re doing good. If the answer is ‘no’ then you should do some cleaning.
3. Healthy Nutrition
Let’s be honest; using cannabis often ends up in munchies (and not the healthy kind).
Studies have shown that cannabis users tend to have a more carb, fat, and processed-based diet, which might later cause trouble with their health and weight. So, now that you’ve stopped using weed, it is time to treat your body with the nutrition it deserves. You should be aiming at the food that naturally encourages melatonin production and helps your brain induce sleep.
Note: We recommend you increase your fruit intake (bananas, watermelon, figs, avocado, cherries) as it acts as a natural source of melatonin as well as magnesium and other sleep-inducing compounds.
Moreover, it also increases your veggie intake (kale, spinach) as it is full of necessary vitamins, amino acids, and of course, melatonin. When it comes to other food groups, you should also increase the consumption of nuts, white meat, dark chocolate, or even popcorn, as all of them are natural sources of serotonin, melatonin, and magnesium.
4. Establishing A Sleeping Routine
By establishing a sleeping routine, you’re increasing your chances of actually falling or staying asleep. Because there is no cannabis now to dictate your sleep-wake cycle, you have to do it yourself. What we recommend is the following;
- Take a warm bath or shower – studies from NIH have shown that by taking a warm bath or shower before bedtime, you’re brain is more likely to produce more melatonin and induce sleep. Because there is a change in the body temperature during and after taking a warm shower, your body temperature lowers as the water evaporates. At this point, your body reaches the temperature it needs to induce sleep. Moreover, you will feel generally more relaxed and calm after a warm shower, which should put you at peace and ready to visit the land of Nod.
- Avoid bedtime stimulation – this means that you should stop working at least two hours before bedtime, as well as not watch TV or scroll Instagram on your phone. Excessive exposure to blue light before bedtime decreases your chances of falling asleep. Your brain receives this as a signal to stay awake, increases stress levels, and becomes fully engaged and stimulated. To avoid this from happening, put your phone, laptop, computer, or TV away, and rather read a book before bedtime.
- Listen to some music – now, we’ve recommended you stay away from the phones, gadgets, and monitors overall before bedtime. However, if you have a player, a radio, or anything that can play music for you, utilize it to help you fall asleep. Classical music, for example, is said to help you calm down and improve your sleep quality. Studies, in general, have confirmed that soothing, relaxing, and peaceful music affect the nervous system and helps you not only fall but also stay asleep and will ensure you don’t wake up frequently during the night.
5. Establishing A Sleeping Routine
Now that you’ve quit cannabis, you shouldn’t be turning to other sleep-inducing drugs. However, it is believed that melatonin supplements are excellent in cases where people quit cannabis and now experience withdrawal symptoms and sleep disturbances. Your brain produces melatonin on its own, however, after you’ve been using cannabis, there may have been certain changes in the amount of melatonin produced.
So, now that there is no THC to induce sleep, the brain needs some assistance, possibly in the form of melatonin supplements.
Note: Of course, before you do go for melatonin supplements, make sure to consult a medical professional, explain your case, and see what they think about supplementation for weed withdrawal-induced sleep disturbances. In case the melatonin supplements don’t help you, try melatonin-theanine supplements or even gummies, which could be the addition your body needs.
Also Read: 8 Useful Tips: How to Reset Sleep Schedule?
6. Avoid Alcohol And Other Substances
Because you’ve stopped weed consumption doesn’t mean you should now turn to other substances to ensure a good night’s sleep. Added substances, like alcohol or even depressants, might complicate things for you and actually worsen your already disturbed circadian rhythm. Alcohol might help you fall asleep faster, but you won’t be sleeping long, and you will keep waking up throughout the night. Not to mention the restlessness, night sweats, and morning hangover you’ll be going through. Also, studies from NIH have shown that alcohol consumption actually increases your chances of developing insomnia.
On the other hand, depressants mess up your REM sleep and increase the time you usually take to enter deep sleep. So, you won’t be entering the stage of sleep where your body actually recovers and normalizes the immune system and metabolism.
Read More: How Does Alcohol Affect Sleep?
7. Have A Warm Drink
Having a cup of warm drink before sleep can help you fall asleep faster. For example;
- Warm milk – sure, it can seem a bit of a cliche, but warm milk can truly help your body relax and become ‘sleepy’. Milk contains tryptophan, which is an amino acid that promotes sleep. It also helps the body produce more serotonin and melatonin, which furthermore contribute to the body’s natural sleep onset. If you’re lactose intolerant, you can try warming up some almond milk, as it has the same properties and effects.
- Herbal tea – chamomile, peppermint, and honey tea are some of the main expert recommendations when it comes to falling asleep. Herbals teas are known to help your body relax and become sleepy. These teas reduce stress levels, relax muscles, and promote the production of melatonin. You can also try jasmine and lavender teas, as they’re both sleep-inducing, but make sure to stay away from caffeine-rich teas like green or black tea.
Question: Can you mix melatonin with alcohol, check this post to know more details.
Even if you start practicing the aforementioned recommendations, it might still take you some time to go back to a normal sleep routine and cycle. Until that happens, it is important to stay dedicated and persistent.
The withdrawal symptoms will go away eventually, so use that time to build a healthy lifestyle, stay active, and eat good, fresh, and healthy food. Not only will you start sleeping better, but your overall mental and physical health will start flourishing as well.