Are Edibles Actually Good for Sleep?

Marijuana edibles for sale in New York City

About 14% of U.S. adults said they used marijuana edibles as of 2022, and research suggests many of them do so in search of better sleep. One small 2021 study of cannabis users found that more than three-quarters of them thought they slept better thanks to the drug.

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But despite the popularity of using edibles for sleep, the data on how well they help people drift off are surprisingly mixed. Using edibles is “very helpful for some people,” says Deirdre Conroy, clinical director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at Michigan Medicine. But “for some people, it doesn’t help at all, and for others it works temporarily and then stops working.”

Indeed, studies suggest some people—including those with sleep disorders, chronic conditions, and certain mental-health issues—get better rest when they use cannabis, perhaps because it helps quiet symptoms associated with those diagnoses. But other studies have found that marijuana helps people fall asleep faster but may impair sleep quality, potentially because it throws off regular sleep cycles. Cannabis users are also more likely than non-users to get either more or less sleep than recommended, research shows. And heavy and habitual users seem prone to insomnia, and may struggle to sleep if they stop using the drug.

Studies looking specifically at edibles have yielded similarly mixed results. In the 2021 study in which most cannabis users said it helped their sleep, researchers found that edibles, specifically, were linked to shorter sleep duration and poorer overall sleep. A 2022 study also found that teenagers who used edibles were more likely to get inadequate sleep than peers who smoked marijuana, suggesting the way the drug is ingested may matter.

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But, on the flip side, a 2022 research review found that oral cannabis use helped people with chronic pain sleep, and a 2023 study found that people with anxiety who took edibles felt they slept better when they did. Edibles tend to produce a longer-lasting effect than smoking marijuana, which may help some people fall and stay asleep through the night, the authors of the 2023 study wrote. People who used edibles high in CBD, a non-psychoactive component of cannabis, reported particularly strong sleep.

That makes sense, says Robert Welch, director of the National Center for Cannabis Research and Education at the University of Mississippi. People tend to think of cannabis products as all the same, but in reality, how a particular weed-infused gummy, drink, or food affects someone depends on the specific mixture of compounds within it.

THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana, makes some people feel energized and thus can interfere with sleep, particularly at higher doses. CBD, meanwhile, is more closely associated with sleep and relaxation; it seems to calm the central nervous system and boost levels of the sleep-promoting compound adenosine, Welch explains. Edibles that contain CBN, a byproduct of THC with mild sedative properties, are also often explicitly marketed as sleep aids, but there’s not a ton of data to back up that claim.

Even if someone does their homework, it’s hard to know exactly what’s in a given edible—especially if it comes from one of the many unregulated head shops springing up across the country, which aren’t subject to the same testing and production requirements as licensed dispensaries. A 2020 study by Welch’s colleagues at the University of Mississippi found that, out of 25 CBD products sold in convenience stores, vape shops, and similar retailers, the content of only three came close to matching what their labels claimed. “You have zero idea what you’re getting,” Welch says—and thus, no reliable way to know how you’ll be affected.

Even if labels are accurate, people respond to cannabis differently. The drug’s effects can vary depending on a person’s metabolism, other medications they’re taking, and even how much they’ve eaten that day, Welch says.

Reactions are so individual, Conroy says, that personal experience matters just as much as what research shows—especially since marijuana is still illegal federally and in about half of U.S. states, which makes it difficult to study. “What we get in the science might be a bit different from the patient’s perspective, largely because the availability has outpaced the science,” she says. Negative research findings shouldn’t invalidate the experiences of people who benefit from using edibles for sleep, she says.

Dr. Atul Malhotra, a sleep-medicine specialist at UC San Diego Health, says he doesn’t actively recommend that patients use edibles for sleep, largely because the science is so unsettled—but if someone is already doing so and feels it’s working well, he’s not overly concerned. “I usually fall in the category of, ‘If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it,’” Malhotra says.

The most important thing to keep in mind, he says, is that if you feel you need an edible to sleep, that may be a red flag for a larger issue. Before popping gummies, Malhotra recommends getting your sleep hygiene in order, such as by limiting caffeine intake and going to bed and waking at the same time each day. If you have serious issues with insomnia or daytime fatigue, it may also be worth consulting a doctor to rule out issues like sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome.

“There are plenty of people who self-medicate for those problems,” Malhotra says. “I would rather address the underlying cause as best I can.”

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Contributor: Jamie Ducharme