Recent studies on marijuana show cannabis consumption is connected to nightly sleep duration extremes. The findings reveal that this pattern was even more profound among habitual consumers – those consuming on 20 of the previous 30 days.
Marijuana consumption in North America continues to ascend, with about 45 million adults in the country reporting this in 2019, double the numbers reported in the early 2000s.
Mass decriminalization has somewhat driven this shift in many states over the past ten years.
Research suggests that cannabinoids may have therapeutic value for pain relief, anxiety, and possibly sleep disorders, as reported by analysts.
Marijuana has become a popular alternative for sleep aids, specifically as the prevalence of insomnia and sleep deprivation has grown. Only two-thirds of Americans get the suggested 7-9 hours of sleep every night, and almost half admit to daytime sleepiness every day. However, the recent evidence on the impact of marijuana on the sleep-wake cycle has been ambiguous.
The analysts wanted to see if marijuana use might correlate with nightly sleep duration; in a nationally representative sample size of US adults (aged 20-59) who participated in the biennial National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2005 to 2018.
They also wanted to determine if participants reported difficulty staying asleep, falling asleep, or sleeping too much in the following two weeks. Whether they had ever consulted a medical professional about a sleep issue and whether they regularly experienced daytime sleepiness on at least 5 of the preceding 30 days.
The respondents were characterized as recent or non-users if they had or hadn’t consumed marijuana in the past month. People can consume cannabis in various ways, like pre-filled cones.
Sleep duration was defined as optimal (6-9 hours), short (less than 6 hours), and long (more than 9 hours).
Researchers gathered information on potentially influential factors: age, race, weekly working hours, educational attainment; a history of high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and diabetes; weight (BMI); smoking; heavy alcohol use; and prescriptions for opioids, benzodiazepines, drugs approved for insomnia, and other sedatives and stimulants.
Around 25,348 individuals responded to the surveys between 2005 and 2018, but the final analysis was based on 21,729 who answered all the inquiries, representing an estimated 146.5 million American adults. On average, nightly sleep duration was just short of seven hours across the entire sample size.
Around 12% reported less than six hours, while 4% reported more than nine hours a night. Overall, 3132 (14.5%) responders said they had used marijuana in the last 30 days. Recent users were more likely to report sleeping too much or not sleeping enough.
After accounting for potentially influential factors, they were also 34% more likely to report shorter sleep and 56% more likely to report longer sleep than those who hadn’t used marijuana in the last 30 days.
And they were also 31% likely to report difficulty falling asleep, sleeping too much, or staying asleep in the previous two weeks, and 29% more susceptible to having discussed a sleeping issue with a medical professional.
However, recent marijuana use wasn’t related to frequent daytime sleepiness. Further research of the frequency of marijuana consumption revealed that moderate users, defined as using fewer than 20 times out of the past 30 days, were 47% more susceptible to sleep nine hours or more a night than non-users. Heavy consumers, defined as using more than 20 out of the last 30 days, were 64% more susceptible to experience short sleep and 76% more likely to experience longer sleep than non-users.
However, findings differed little across the survey years. This was an observational experiment, so it can’t establish a cause or reverse causality. Analysts also point to several study limitations, including the reliance on self-reported data and lack of information on cannabis dosage.
They suggested that the historical and ongoing stigma attached to marijuana consumption may have also affected the response to questions about marijuana use. One common misconception about marijuana consumers is that they are lazy, but studies show that is mostly not true.
They also said, “Increasing prevalence of both cannabis use and sleep deprivation in the population is a potential cause for concern.”
The researchers continued, “Despite the current literature demonstrating mixed effects of cannabis and various cannabinoid formulations on sleep architecture and quality, these agents are being increasingly used as both prescribed and unprescribed experimental therapies for sleep disturbances.” They added, “Our findings highlight the need to characterize further sleep health of regular cannabis users in the population…Sleep-wake physiology and regulation are complex, and research about related endocannabinoid pathways is in its early stages.” Studies such as this one highlight just how important it is to have ample research on cannabis to understand the plant better.