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Can cannabis help improve sleep for women over 50

Can cannabis help improve sleep for women over 50

A good night’s sleep isn’t always an easy thing to come by. And as we age, getting high quality sleep can become even more difficult - especially for women. For some women, this means tossing and turning all night and yawning all day, which can have a serious impact on daily functioning and enjoyment of life. This has left some wondering whether options like cannabis might help improve sleep quality.

While researchers are still investigating the extent to which cannabis and its components, like CBD or THC, can be used to help improve sleep, anecdotal reports from patients, and some research does point in a hopeful direction, suggesting that cannabis can make a notable difference when it comes to getting sleep. 

Curious about using cannabis for your own sleep? Read on to learn all about the science behind using cannabis for sleep, and how it might benefit women over 50. 

Sleep Issues For Women Over 50

Sleeplessness is a problem that can impact anyone, but it is an especially prominent issue for women over 50. Studies show that sleep issues escalate during perimenopause, the time leading up to menopause, with more than half of these women getting less than 7 hours of sleep at night. And unfortunately, these symptoms continue to linger after menopause is complete. Nearly 36% of postmenopausal women say they have trouble sleeping through the night. Postmenopausal women are also more likely to report difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep and feeling well rested than your average person. 

So, why do women have so many more sleep issues at this time of life? Well, there are a few main reasons. For one thing, hormonal shifts can have a big impact on sleep - leading to insomnia for some women. These changes can also lead to other symptoms that can disrupt sleep. 

Women at this age are also more likely to suffer from conditions like sleep apnea, fibromyalgia, anxiety, depression, or restless leg syndrome, all of which can really interfere with sleep. To add to this, conditions like heart failure, lung disease and psychiatric disorders increase with age, and the medications used to treat these conditions can also lead to insomnia.

The result is that women over 50 are at serious increased risk of not getting enough sleep. And sleep is simply too important to miss out on on a regular basis. But luckily, cannabis may be able to help!

How Cannabis Helps With Sleep

The sleep issues that women over 50 face are real! But many women report that cannabis can help ease these problems and provide more restful nights. So how does cannabis pull off this insomnia defying feat? While scientists are still studying cannabis’ impact on sleep, and say that more research is needed to truly understand it, they do have some theories about why cannabis might help. 

Cannabis interacts with the human body primarily through a system known as the endocannabinoid system. This key system in the human body is tasked with keeping many of our bodily functions in balance, or homeostasis. From pain, to hunger, to inflammation, to mood, to memory, this system influences, stimulates and maintains balance for some of the most important aspects of our physical life. And one important function that is regulated by the endocannabinoid system is sleep. 

This system is made up of many receptors in the body, such as CB1 and CB2 receptors, which are activated by natural chemicals in the body called endocannabinoids. When the endocannabinoids stimulate the receptors, it triggers the system's many different effects. But interestingly, the cannabinoids in the cannabis plant are also able to stimulate these receptors. So when someone takes cannabis, they are able to activate the endocannabinoid system and its many functions. 

With sleep, we know that activating CB1 receptors usually induces sleep. To add to this, it can also cause changes in the stability and length of non-rapid eye movement sleep, which is very important in getting quality rest. So, researchers believe that cannabis’ ability to stimulate CB1 is primarily responsible for its impact on sleep. To learn what that impact is, we will have to look at the clinical research on humans using cannabis for sleep. 

The Research On Using Cannabis For Sleep

Cannabis has a long history as a sleep aid. In fact, it’s been used for its sedative qualities since ancient times. But in modern times, people also report sleep inducing properties from this age-old remedy. One survey of 1,000 recreational cannabis users found that cannabis was being used as a sleep aid by 74% of them, and 84% of those using it this way reported that it was helping them get better sleep. 83% also said that with cannabis, they were able to reduce or stop taking other sleep aids. 

When it comes to clinical research on cannabis and sleep, the science isn’t quite where researchers would like it to be. We don’t have particularly high quality data yet, still, there is some research that suggests cannabis can help with sleep. 

For example, one study looked at the impact THC had on sleep. The scientists studied healthy insomniacs over six weeks, and found that those using THC took significantly less time to fall asleep. They also found that participants given THC woke up less during the night. 

Still, some research suggests that cannabis’ impact on sleep might vary based on factors like the dose or strain. One study found that lower doses of cannabis decreased the time it took to fall asleep, but higher doses actually increased it - suggesting that more isn’t always better when it comes to using cannabis for sleep. 

Another study found that cannabis strain may play a role in how cannabis affects our sleep. This study looked at preferences between different varieties of cannabis, for those using cannabis for sleep. They found that those using cannabis to prevent nightmares usually preferred sativa strains of cannabis. On the other hand, those who were trying to use cannabis to fall asleep more quickly prefered strains that were high in CBD. So it is highly possible that different types of cannabis - with different chemical profiles - may be suited to different sleep applications. And some strains may not be very helpful at all. 

A review of previous sleep studies on cannabis also found that CBD might be helpful for REM sleep behaviour disorder - a condition where people physically act out their dreams, and that it could prevent excessive daytime sleepiness. 

Unfortunately, not all the research suggests benefits for sleep. One survey found that cannabis users were more likely to have sleep disturbances than those who didn’t use cannabis. Still, it’s not clear in this study if the cannabis was causing the sleep disturbances, or the sleep disturbances were motivating the cannabis use. 

Still, despite this, reviews on cannabis and sleep are generally optimistic about cannabis as a sleep aid. The National Academy of Sciences meta-review on cannabis from 2017, for example, found moderate evidence that cannabis could help with short-term sleep outcomes for patients with conditions like fibromyalgia, sleep apnea, chronic pain, or multiple sclerosis. Another 2017 review, from the University of Pennsylvania, concurred with this conclusion, and also found that cannabis may help reduce or prevent the nightmares associated with PTSD.

Most researchers on cannabis and sleep warn that more research - particularly double-blind clinical trials - is needed to come to strong conclusions about cannabis’ impact on sleep. Still  the evidence that we have is hopeful that cannabis can help. For those who are curious about whether it will help them, there is only one way to find out. Talk to your doctor, and try it out for yourself. 

Did you know?

Cannabis can decrease the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.


Emily Earlenbaugh, PhD
Emily Earlenbaugh, PhD is a writer and educator focused on bringing cannabis education and content to the public. Emily is a prolific writer in the cannabis space, writing regularly about cannabis science and culture for publications like Forbes, Leafly, Cannabis Now Magazine, SF Chronicle’s GreenState, The Cannigma and HelloMD.