Marijuana use, especially if initiated early in life, appears to impair sleep quality.
In a recent study, researchers took a look at adults aged 20 to 59 who’d participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2007 to 2008. One particularly notable finding was that people who reported using the drug early on were most likely to have sleep problems as adults – regardless of how much (or how little) they were currently using.
Participants with a history of marijuana use reported more difficulty sleeping, poorer sleep quality and daytime sleepiness. The strongest link was observed in people who began using cannabis prior to age 15.
According to senior study author Dr. Michael Grandner, current marijuana use was not strongly related to sleep experience. The only observation of note was that frequent users had more difficulty falling asleep in general.
“[G]iven the pattern of findings, it seems most likely that marijuana use may be more the consequence of insomnia than the cause,” said Grandner, instructor in psychiatry and member of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology at the University of Pennsylvania.
He speculates that stress and illness, which can both cause insomnia, may make someone more inclined to try the drug. The problem is that marijuana may not be the most effective treatment for insomnia, so symptoms could persist.
“In that case, the marijuana itself probably isn’t making typical sleep much better or worse on its own,” said Grandner.
The findings challenge the popular belief that marijuana is an effective sleep aid. In fact, many regular users claim that they do so in order to help them achieve more restful sleep. However, a closer look at the overall body of research regarding marijuana’s impact on sleep is thin, at best.
“Future studies are really needed to understand how people handle stress, how this may lead to insomnia, and how this impacts health over time,” said Grandner.
Given the prevalence of insomnia, Grandner says that self-medicating with drugs or alcohol isn’t uncommon. Instead, he recommends an approach called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I), which focuses on modifying sleep-related behaviors.
By Marianne Hayes