what happens when you sleep high

Here’s What Happens to Your Body When You Sleep High

by Deb Powers

If you find that a little toke at bedtime helps you relax and fall asleep, you’re not alone. Depending on which research you read, anywhere from 48.1% to 69.6% of people who use cannabis sometimes use it to help them sleep. That’s true for both medical and recreational users. It also holds true for younger and older cannasseurs. 

Scientists have known that people use bud to help them sleep better for a long time, but they’ve only recently started looking at what happens when you sleep high. Here’s a look at what scientists are learning about how cannabis affects your sleep.

Does Cannabis Help You Sleep?

The short answer seems to be yes, but it can be complicated. For decades, most people have simply accepted that cannabis can help you sleep. The science to back it up is a little harder to find, though. In fact, most research on what cannabis can do is “inconclusive.” 

That’s partly because the law has made it hard for researchers to study marijuana. Even after changes in the law made it easier to research the effects of cannabis, it can still be hard to study the kind of cannabis that most people use. A recent article in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute explained the main reasons for that.

  • It’s still hard to get permission to do research on cannabis.
  • There’s not a lot of funding available for cannabis research.
  • There is only one approved source for cannabis used by researchers.

The last point is important. There are literally thousands of strains of cannabis available today. Every strain has a unique chemical profile which affects how it works in the human body. When scientists are stuck using cannabis from a single source, they can’t study the effects of different strains and types of cannabis. That’s why a lot of what we know about cannabis comes from cannabis growers and consumers rather than scientific studies. And most people who use cannabis say that it helps them sleep.

The scientists mostly agree. A 2017 paper looked at the research about bud and sleep and found the following conclusions.

  • Cannabis can help people fall asleep faster.
  • It can help them stay asleep longer.
  • People who use cannabis before bed have fewer nightmares.
  • It can help people with specific medical problems to get more restful sleep.

The paper also found some downsides to using cannabis as a sleep aid.

  • Some people say that they’re sleepier the next day. 
  • People who regularly use cannabis to fall asleep often have to increase the amount they use as time goes on.
  • Some people have very vivid dreams when they stop using cannabis to help them sleep.

There are also some findings that talk about how cannabis affects the way you sleep. 

  • People who use cannabis to help them sleep spend more time in deep sleep.
  • They spend less time in REM sleep, the time when we dream.

In other words, scientists have found that when you sleep high, it changes your sleep patterns. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing depends on your needs. Here’s a closer look at what happens when you sleep high.

The Sleep Cycle — A Primer

During the night — or whenever you happen to sleep — your body goes through a series of sleep cycles. Each of these cycles is made up of different stages. There are two main stages to this cycle — REM and NREM sleep. REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement. NREM is — you probably guessed — non-rapid eye movement, also known as deep sleep. Different things are happening in your body during each of those stages, and you need both of them for overall wellness.

What Happens During REM Sleep?

While sleep scientists don’t yet have a full picture of exactly what happens in your body during REM sleep, they do know a few things.

  • Your body usually spends about 25% of your sleep time in REM sleep.
  • You usually don’t reach REM stage until you’ve been asleep for 60 to 90 minutes.
  • People have their most vivid dreams during REM sleep.
  • Scientists believe that we need REM sleep to help process emotions and cement new memories.
  • REM sleep may also be important for building brain cells.
  • REM sleep may help get you ready to wake up.
  • Most adults spend about 2 hours a day in REM sleep.
  • Not getting enough REM sleep may affect your memory, but scientists aren’t sure.
  • It may also affect your brain’s ability to create new brain cells.

What Happens in REM Sleep When You Go To Sleep High?

Research shows that people who use cannabis before they go to sleep have fewer and shorter REM stages during their sleep cycle.

What Happens During NREM Sleep Cycles?

There are three stages of NREM, each of them a little deeper than the last. Here’s what we know about each of those stages.

  • N1 — Dozing off. This stage can last as little as 1 minute. Your body and brain are starting to relax, but it’s easy to wake back up. If something doesn’t disturb you, you’ll move into the next stage.
  • N2 – Light sleep. Your body is settling into sleep with a lot of physical changes.
    • Your body temperature drops.
    • Your muscles relax.
    • Your heart rate and breathing slow down.
    • Each time you go through the whole sleep cycle, you spend more time in N2. 
    • Overall, you spend about 50% of your sleep time in this stage.
  • N3 – Deep Sleep. The final stage of the sleep cycle is deep sleep. During this stage, it’s harder to wake up. You are more relaxed, and your breathing, heart rate, and other bodily functions slow down. Your brain activity shows a special wave pattern, called delta waves. Scientists believe that delta wave sleep has several specific functions.
    • Your body is hard at work repairing and restoring your cells.
    • Time in deep sleep may boost your immune system.
    • Deep sleep may play a role in creativity and insightful thinking.

Most of your deep sleep happens in the first half of the night. During the early hours, each N3 stage may last 20 to 40 minutes before you move back to N2 sleep. Each cycle, you spend less time in N3 sleep and more in N2 sleep.

What Happens in NREM Sleep When You Go to Sleep High?

Studies suggest that people who use cannabis before bedtime spend more of their night in the deep sleep stage.

What Disturbs Your Sleep and Why Cannabis May Help

People may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep for a lot of different reasons. Very often, something prevents them from getting to N3 sleep. These are some of the common reasons people have trouble sleeping, and how cannabis may help.

  • Stress can keep your mind racing, making it hard for you to relax enough to fall asleep. Cannabis, especially high CBD strains, may help you manage those feelings so you can sleep better.
  • Everyday aches may make it difficult to get comfortable, or wake you from sleep. Many people find that cannabis can help soothe soreness and relax your body. There’s not a lot of scientific research that supports it — see the section on cannabis and sleep for an explanation of why — but there is some.
  • Nightmares can shake you out of sleep and make it difficult to go back to sleep. For some people, the nightmares are so bad that they’re afraid to go to sleep at all. Because cannabis can reduce the amount of time you spend in REM sleep, it may be especially helpful for people who have vivid nightmares.

NOTE: None of this is medical advice. If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, your first step should always be to talk to your medical provider. 

Which Cannabis Strains Are Best for Sleep?

Choosing the best type of bud for relaxation and restful nights should be easy. After all, indica strains are known for their powerful sedative effects. It’s not quite that easy, though. Your body chemistry — and the things keeping you up at night — play a role in what happens when you go to sleep high. 

According to the Sleep Foundation, your choice may depend on what exactly is keeping you from getting a good night’s sleep. Indica helps with relaxation and can make you sleepy. It’s a good choice for you if you need help calming down, managing pain, and nodding off. Sativa is more stimulating, but it may be helpful for people who deal with nightmares. Hybrid strains may offer the best of both worlds especially if they feature terpenes that support sleep and relaxation.

Final Thoughts

Mistifi offers three powerful choices that can help you relax. Houdini, our indica blend, helps induce calm and helps your worries melt away. Phantom is a balanced CBD blend of three hybrid strains that promote whole-body well-being. Oracle is a blend of three sativa-heavy hybrids that promote creative thinking and focused calm to help you tune in and chill out before bed. Give them a try to see which one is right for you.

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