"I tried CBD to help me sleep – and it changed my life"

cbd oil on a tray
Can CBD oil actually help you sleep better?Olena Malik - Getty Images

There is nothing more frustrating than struggling to get a good night's sleep.

And we're a nation that's failing to get enough time in bed, with nearly 3/4 of adults in the UK having below the recommended seven to nine hours asleep. It gets worse; one in seven (14%) of Brits are functioning on less than five hours a night. It's no surprise, then, that our struggles to count sheep is reflected in our day to day lives; one in eight of us report feeling 'tired all the time', and 40% are so tired that we'd rather have a few extra hours snoozing than spending time with our family.

But we may have finally found something to help us on that front. The buzz around CBD oil (and its various offshoots: CBD gummies, CBD-infused lotion and even CBD tea) and its anxiety-reducing qualities have long been doing the rounds – but is CBD oil also good for sleep? If you're asking team Cosmopolitan UK, the answer is a solid 'yes'.

For me, prior to trying CBD oil, a typical night would go something like this: I'd lie still in the dark, feeling as though something was rushing towards me, a dense unidentifiable mass – huge and heavy – aiming for my head. I'd move away just in time, jolting myself awake. This happened three or four nights a week; just an hour or so after falling asleep, my heart would thump so loud I could feel it in my eardrums and I'd be awake again. Shaking, feeling the adrenaline moving around my legs.

I was diagnosed with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at the age of 20, having first (unknowingly) shown symptoms at seven. After a failed counselling attempt, an allergic reaction to an SSRI and, finally, successfully undertaking months of EMDR therapy privately, I felt I had 'overcome my traumas'. That was, until in the early hours of an unexpected Monday morning, when my sleep was abruptly broken by the sheer panic of feeling like heavy objects were falling on my head.

After speaking with a GP I learned that I had a diagnosable sleep condition commonly caused by trauma and anxiety. 'Hypnopompic hallucinations' are a multi-sensory experience that can happen just as you're waking up, in those moments when you're neither asleep nor awake. And the only way it would stop, my GP explained, was if I truly 'dealt with my anxiety' – especially that which had begun spiking around bedtime.

After a lot of relentless Googling, I came across a vast number of videos, forum entries and social media posts about how CBD products were helping people to not only sleep, but also relieve symptoms of anxiety and even soothe physical ailments. It was also something I'd heard chatter about in the office, with a fellow Cosmopolitan staffer swearing by CBD oil in moments of panic and CBD gummies at night. I was growing more and more tired (literally) of my sleep situation and the underlying anxiety I'd become accustomed to, and felt anything was worth a try.

So, I quizzed a few experts on how CBD can be used to induce restful sleep – and put it to the test myself...

a person sitting on the floor
Kosamtu - Getty Images

Does CBD oil help with sleep?

I took my first dose of CBD oil – via a pipette, dispensing a few drops under my tongue – on a Saturday afternoon and quickly, I felt the positive impact it had. From the Sunday, I slept soundly every single night for the following two months. Honestly, it was that quick – and it went on for eight glorious weeks. Uninterrupted, panic-free, blissful sleep. I felt better in every way.

Unfortunately, after those two months my former sleep terrors began creeping back in, once or twice a week, and I was truly devastated. Crushed, in fact. It had been working – what happened? So, I safely (with research and guidance) increased my CBD dose and once again, I was away.

But it wasn't just my sleep that benefited from my CBD endeavours either. My thoughts weren't as chaotic; I felt that I could carefully sift through them, categorise them and act on them. I had clarity, I could focus and it felt as if every process in my body was working better. My digestion, my sex life, my emotional agility, plus sleep, all tied in and were working in harmony for the first time in forever.

I felt and became more pleasant, more patient and more consistently stable. PTSD provides peaks and troughs; CBD oil provided stability.

From an expert: How does CBD oil work?

Bea Lyus, Registered Nutritional Therapist, College of Naturopathic Medicine, and Resident CBD Expert at Cannabotech UK, says, "We know very well that anxiety and stress contribute to sleep problems such as insomnia and that CBD can effectively reduce anxiety and stress, therefore aiding a better quality of sleep. However, it’s important to note that a low dosage of CBD may actually cause alertness, whereas a higher dosage will help you to feel drowsy and sleepy."

Essentially, CBD works by activating our serotonin receptors, which in turn calm the mind and any anxious feelings. "It primarily interacts with our endocannabinoid system, which plays a role in regulating many processes in our bodies," explains Dr Simon Erridge, Head of Access and Research at Curaleaf Clinic. For those of you not in the know, our endocannabinoid system (ECS) is effectively our body's network system that sends signals to the brain, our nervous systems, immune cells and even organs.

"These receptors, which are found in the brain, spine, gut and immune system, play a role in regulating pain transmission, anxiety, inflammation and sleep," Dr Erridge continues. "The endocannabinoid system is an important regulator of circadian rhythm, the internal body clock that regulates sleep and awakening. In lab studies CBD has been shown to increase levels of a molecule called anandamide, which has independently been shown to promote sleep." Pretty powerful stuff, huh?

What is CBD oil?

CBD oil stands for 'cannabidiol' and is not the same as marijuana, although it is extracted from the cannabis plant – something that's a common misconception about this herbal hero. The two main active ingredients in cannabis are CBD and THC; CBD has a calming impact and is not psychoactive (meaning it does not change the state of mind), whereas THC is, and is responsible for the anxiety and paranoia commonly associated with marijuana use.

Is it legal to use CBD for sleep in the UK?

Yes, as long as it contains less than 0.2% THC, CBD oil is often sold as a food supplement or herbal medicine in the UK. "The UK is the first country in the world to regulate CBD for oral consumption, with the Food Standards Agency's public list of cannabinoid (CBD) products permitted for consumer sale," says Lyus. "Only the CBD products featured on the list have been given the green light by the FSA to stay on the market, in line with the UK’s Novel Food requirements, and any products not included must be removed from shelves."

Dr Erridge adds: "It must be noted that the Food Standards Agency assessed 30 CBD products purchased from online sellers in England and Wales. In this analysis, THC was detected in 87% of samples, of which 40% had higher than permitted levels of THC. As such if you are considering accessing CBD products for a medical condition it is important to consult an appropriately trained doctor."

The bottom line? Be sure to do your research when choosing a CBD product, but as long as you're shopping from a reputable retailer, such as Boots or Holland & Barrett, you'll be fine.

a person dropping oil into tea
:ArtistGNDphotography - Getty Images

Does CBD oil get you high?

In short, no. CBD itself isn't psychoactive and does not directly activate the receptor responsible for this effect. It's THC, a separate cannabinoid, that causes 'highs' associated with cannabis.

According to Lyus: "There are over 100 different types of cannabinoids and it's important to differentiate between CBD and THC. CBD (or 'cannabidiol') is the most known for its health supporting benefits.

"The other compound is THC (or 'tetrahydrocannabinol'), which is a controlled substance and is illegal in most countries worldwide. There are 3 different kinds of CBDs which are commonly available on the market including: full-spectrum, broad-spectrum and CBD isolate."

She adds that CBD isolate only contains CBD and no other cannabinoids, and absolutely zero THC. "With isolate, you can guarantee the amount of CBD per crop; it is pure and odourless plus there is no potential allergic reaction to other ingredients found in the hemp plant. This is backed up by a very recent study in the Lancet Psychiatry."

To conclude: no, CBD oil will not get you high. "If you use a CBD with THC within the legal limit, it will not get you high," Lyus confirms. "Better still, if you use broad-spectrum or CBD isolate, it will never make you high as they contain zero per cent THC."

How long does CBD oil take to work for sleep?

Of course every brain and body works and reacts differently, but I noticed the anxiety-reducing effects of CBD within around half an hour. Longer-term benefits became more clear for me after around two weeks, and I stopped taking any CBD oil for my sleep after about six months. I simply didn’t need it anymore.

Bea says: "We are all different individuals, so it may take longer for some people than others. Anecdotal evidence suggests it can take up to 15 minutes when using an oil, drop, tincture or mouth spray. Though, tablets and creams can take longer."

Nutritionist Lara Buckle agrees: "Individual differences in metabolism can influence how quickly the effects are felt. Some people may experience benefits relatively quickly, while others may require more time.

"Building a habit with CBD for sleep may involve consistent and regular use. It's advisable to start with a lower dose and gradually increase if needed. However, it's essential to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement regime, especially if you have underlying health conditions or are taking other medications."

Under periods of stress, I still experience the occasional sleep disturbance – but it's nothing like the nightly battle I was having before I found the benefits that CBD oil can have for sleep.

The best CBD products for sleep

What else could I try for a better sleep?

Buckle suggests some other products that could potentially help with any sleep problems.

"Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin supplements may be beneficial for some individuals, especially those with circadian rhythm disruptions," she explains. "Valerian root is also a popular herbal supplement that has been traditionally used as a remedy for sleep disorders. Magnesium is a mineral that plays a role in muscle relaxation and may have calming effects, making it potentially beneficial for sleep (a bath before bed with magnesium flakes or Epsom salts can be effective for many).

"Of course, general lifestyle changes, such as establishing a consistent sleep schedule, creating a relaxing bedtime routine and optimising sleep hygiene practises, such as having a cool, dark bedroom, and limiting screen time before bed, can contribute to better sleep."

This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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