Can’t sleep without weed? If you are like most regular users of marijuana who have stopped using, you have probably had difficulty falling asleep. Maybe you have had vivid, disturbing dreams since stopping weed, or worse yet, you haven’t been able to sleep at all.
Sleep disturbance is the hallmark of marijuana withdrawal and occurs in about 70% of regular users (Livine, Drug Alc Depend, 2019). Because sleep is a vital physiologic function and time for the brain to recover from the events of the day, disruptions in sleep from marijuana withdrawal can be a source of major distress for people who are on already fatigued, on edge, or feeling down.
The biological and psychosocial factors that drive sleep changes in marijuana withdrawal are complex. Many individuals smoke before bed, and even infrequent users report subjective improvements in sleep quality after smoking, likening marijuana to a sleep aid. Regular marijuana use, however, is actually disruptive to sleep, by interrupting normal sleep architecture, in part through its actions at the CB1 receptor (Kesner, Front Mol Neurosci, 2020).
In fact, sleep studies of people in the first week of marijuana withdrawal have shown changes in almost every phase of sleep, including longer time to fall asleep, decreased total sleep time, and poorer sleep efficiency. What’s more, increased time in REM sleep likely contributes to vivid and disturbing dreams (Gates, Subst Abus, 2016; Garcia, Am J Addict, 2015).
This again creates a vicious cycle: cannabis disrupts sleep and contributes to feelings of tiredness, which motivates users to smoke more due to the perception that they achieve better sleep.
Strategies to Improve Sleep During Weed Withdrawal
Finding strategies to compensate for sleep disruptions during withdrawal and improving the routines you have when it’s time for bed can be a major predictor of how likely you are to relapse (Angarita, Addiction Science & Clinical Practice, 2016).
Ensuring that you have a healthy routine surrounding sleep, or “sleep hygiene”, is vital to minimizing the sleep disturbances that may be exacerbated by marijuana withdrawal. First, avoiding caffeine, large meals, or screen time immediately before bed can eliminate confusing signals to your body that it should stay awake. Regular exercise can also produce a healthy physical fatigue that helps promote sleep. Keep your bedroom environment reserved only for sleep and sex and ensure that lighting is low, and sound is minimized. Instituting a sleep-promoting routine—a warm bath, stretching, meditation, or reading—can help as well.
Other tips to practice excellent sleep hygiene: if you find yourself lying in bed for more than 20 minutes, get up and do something else until you feel sleepy again. Restricting the amount of time you spend in bed to only those moments when you feel sleepy helps your body associate your bed with tiredness, rather than the angst of not being able to fall asleep.
Finally, if you find yourself still struggling with poor quality sleep weeks to months after you’ve stopped using marijuana, just find comfort in the fact that this is still normal, and part of the process.
Would you mind answering a few questions (anonymously)?
Currently, little data exists on sleep difficulty and marijuana use. Weedless.org is collaborating with researchers to explore this topic and others. We have created a short, anonymous survey which we will use to focus our future research efforts.
Your participation is appreciated and completely anonymous. You may skip any questions that make you feel uncomfortable and you are free to withdraw at any time.