Weed can be a reliable sleep aid for some people who suffer from insomnia. However, just because weed allows you to fall asleep doesn’t mean you had a good night’s rest. There is speculation that weed affects your rapid eye movement (REM) sleep which can affect your daily life. Should you put away your bong at bedtime? Does weed affect REM sleep? Here’s what we know.
What is REM Sleep?
Before we get into whether or not weed affects REM sleep, let’s discuss what REM sleep is. So, as we already said, REM means rapid eye movement. Your eyes literally move rapidly in various directions during this sleep phase.
According to WebMD, this is in contrast to non-REM sleep, which happens first and doesn’t include rapid movements of your eyes. During REM sleep, you’re more likely to experience dreams.
WebMD says that REM sleep typically starts 90 minutes after falling asleep and lasts 10 minutes. The periods of REM sleep gradually get longer. The final phase lasts an hour.
Is REM Sleep Important?
You’re probably wondering if REM sleep is important anyway. The short answer is yes. According to the Sleep Foundation, we need at least 2 hours of REM sleep every night because this type of sleep is essential for:
- Vivid dreams
- Emotional processing
- Memory consolidation
- Brain development
- Wakefulness preparation
WebMD also says, “REM is important because it stimulates the areas of the brain that help with learning and is associated with increased production of proteins.”
As Healthline put it, “REM is important for healthy cognitive and immune functioning.”
So, what are some telltale signs you’re not getting enough REM sleep? Well, according to Dr. Ceri Bradshaw, who presented at the Swansea University Medical School, you won’t feel great the following day if you don’t have enough REM sleep. In addition to that, you’re likely to have problems with executive functioning. Executive functioning refers to your working memory, self-control, and other cognitive processes.
In some cases, not having REM sleep is welcomed. Healthline says that reducing time in REM reduces the amount of time you spend dreaming. For some people, like those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that’s great. One of the symptoms of PTSD is having nightmares. Therefore, weed can technically reduce their nightmares, making sleep more enjoyable.
How Does Weed Affect REM Sleep?
According to a 2008 study, weed can reduce REM sleep. The study says, “Smoked marijuana and oral Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) reduce REM sleep.”
Sleep Foundation also confirmed that claim, “THC decreases the amount of time you spend in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep when you spend more time dreaming, processing emotions, and cementing new memories.”
Bradshaw spoke candidly about a study she conducted that looked at REM sleep and cannabis. Bradshaw concluded that there was a significant difference found between cannabis users and non-cannabis users regarding REM latency and REM percentage.
Cannabis users took a longer time to get into REM sleep. Stoners took around 120 minutes, while non-stoners took around 70-80 minutes. In addition to that, REM sleep accounted for 18.9% of total sleep, while nonusers boasted 25.9%.
Besides her study’s findings, Bradshaw also mentioned that reducing REM sleep and dreaming may contribute to weed hangovers. Bradshaw says that you may be tired the next day because of the lack of REM sleep caused by weed.
Interestingly, Bradshaw also mentioned that stoners tend to report better sleep after using weed. As a matter of fact, Healthline says that less time spent in REM sleep is more time spent in deep sleep, the more restful and restorative type of sleep. However, Bradshaw maintains that the claim of better sleep isn’t really seen in laboratory studies.
Another interesting takeaway from Bradshaw’s presentation is what happens to stoners after they stop taking cannabis. Stoners often report that they don’t dream or can’t remember their dreams vividly. However, after taking a weed break, stoners often report vivid and sometimes unpleasant dreams. Even though dreaming isn’t unique to REM sleep, stoners on a break may start dreaming because they have longer REM sleep.
Counterarguments for Weed and REM Sleep
As with all studies, there are limitations. Bradshaw says that since most research on cannabis and sleep is done in a controlled lab setting, the results may not reflect typical sleep conditions for stoners. In addition to that, the doses given are also not a great representation of typical cannabis use. For example, lab studies sometimes use pure THC. In reality, blunts are filled with weed that has both THC, CBD, and other compounds.
Dr. Timothy Roehrs, a Henry Ford Health System sleep expert, told Cut that the information available about REM sleep and cannabis is weak. In a study he conducted with Leslie Lundahl of Wayne State University School of Medicine, weed doesn’t appear to affect REM sleep.
Roehrs also explained his view on weed and dreams. He said that a possible reason why quitting weed leads to vivid dreams is that you’re waking up during your REM sleep if you don’t remember. On the other hand, if you sleep through your REM cycle, you’re less likely to remember your dreams.
Does weed affect REM sleep? There are studies that suggest that the THC in weed reduces time spent in REM sleep. Other researchers doubt this. Hopefully, there will be more research done on weed and sleep so we can have a better understanding.
Do you have more burning questions around cannabis?
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