Cannabis makes you sleepy at high doses, but do you also get into REM sleep?
Cannabis is widely used before bedtime and much is known about the influence of THC on sleep. The exact influence, however, depends on factors such as the level of experience of the user and the dosage.
Cannabis makes regular users sleepy and falling asleep is therefore easy for them.
Inexperienced users may experience physical effects such as decreased blood pressure, increased heart rate and uncontrolled thoughts. This can make it more difficult for them to fall asleep.
The influence of cannabis on sleep
In general, cannabis causes an increase in deep sleep and a decrease (or even complete absence!) in REM sleep. REM sleep is important in processing emotional memories and it is the sleep phase in which we dream.
Although experienced users develop a tolerance to most of the effects, for the change in REM sleep this does not seem to be the case. In fact, the half-life of cannabis with sporadic use is much lower than with chronic use. If a sporadic user smokes a joint shortly before going to bed, the effect is shorter and REM sleep will occur again at the end of the sleep cycles.
Cannabis can therefore cause less effective sleep, due to the decrease or complete deprivation of REM sleep.
As mentioned earlier, REM sleep is important in emotion and the processing of emotional memories. Frequent users may experience feelings of anxiety or irritability as emotional memories cannot be properly processed at night. When someone is sober, these emotions return hard. Research shows that we react more emotionally when we skip REM sleep and research in rats shows that lack of REM sleep leads to aggressive behavior. Stopping cannabis as a regular user can also cause sleep problems and vague, intense dreams, as REM sleep returns. There is then a REM rebound effect: it seems that your brain is trying to make up for the lack of REM sleep after you stop. This effect can last from a few days to a month and a half. This is often a reason for users to return to cannabis again. Users thus end up in a vicious circle; due to the developed tolerance of chronic users, more and more must be used to achieve the desired effect.
Cannabis and sleep deprivation
A study on the effects of cannabis after partial sleep deprivation shows that after little sleep, cannabis causes a higher heart rate and a worsened mood. This study also looked at the effect of cannabis on balance and reaction time when sleep deprived. However, balance and reaction time were not additionally affected by sleep deprivation.
To the best of our knowledge, no research has yet been conducted into the effects of the combination of cannabis use and skipping sleep. Much is known about the influence of cannabis on sleep in general, although the effects are highly dependent on factors such as tolerance, dosage and the time of intake.
Long-term negative effects mainly occur due to chronic use and the associated high doses, but sporadic use is also associated with a poorer quality of sleep and the associated consequences.
By: Lizet Wilken
With the collaboration of: Raoul Koning, Sarsani Schenk, Teun van der Velden and Tom Bart.
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