Should you be taking Melatonin, or CBD, for sleep? Find out the different mechanisms between the two. People going through treatment for cancer deal with several difficult physical and emotional symptoms, but the one that is especially …
CBD vs. Melatonin
Around 50 to 70 million individuals in the U.S. suffer from a sleep disorder, according to a 2006 Institute of Medicine publication titled Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem. It’s difficult to find individuals who obtain the sleep their body requires every night, or those who don’t reach for sleeping aids when they can’t sleep. Since sleep is so important to both physical and mental health, the number of sleep disorders worldwide is alarming.
Because there are certain fears that surround sleeping aids, such as side effects, addiction, or potential accidents, it’s led individuals to seek out natural alternatives. Fortunately, there are natural sleep aids, including melatonin and cannabidiol (CBD).
While melatonin was discovered in 1958, and people have been taking it for decades, CBD has recently exploded in popularity for its many benefits, including that it can help people sleep better. A national survey conducted by Consumer Reports revealed that about 1 in 10 Americans who said they tried CBD, and used it to help them sleep, the majority of those people said it worked .
Still, it’s worth learning about the two, and how they differ when it comes to helping you obtain a good night’s sleep.
Melatonin for Sleep
Melatonin, unlike CBD infused oil, is a hormone your brain’s pineal gland produces that helps with sleep-wake cycle regulation. It doesn’t necessarily cause you to fall asleep, but rather it tells your brain and body it’s time for bed. These are actually two totally different brain processes. Both need to be in sync for you to fall asleep.
Melatonin basically sets your body’s gears in motion for you to fall asleep, making them helpful in situations where your sleep-wake cycle becomes disrupted, such as with jet lag, for example.
However, if you’re only experiencing occasional sleepless nights, it may not be as helpful as you think. It takes around 90 minutes for it to send your brain the signal to start getting sleepy. Plus, since it has around a six hour half-life, if you wake up the next morning with it still in your system, it can cause you to experience a slight hangover-like feeling.
CBD for Sleep
CBD is a natural compound extracted from the hemp plant, and has been boasted to have many potential benefits for various health concerns. CBD interacts with your endocannabinoid system (ECS), helping your body maintain homeostasis (a state of stability and balance).
CBD isn’t psychoactive, unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), so this means it won’t get you “high.”
A popular use of CBD is in treating sleep disorders, such as insomnia . While the exact link between cannabidiol and sleep disorders isn’t quite known yet, sleep professionals believe it helps reduce stress and anxiety, and thereby, induce sleep. If you’re experiencing anxiety and stress related problems that keep you from falling asleep or staying asleep, CBD for anxiety may be a good natural alternative solution to traditional sleep aids.
You can take it at least an hour before bedtime, and it could improve your symptoms of insomnia, and promote a restorative night’s sleep.
Some 2019 research looked at if CBD might be able to reduce anxiety and improve sleep . This study involved 72 participants, with 25 of them lacking quality sleep, and the other 47 experiencing anxiety. Each participant was provided with 25 mg of CBD, each day. During the first 30 days, 79.2% of the participants said they experienced lower levels of anxiety and 66.7% said they experienced better sleep.
Before turning to a sleep aid, you might want to first try and make some lifestyle changes to help manage your sleep disorder. If this doesn’t help, be sure you consult with your doctor on how you can induce sleep, and if CBD may be helpful.
Causes of Poor Sleep
There are many things that could contribute to poor sleep and insomnia, including:
- Medicine, which could disrupt your sleep-wake cycle
- Mental health conditions, like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression
- Caffeine, particularly when you consume it late in the day
- Physical conditions, such as restless leg syndrome and chronic pain
- Environmental factors, like an uncomfortable bed and loud noises
While CBD research is still new, some research does suggest it can treat anxiety, which can hinder quality sleep.
Obtain Restorative Sleep With a CBD Pillow
If you’re having sleep difficulties, or are suffering from a sleep disorder, a CBD-infused pillow is a great way to experience the potential benefits of CBD. The pillow contains microcapsules of CBD that break and release microdoses of CBD throughout your system while you sleep. These microdoses go to work to:
Considering CBD or Melatonin for Sleep? What to Know
People going through treatment for cancer deal with several difficult physical and emotional symptoms, but the one that is especially frustrating is poor sleep. Not sleeping well leaves you with daytime fatigue, irritability and trouble concentrating long enough to get anything done, which is especially upsetting on days that you have off from medical appointments. Being awake in the middle of the night is psychologically difficult given that the quiet of night hours leave little to distract you from worries about your cancer experience and other life stressors.
Given the distress of not sleeping, of course people are going to look for relief. Just one Google search, conversation with a friend, or inquiry about insomnia at the pharmacy will likely bring up the suggestion of using CBD (cannabidiol) or melatonin. Both supplements are widely marketed and promise to help people rest well without the trouble of a prescription. They are both considered “natural” remedies, which appeals to people.
If you’re considering one of these options, the most important thing to know is that since supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration there is no quality control or oversight of these products. In fact, studies have shown that in a high percentage of cases, what is in the supplement is not exactly what is on the label. Supplement contamination with other sedatives or added chemicals to help with shelf life, smell, consistency, etc. may come serious side effects such a lung injury as the recent news about vaping harms demonstrated.
CBD can legally be obtained from the hemp plant (a cousin of the marijuana plant) since the passage of the Farm Bill in 2018. However, regulation of the hemp growing industry is not widely done, and what is sold as CBD may actually have more THC (the psychoactive part of the marijuana plant) than you want, which could cause an abrupt change in thinking which is very anxiety provoking for some people (and not good for sleep!). The CBD products are so new to the market that we have almost no research into whether or not CBD helps insomnia in patients with cancer, or is safe during cancer treatment. Be sure to talk to your oncologist if you are planning to use a CBD supplement.
There has been more use of melatonin in medical care, primarily because it has always been legal, but also because there is research to support the use of melatonin to correct circadian rhythm disorders, situations when people have their days and nights reversed because of jet lag or night shift work. If melatonin is used for insomnia, the recommendation is to take it 2 hours before bed, because the goal is not to feel sleepy right away, but to reset your circadian rhythm, meaning the melatonin in your body gets released at the right time in the day night cycle.
Is it better to take one of these supplements than a prescription sleep aide like Ambien or Lunesta? Supplements still come with side effects (sedation, confusion, falls, and medication interactions), they may be more expensive than prescriptions (so no financial savings) and there is no guarantee “natural” is better. Actually, the best medicine for insomnia is not a medication or supplement at all, but a type of therapy called “cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia” (CBT-I). This therapy, backed by research, is administered by a professional therapist and emphasizes healthy sleep hygiene. If you do not have access to CBT-I therapy, you can still make changes to your sleep hygiene – and improve your sleep – on your own.
For better sleep, set up your daily schedule so that you are primed for restorative rest at night:
- Get out of bed at the same time every single day (alarms are helpful), and let your eyes be exposed to morning light. The morning light will reset the melatonin already in your body.
- If you drink any caffeine, only drink it at breakfast (the half-life is long, it will be in your system at night).
- Get outside and walk daily – exercise is literally medicine for your sleep.
- Schedule time to manage cancer (scheduling appointments, research, bills) early in the day, and no cancer talk after dinner (so you are not thinking about it when you try to sleep).
- Put a paper and pen by the bed, and if you have a worry or question pop up, jot it down, better on the paper than in your head.
- Sleep ina cold, dark, quiet room and turn off all screens at least one hour before bed (the light will disrupt your day night cycle).
Talk to your doctor about your sleep and whether you might need an appointment with a specialist. If your sleep is disrupted by clinical depression or an anxiety disorder, then treating the mood and worry will be the appropriate sleep medicine.
Having cancer is hard enough, and then trying to manage sleep disturbances on top of that does not seem fair. However, the payoff for working on your sleep is so worth it! Feeling rested in the morning makes the day feel like something you can handle. Patients in survivorship have commented that the skills that they developed during cancer treatment are useful long after treatment ends. “I did not want to deal with cancer, but it taught me a lot about really taking care of myself,” “if I pay attention to my sleep habits, my energy is so much better” and “there is no perfect pill for sleep, but I know I will eventually sleep, especially if my days are busy.”
Wendy Baer, MD, is the medical director of psychiatric oncology at the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University in Atlanta. Dr. Baer helps patients and their families deal with the stress of receiving a cancer diagnosis and going through treatment. Her expertise in treating clinical depression and anxiety helps people manage emotions, behaviors and relationships during difficult times.
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