Of all the over-the-counter natural ingredients for better sleep, melatonin may be the most common. Recently, however, CBD has emerged as a promising solution for a good night's sleep. Below, we explain the benefits and trade-offs of each, as well as a solution that combines both.
What is CBD?
In order to talk about CBD, we first have to zoom out to cannabinoids, which is a fancy word to describe some of the naturally-occurring, bioactive compounds found in cannabis, including:
- Cannabidiol (CBD): non-psychoactive compound derived from the hemp plant
- Cannabinol (CBN): derived from the oxidation and decomposition of THC from the hemp plant
- Cannabigerol (CBG): the first phytocannabinoid synthesized in the hemp plant that then converts into other cannabinoids
- Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC): the active compound in the cannabis plant responsible for its psychoactive effects (this is what gets you “high”)
Over 140 cannabinoids have been identified in the cannabis plant, as well as in cloves, black pepper, echinacea, broccoli, among others.
Although it’s all grouped under the umbrella of “cannabis,” not all products contain significant amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Who CBD is best for
If you’re finding it difficult to fall or stay asleep due to stress and anxiety (that usually manifests as a racing mind), CBD may be a great alternative to traditional sleep aids.
Different forms of CBD + how to take it
Benefit: Easy to incorporate as part of your wellness supplement routine—and ideal if you’re looking for CBD sleep support.
What to look for: High-quality supplements formulated without added fillers or binders, as well as supplements tested for potency and purity. You should also be able to access the certificate of analysis.
Benefit: Allows you to taste (and enjoy!) the flavor of the CBD gummies, chocolates, mints, etc.
What to look for: CBD products with high-quality hemp extraction methods, which offer the cleanest and most pure ingredients (and thus preserve the cannabinoids and terpenes). Also, make sure your product is infused with CBD rather than simply coated with a CBD isolate/sugar mixture.
Benefit: This type of sublingual (aka under the tongue) product may be felt faster than edible products, which means it may support quicker results.
What to look for: CBD tinctures that are third-party tested for safety and contain no fillers or isolated plant compounds.
Benefit: Topicals such as CBD oil-based creams are applied directly to the skin, which is ideal for addressing localized discomfort that may be impacting your sleep.
Caveat: Your skin isn’t as porous as the under-tongue area, so in order to reap the positive effects, you’ll want to opt for a higher concentration of CBD—as well as an emulsion system with penetration enhancers—and apply generously.
Does CBD help support sleep?
Research on the benefits of CBD is emerging, which means studies are still in progress and information is constantly evolving. But what we know to date is promising.
Insomnia + CBD
Although the term “insomnia” is thrown around quite a bit, by clinical standards it’s defined as trouble falling or staying asleep at least three nights/week for at least one month. CBD may help by addressing the root causes of insomnia, including anxiety and pain.
Anxiety + CBD
Stress and anxiety elevate cortisol levels, which impact melatonin levels, which disrupt our sleep-wake cycle. CBD may work to calm the nervous system and, in a recent study, (1) 80% of participants reported lower anxiety and 65% reported improved sleep.
Also, because insomnia affects daytime wakefulness, concentration, and mood, it can also lead to anxiety come nighttime about getting inadequate sleep—a vicious cycle that CBD may help ease.
Physical Discomfort + CBD
There is evidence (2) showing that CBD may significantly reduce physical discomfort by inhibiting the release of neurotransmitters from nerve endings, modulating neuron excitability, and reducing neural inflammation. Because physical discomfort is a significant culprit of various sleep disorders, researchers conclude that, by reducing discomfort, CBD also supports sleep.
How to select CBD supplements
It’s important to look for CBD supplements with a Certificate of Analysis, which is a document from an accredited third-party or internal cGMP-certified laboratory verifying the cannabinoid quantity in each specific product batch and ensuring labeling accuracy with regards to THC content. Refer to our guide to COAs for more on where to find them, how to read them, and red flags to look out for.
Other things to look for include:
- Hemp sourced from a responsible, vertically-integrated supplier for seed-to-shelf quality control and traceability
- Supplements that are THC-free (this is the substance that gets you “high”)
- Supplements with clinically-studied, non-hemp ingredients at dosage levels proven to promote quality sleep
- Tested for purity and verified free of heavy metals, microbes, and pesticides
- U.S. manufactured and produced in an FDA-approved, "Good Manufacturing Practices"-compliant facility
Side effects of CBD
Outside of drowsiness and fatigue (which some believe is related to the dosage), no notable side effects have been observed, leading researchers to conclude that CBD is well-tolerated among adults.
What is melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain, then released into the bloodstream. Quantities naturally increase as the sun goes down and decrease during daytime hours and exposure to bright light, thus regulating the sleep-wake cycle (aka circadian rhythm).
When it’s produced within our bodies, it goes by the name endogenous melatonin; however, some also choose to supplement their natural levels as a way to effectively adjust and regulate their body's internal clock.
Who melatonin is best for
Melatonin is best for those suffering from circadian rhythm sleep disorders such as:
- Jet lag
Officially known as "Rapid Time Zone Change Syndrome," jet lag messes with your sleep times and wake times as you cross into new time zones, especially when traveling east.
- Shift Work Disorder
Shift workers with inconsistent schedules have been found to get upwards of four fewer hours of sleep than the average person due to disrupted melatonin production.
- Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (DSPS)
Night owls who fall asleep late but have a hard time getting up in the morning (common with teens and young adults).
- Advanced Sleep Phase Disorder
Early birds whose body clock causes them to fall asleep and wake up on the early side (common with older adults).
- Irregular Sleep-Wake Rhythm Disorder
When someone's sleep patterns are flipped upside down due to one-too-many naps over a 24-hour period.
READ MORE: Guide To Circadian Rhythms
Does melatonin work?
As is the case with all natural sleep supplements, there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Your sleep and overall health must be evaluated holistically to help you understand and solve the issue(s) at hand.
That being said, there is research supporting the efficacy of melatonin. One meta-analysis in particular, (3) which compared melatonin against placebo in improving sleep parameters for patients with primary sleep disorders, showed that the supplement reduced sleep latency (the amount of time it takes to fall asleep) by 7.06 minutes and increased total sleep time by 8.25 minutes. Also promising was the fact that trials with a longer duration and higher doses of melatonin demonstrated greater effects on decreasing sleep latency and increasing total sleep time.
How to select melatonin supplements
It's important to do your research to ensure your supplement of choice contains what it says it does and is not contaminated with heavy metals or pesticides. Here's what to look for when selecting a melatonin supplement for short-term or longer-term use:
- Third-party tested for purity and verified free of heavy metals, microbes, and pesticides
- U.S. manufactured and produced in a Food & Drug Administration (FDA)-approved, "Good Manufacturing Practices"-compliant facility
- If the supplement has other ingredients or botanicals, ensure they are standardized to guarantee consistent purity, potency, and efficacy
- Free of artificial colors or binders
- Non-GMO and, if it’s important to you, vegan, gluten/dairy/sugar-free
Side effects of melatonin
A small percentage of melatonin users have been found to experience daytime drowsiness, sleepiness, headaches, and dizziness; however, there is no evidence of a risk for serious, clinically significant adverse events (AEs). (4) As a precautionary measure, it’s recommended that users not drive or use machinery for four to five hours after taking melatonin.
Melatonin + CBD are not mutually exclusive
While it’s important to understand the differences between melatonin and CBD as sleep aids, it’s equally as important to recognize that there are supplements containing both, such as Proper’s Sleep + Restore with CBD formulation which, unlike other CBD supplements, was specifically designed to support sleep.
We started with our Core Sleep foundation of four key clinically-studied ingredients at dosage levels proven to promote sleep: Sensoril® Ashwagandha, GABA, Venetron®, and valerian root extract. From there, we added both standard and MicroActive® extended-release melatonin in order to provide sleep support throughout the night. And finally, we added THC-free broad spectrum hemp extract (CBD), omega-3 oil, and terpenes, which emerging science shows may reduce stress and anxiety to further improve sleep quality.
Interested in learning more about the different stages of sleep (both REM sleep and non-REM)? Refer to our complete guide.