The most popular theory about the purpose of dreams is that they aid in sorting through feelings, memories, and information. Many people take cannabidiol (CBD) for its positive effect on sleep quality. However, there are persistent anecdotal stories surrounding CBD and bad dreams.
We've all woken up from bad dreams—and it doesn't exactly leave us feeling refreshed. If you're under a lot of stress, bad dreams can push your stress levels further in the wrong direction, making you wonder if CBD is the right compound for you.
The research on how CBD affects dreams isn't extensive, but preliminary studies on rats indicate that CBD may reduce non-REM (NREM) sleep and REM sleep and has some anxiolytic effects, which may support a better night's sleep quality overall .
In this article, we'll take a closer look at how CBD may impact dreams, and how you can use CBD for a more restful sleep.
Can CBD Oil Cause Weird Dreams?
There's very little research surrounding CBD and weird dreams. CBD and other cannabinoids primarily work in the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is tasked with modulating vital systems involved with stress, memory, sleep-wake cycle, and much more. ECS's main focus is maintaining a Goldilock's zone of homeostasis for optimum function.
Since everyone's baseline for their health will vary from one individual to another, CBD affects everyone differently, so it's entirely possible that CBD can cause bad dreams for some people.
To understand how CBD and other cannabinoids may affect sleep, we'll quickly break down the stages of sleep.
What Impacts Our Dreams?
Our emotional and mental states impact the content of our dreams. Some people even experience strange dreams from eating dairy or spicy food in the late evenings.
What this boils down to is that our dreams are not completely separate from our waking life. Lifestyle habits from stress levels, how much sleep you're getting, exercise, food, and supplements may have a direct impact on the quality of our dreams.
The Effect Of CBD On Sleep
CBD has quickly become a natural way to support a good night's sleep.
One of its most notable effects is deep relaxation and regulating healthy inflammation levels, which may help calm the body to prepare for sleep.
Many people struggle to fall asleep in the first place because of racing thoughts due to stress. Taking high doses of CBD (50 mg +) before bed may help with this along with other sleep hygiene practices such as:
- Limiting screen time
- Dimming the lights
- Cooler room temperatures
- Supplementing melatonin
Quality sleep from using CBD may also have something to do with CBD's influence on GABA neurotransmitters. Higher levels of GABA in the brain act as a sort of brake-pedal to the fight-or-flight response, helping the body prepare for rest-and-digest mode for restorative sleep .
How CBD Cause With Nightmares
CBD is suggested to reduce anxiety by binding to serotonin receptors in the brain . Serotonin is a chemical messenger that regulates mood, anxiety, and sleep, which may lead to fewer and less intense nightmares. Therefore, CBD does not necessarily lead to nightmares.
There is a growing body of research on the effects of CBD oil on sleep and nightmares. Studies have shown that CBD may positively affect sleep quality and reduce the frequency and intensity of nightmares in individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), for example .
What Science Says About CBD and Dreams
Studies on the effects of CBD on dreams are extremely limited, and for that reason, there’s no concrete data on precisely how CBD affects dreams. And so, the idea that CBD can cause you to dream more, or expose you to nightmares, is unsupported by science.
In a study investigating the effects of CBD on the sleep-wake cycle of healthy people, researchers found that CBD doesn’t cause any disruption, and in a different study, it was found that CBD was effective at minimizing anxiety-induced REM sleep .
The association of CBD with nightmares is a result of anecdotal reports, meaning it's not substantiated through research.
Bad Dreams & Weird Dreams: Why Do We Dream?
There's no definitive answer for why we dream, but the most agreed-upon theory is that it's how our brains process and consolidate information and memories .
Other interesting theories suggest that dreams are internal therapists, deep in our subconscious, that help us work through emotional dramas from our waking life. Or dreams can be fight-or-flight training simulators that help us with our survival, which may explain the physiological stress we encounter in nightmares and bad dreams.
No matter how absurd or bizarre dreams seem, researchers have done studies on participants' dream journals and found that only about 10% of the dream's contents are of distorted reality . Whatever the reason for our dreams, it seems that dreams are a blend of stories and emotions that may appear completely random but are in fact, related to our thoughts and preoccupations in our lives.
The Five Sleep Stages
The sleep cycle is made up of five sleep stages and two types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM sleep.
Each stage is characterized by different activities in the brain and eye movement patterns and plays unique roles in the brain and body's restoration. Once you fall asleep, you cycle through the following stages multiple times.
Stage 1 (Non-REM)
The first stage of sleep occurs when you're just starting to fall asleep. It's the lightest stage and generally lasts a few minutes. You may feel the sensation of falling as your muscles involuntarily contract in what's called hypnic myoclonia or hypnic jerks.
Brain wave frequencies seen from an electroencephalogram (ECG) are slightly slower, producing alpha and theta waves, which are observed in creativity, intuition, and daydreaming.
Stage 2 (Non- REM)
Stage two represents deeper sleep, though it's still considered a period of light sleep. You're much less likely to be awakened in stage two compared to stage one, and it lasts for roughly 25 minutes.
Ideal "power-naps" should take you into this stage.
Your muscles begin to relax, your heart rate slows, and your body temperature cools slightly as you prepare to enter deep sleep. The slow eye movements come to an end, and although brain waves may diminish, there are sporadic bursts of neural activity, shown in an ECG as "sleep spindles."
Stage 3 & 4 (Non-REM)
Stages three and four are progressively deeper stages of sleep, known as slow-wave or delta sleep. You're much harder to wake from these sleep stages.
The ECG shows a much slower frequency in brainwaves, and the body is completely relaxed. If you're awoken during these deep, non-REM stages, you're likely to feel groggy and perform poorly on cognitive tests.
Stage 5 (REM)
Stage five is characterized by quick twitching movements of the eyes, rapid breathing, and increased heart rate and brain activity.
This is the sleep stage where dreams occur, and it happens roughly 90 minutes after you fall asleep. The first REM stage lasts for about 10 minutes and will get longer with each cycle through the night.
Interestingly, the ECG shows brain activity similar to that of when you're awake However, your muscles become temporarily paralyzed, though you may experience involuntary twitches. This temporary paralysis is believed to prevent injury.
The Takeaway: CBD And Dreams
We want to underscore here that there is no scientific research that proves CBD causes nightmares or bizarre dreams.
Our dreams are influenced by a lot of factors in our waking life and deep in our subconscious. While there's still a lot we don't understand about dreams, the most prevalent theory we have for why we dream is to help us sort out and cull information and emotions.
We're not sure how CBD affects rem sleep, but there is evidence to show that CBD may support deep sleep thanks to its calming and relaxation properties in the brain.
Since CBD may affect individuals differently, we can't say for certain that CBD products will not affect your dreams—It's something that you will have to experiment with on your own.
Always make sure you're shopping for high-quality CBD products with third-party lab tests to back up their contents. You may want to keep a dream journal by your bedside to help you recall your dreams when you wake up.
Can CBD Help Dream Recall?
Researchers haven’t established whether CBD can improve one’s ability to recall dreams, but according to anecdotal reports, CBD may help some people to have a greater ability to recall their dreams. The best tip for keeping track of your dreams is to keep a journal at your bedside so that you can note down the dreams first thing when you wake up.
Does CBD affect Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep Behavior Disorder?
Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is characterized by twitching eyes and minimal muscle movement. But sometimes, the dreamer might start acting out their dreams by producing sounds and making fervent movements with their arms and legs.
Although research is limited in this space, one study found CBD to be effective at reducing instances of REM sleep behavior disorder in those with Parkinson's disease .
Is it Okay to Take CBD Oil Before Bed?
It's perfectly safe for most people to take CBD oil before bed. The best time for ingesting CBD oil depends on your health goals.
For instance, if you’re looking to boost your energy, you can take CBD in the morning, and many will take CBD before bed to help them unwind and prepare for sleep.
Can You Stop Dreaming From Taking CBD?
There is no evidence to prove that CBD stops you from dreaming. According to scientists, everyone dreams. It's just very difficult to hold onto the memory of your dreams when you awake. However, there are some medications, specifically antidepressants that are known for interfering with REM sleep, which is the sleep stage when dreams occur.
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