Can Cannabis Help Seniors Sleep Better At Night?

April 20, 2023
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Could cannabis improve sleep in older adults?

Poor sleep quality is elevated in older adults and people living with HIV, and has been associated with “worse cognitive function, everyday functioning, and quality of life.” Cannabis has long been used as a sleep aid by people around the world—could it be a viable treatment for poor sleep in these populations?

If cannabis does improve sleep conditions in the elderly population, you can expect to see more seniors in your local cannabis dispensary or medical marijuana clinic. In July 2020, researchers at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) published a pilot study exploring the relationship between daily cannabis use and sleep quality in middle-aged and older adults with and without HIV. The study tracked the cannabis use and sleep metrics of 17 (11 HIV+, 6 HIV-) people aged 50-70 who consumed cannabis.

The participants were gathered from a larger, ongoing EMA study at the HIV Neurobehavioral Research Program at UCSD. EMA studies, or ecological momentary assessment studies, are a group of methods developed by psychologists that allows research participants “to report on symptoms, affect and behavior close in time” to an experience. EMA studies typically sample many events and time periods, and thus provide a more detailed measurement of mood and behavior than other methods.

The 17 participants wore actigraphy watches to objectively measure their sleep and completed four daily smartphone surveys about their cannabis use over a 14-day period. Researchers looked at total sleep time, sleep efficiency, and sleep fragmentation. They found that daily cannabis use was associated with longer sleep duration, but no change in sleep efficiency or sleep fragmentation.

Why study cannabis and sleep?

Due to decades of prohibition, there aren’t many scientifically rigorous studies on cannabis and sleep. The scientific literature has found both positive and negative sleep outcomes tied to cannabis use, and “the variability in findings is likely due to the heterogeneous nature of the whole plant cannabis and contextual factors of use such as dose, frequency of use, composition of cannabis product and motivations for use.”

As medical and recreational marijuana programs have sprung up around the country, more people living with HIV and older people are getting their medical marijuana cards and using cannabis than ever before. Given the elevated rates of poor sleep quality in these populations, the UCSD team wanted to conduct this pilot study to determine how cannabis affected sleep in a real-life setting. As the researchers explain, “few studies have used objectively-measured sleep measures or real-time sampling of cannabis use to examine this relationship.”

Most studies looking at the relationship between cannabis and sleep have assessed sleep and cannabis use through self-report questionnaires completed after the fact, which are prone to inaccuracy. Or they were conducted in a lab setting, which doesn’t have much carryover to real life. Additionally, most of the studies looked at younger populations.

Insights and limitations of the UCSD cannabis sleep study

Due to the mixed findings in the literature, the researchers did not have “a priori hypotheses and therefore took a more exploratory approach.” They found that daily cannabis use was correlated with approximately 30 minutes greater total sleep time, but no change in sleep efficiency or sleep fragmentation.

While these findings are important, the study has some limitations. There were only 17 participants, of which more than 80% were male. The researchers were unable to test whether the relationship between cannabis and sleep differed based on HIV status. And they were also unable to assess the “dose, route of administration, time of use, composition of cannabis product and reason(s) for use.” The team called for further studies to determine the best composition and dosing of cannabis products to improve sleep.

Want to improve your sleep with cannabis or CBD?

According to the team at UCSD, “studies utilizing digital health technologies in people’s everyday lives” are needed to investigate the relationship between cannabis and sleep. Jointly is a smartphone app that allows health-conscious cannabis users to track and record their cannabis consumption, including the dose, route of administration, time of use, composition of the cannabis product, and the reasons for using cannabis in that session, plus various other factors that can influence your experience.Can Cannabis Help Seniors Sleep Better At Night?.

Jointly tip

Want to bring the UCSD study home? If you are already tracking your sleep with an app or a wearable, you can use Jointly together with your sleep app or wearable and learn if you can use cannabis to improve your sleep. Of course, Jointly is the only digital tool you need to gain meaningful insights into how cannabis affects your sleep.

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So if you're ready to find your best products and enjoy your perfect cannabis experience, download the Jointly app today on the App Store or Google Play, or shop your matches on the Jointly website. Discovery awaits.

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