Can Cannabis Help Older Folks Sleep Better?
Date Published: 9/29/2020
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 insomnia in these populations?
In July of 2020, researchers at the University of California San Diego 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 the 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 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.
And as the researchers point out, the first line of medication currently used to treat insomnia are benzodiazepines and z-drugs. Z-drugs are molecularly different from benzodiazepines, but have nearly identical pharmacodynamics, such that both types of medication have the same benefits, side effects and risks.
These drugs have been associated with negative cognitive effects and increased rates of falling in older adults, and recent research indicates that the rates of physical dependence on these medications is much higher than previously thought. Cannabis offers a safer, healthier and potentially more effective means of improving sleep.
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 minute 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.
As you track your experiences on Jointly, you will gain important insights on how to optimize your cannabis consumption to achieve your wellness goals. Additionally, Jointly will suggest routines and products based on your personal data, combined with the aggregated data of the Jointly community.
Head over to Achieving Your Wellness Goals with Cannabis and CBD to learn more about how to use Jointly to set health and wellness goals like Improve Sleep, and how to track your cannabis consumption to eliminate side effects and get the results you want every time.
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. Use the Jointly app to precisely track your cannabis consumption and monitor how it affects your sleep.
Comment below to let us know if Jointly helped you learn how cannabis impacts your sleep! Download the Jointly app today and start accomplishing your wellness goals with cannabis and CBD!
 Schifano F, Chiappini S, Corkery JM, Guirguis A. An Insight into Z-Drug Abuse and Dependence: An Examination of Reports to the European Medicines Agency Database of Suspected Adverse Drug Reactions. Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2019;22(4):270-277. doi:10.1093/ijnp/pyz007