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Cannabis for Insomnia: Choosing the Best Terpenes for Sleep

Posted on February 12 2019

Though cannabis was once linked to the couch-locked, “lazy stoner” aesthetic, researchers have now identified that the effects are totally dependent on the individual strain. Some strains have been linked to opposite effects, like increased mental performance and wake-promoting properties. Some people have even started using cannabis while working out to increase their endurance and boost focus. These uplifting strains definitely have their place, but may lead to confusion and disappointment for a patient looking to use cannabis for insomnia.

cannabis for insomniaJust like the perfect terpene combination can create a performance-boosting toke, different terpenes may have calming, sedative-like effects. Many people have used cannabis for managing symptoms of insomnia and other sleep disorders with great success. One user reported that his insomnia was so bad, he frequently went up to a week without sleep. Every common intervention failed him, including implementing a new nighttime routine and using sleep-inducing medications. After hearing from friends that cannabis helped them sleep at night, he purchased a cannabis vape pen. He quickly found that a few small hits helped him fall asleep quickly most nights.

Like many patients, cannabis helped him see the end of his sleep disorder, and now he advocates cannabis to others. “If anyone has doubts about weed, I recommend giving it a try in a small dosage.” This isn’t a secluded case, either. Many medical professionals have suggested cannabis for insomnia to their patients. Of course, it has to be the right kind of cannabis to do the job. The trick is choosing the right strain with just the right combination of terpenes to help you relax and wind down into a good night’s rest.


What are Terpenes?

terpenes for sleepTerpenes are molecules found in all plants that give them unique characteristics, like aroma, flavor, and health benefits. Terpenes are the main reason that each cannabis strain smells and tastes differently. They are also the reason that each strain offers a unique experience, including different physical and mental effects. The terpene profiles explain why some cannabis cultivars are so uplifting and energizing while others make you want to kick your feet up and relax. Understanding terpenes (check out this guide) is the key to picking the best strain for every occasion.

When using cannabis to manage sleep disorders or for managing other symptoms during the afternoon and night, it’s best to choose a cultivar dense with terpenes that promote relaxation. Each cultivar varies greatly, and some terpenes are less common than others. You can assume that a cultivar will be suitable for promoting restful sleep if they include a high concentration of the following terpenes.

Best Terpenes for Sleep

There are many terpenes found throughout the hundreds of cannabis cultivar, but some might have “excitatory” effects that make sleep disorders worse. Instead, consider these five terpenes, which have sedative-like, anxiolytic, and calming effects that make them the best terpenes for sleep:


  • a-Pinene: Aside from its proposed anxiolytic effects, a-Pinene may also help increase the amount of non-REM sleep you get at night. At least, it did so in laboratory trials with mice. In large amounts, though, it might have the opposite effect. In most cases, a cannabis strain won’t carry enough a-Pinene to have wake-promoting effects.

  • Myrcene: Myrcene is generally linked to the sedative-like effects of hops and lemongrass, and may have the same impact when derived from cannabis. It is also sometimes considered a muscle relaxant, so it plays a part in cannabis’ ability to help with pain. Strains high in myrcene may be best for managing pain at night or using before bed. Myrcene is one of the most abundant terpenes found in most cannabis strains, which is important because it also has an impact on the synergistic effect between the cannabinoids. Studies have even shown that mangos are high in myrcene, and may help increase the sedative-like effects of cannabis.

  • Linalool: Linalool, the main terpene found in lavender, has long been linked to its sedative-like effects. One study looked at the inhalation of different essential oils and their impact on sleep disorders in patients with dementia. The evidence suggests that linalool shows sedative-like effects in healthy adults. Like lavender, linalool has also been linked to stress-relieving effects, which may make linalool-heavy strains better for using near bedtime.

  • Phytol: Phytol has also been linked to lower anxiety and stress levels, and may also lengthen sleep time. Most of its benefits for sleep are seen when it is combined with linalool.

  • Terpinolene: This terpene has been linked to sedative-like effects similar to Myrcene. However, the terpene doesn’t induce sleep, but rather helps calm the urge to move or become active. This may make it appropriate for people who have difficulty finding a still, calm spot when trying to rest. Terpinolene also has been linked to anxiolytic effects that may help reduce stress and anxiety that inhibit sleep. It is one of the rarest terpenes found in the cannabis plant, but strains with some terpinolene may still be appropriate for managing sleep disorders.

  • How Does Cannabis Impact Sleep?

    Cannabis’ potential impact on sleep is widely acknowledged but scarcely explained. There is some evidence that helps explain how cannabis impacts our sleep cycles through our Endocannabinoid System. This bodily system includes Endocannabinoids that are structurally similar to phytocannabinoids found in the cannabis plant.

    These endocannabinoids include anandamide, the molecule that is similar to THC, and 2-AG, the one that is similar to CBD. Both of these endocannabinoids are neurotransmitters, which means they impact messages sent and received by the brain. This is how cannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System have an impact on regulating functions involving sleep, mood, appetite, and more.

    Because of their structural similarities, phytocannabinoids from cannabis are able to bind with the same neuroreceptors that bind with Endocannabinoids. These receptors, including CB-1 and CB-2 receptors, are found all throughout the body and heavily throughout the brain.

    Many sleep medications are designed to change deep sleep into lighter sleep that extends for a greater period of time. Although the quantity of sleep is more, sleep quality is often lost. Instead, cannabinoid signaling in the brain may help stabilize sleep. Studies have even shown that cannabis might help you fall asleep faster. In small doses, THC has shown sedative-like effects.


    Which Strains Should I Choose?

    cannabis for sleepThere are hundreds of cannabis’ cultivars available to consumers, each with their own unique terpene and cannabinoid profile. Until you have tried a cultivar, you won’t know how it will impact you. If you are looking for cannabis to use before bed or to help with sleep disorders, checking the terpene profile for the terpenes listed above is a great place to start. Strains high in Myrcene are often easiest to find because it is the most common terpene found in cannabis. This could include variants of Sour Diesel or OG Kush, like Platinum OG. If you have any doubts about how to use cannabis for insomnia, you should consult your doctor.

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