If you struggle with sleep issues, you’re in good company. In fact, nearly 15 percent of American adults report having trouble falling asleep and nearly 18 percent report trouble staying asleep, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many people turn to sleep aids to find solace, but which one is the most effective? This article explores the two most commonly used sleep supplements today: melatonin and CBD.
The Evolution of Sleep Disturbances
While we might live in a current political and social climate that gets in the way of our sleep cycle, not to mention that we’re surrounded by screens and technologies that don’t “turn off,” sleep issues are not new to humans. In fact, sleep aids, in various forms, have been used for millennia, notes Sunjya Schweig, M.D., founder and director at the California Center for Functional Medicine. “Historically, cultures around the world have turned to natural remedies, such as herbal concoctions, teas, and essential oils, to induce sleep or treat insomnia—for example, ancient Egyptians used opium poppy, while traditional Chinese medicine prescribed various herbs for sleep disturbances,” he says.
Although we’ve been treating sleep issues for an unknown number of centuries, sleep disturbances have changed dramatically. “Historically, worries related to survival, such as the threat of predators or environmental dangers, might have disrupted sleep,” he says. “Today, stressors have evolved but are no less impactful—financial worries, job stress, and personal concerns can all contribute.”
These days, the two most common supplements we lean on to help us sleep are melatonin and CBD. Both have their benefits—and drawbacks. Let’s look at the differences between the two and enlist the help of experts to give us the 411 when it comes to which one is actually better for sleep.
What is melatonin – and how does it help induce sleep?
Melatonin is an actual hormone that our bodies naturally produce in our pineal gland. It’s responsive to light exposure, so back when the sunlight was the only light we were actually exposed to, we had less trouble winding down and falling asleep since our melatonin increased. “In the modern world, having artificial light available at all hours late into the night, our bodies do not know when to start producing melatonin,” explains Dr. Schweig.
We can, however, consume melatonin in supplement form to help our bodies wind down and feel “sleepy.” Since melatonin is non-habit-forming, we don’t have to worry about getting addicted. The drawback here is that some people are very sensitive to melatonin. “Some people who take melatonin will fall asleep and stay asleep for long periods of time—even waking up the next day feeling groggy,” says Dr. Schweig. “This can be adjusted based on the amount of melatonin they take.”
It can also interact with other medications that no one seems to ever think about, including blood pressure meds. birth control, diabetes medication and even some anti-depressant meds, notes Michael Breus, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, and author of The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan: Lose Weight Through Better Sleep.
A normal dosage of melatonin could range anywhere from 1 to 5 mg. Most experts recommend starting with 1 mg and working your way up as you need it.
What is CBD – and how does it help induce sleep?
CBD, or cannabidiol, is not a hormone, but rather a compound derived from the cannabis plant. Unlike the other well-known cannabinoid, THC, CBD doesn’t give you the feeling of being “high.”
“Some evidence suggests that CBD might also be useful as an antioxidant, an antipsychotic, and to prevent nausea and vomiting,” explains Dr. Breus. “Experts are still unsure as to exactly how CBD impacts sleep; however, CBD has drawn an increasing amount of scientific interest as a way to manage certain sleep disorders and health conditions that may affect sleep, such as insomnia.
Unfortunately, the use of CBD for sleep has its downsides. Firstly, there’s a lack of consistent evidence supporting its use, as mentioned. Secondly, there’s no universally accepted dose for sleep, and the optimal amount may vary significantly between individuals, notes Dr. Schweig. Taking too much CBD can lead to potential side effects, which can include dizziness, dry mouth, and changes in appetite. “The regulatory landscape for CBD products is still evolving, leading to concerns about product purity and consistency,” he says. “Without stringent quality control, there’s a risk of products containing contaminants or differing levels of CBD than advertised.”
Which is better for sleep: Melatonin or CBD?
The answer truly depends on the person—and deciding which one to take depends on the cause of your sleep disturbance, notes naturopath Kiera Lane, N.M.D., MSAc, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac., director of Arizona Natural Medicine. “If your sleep disturbance is due to changing work schedules or travel, melatonin may be your best pick; however, if you’re having a lot of anxiety, under stress and have pain, CBD might be a better option for sleep,” she says. “Remember that CBD can have a sedative effect so if you’re taking other medications that have sedative effects, check with your doctor first to make sure there are no interactions.”