If you thought weed was helping you chill out, you might want to listen up. New research suggests it might actually have the opposite effect on your sleep.
A new study found that people who reported being regular marijuana users were nearly twice as likely to report having sleep problems as people who only occasionally light up or don’t smoke at all.
Research on the relationship between sleep and marijuana is still pretty scarce ― and this one, small pilot study is not necessarily conclusive evidence, study author Deirdre Conroy, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan, told The Huffington Post.
But, she added: “Daily use of marijuana [was linked to] the most sleep disturbances.”
For the study, researchers surveyed 98 people who identified themselves as either daily marijuana users, occasional marijuana users who smoked at least once in the past month and up to five days per week, or those who never used the drug.
Nearly 40 percent of the daily pot users reported having insomnia symptoms ― compared with 10 percent of occasional users and 20 percent of non-users.
Previous studies have shown that any history of marijuana use was linked to an increased likelihood of people reporting either having trouble falling asleep, having trouble staying asleep, having trouble getting restorative sleep or feeling daytime sleepiness. But most of those studies were conducted in specific populations of people who were heavy marijuana users or people seeking treatment for substance abuse, Conroy said.
The new study is unique in that it compared sleep among individuals from the general public with different marijuana habits ― those who use the drug daily versus those who use the drug occasionally versus those who don’t use the drug at all, she explained. “This study looks at sleep while people are using and in their own environment,” she said.
But the relationship between pot and sleep is still emerging…
The data from this study makes a pretty strong suggestion that daily marijuana users had more sleep problems than occasional users or people who don’t smoke marijuana at all. But a few theories from the researchers might explain why some daily users have a higher likelihood of reporting sleep trouble than others:
1. Daily Pot Smokers Are More Likely To Have Anxiety Or Depression, Which Hurts Sleep
When the researchers excluded data from individuals in the study who reported having anxiety or depression, there were few differences between the sleep of daily pot users, occasional pot users and non-users.
“Marijuana may have different effects on your sleep depending on if you have [symptoms of] depression or anxiety,” Conroy said.
People who have anxiety ― which inherently puts them at a higher risk of sleep trouble ― may be self-medicating with marijuana. And if that’s the case, the group of regular marijuana users might include more people who are therefore already at a higher risk of having sleep problems, the authors note in the study.
That makes sense because previous studies have shown there is also a link between higher marijuana use and higher rates of anxiety.
2. Marijuana Could Be Contributing To Anxiety ― Which Then Hurts Sleep
Some research also suggests that marijuana use might contribute to an individual’s risk of anxiety or depression. So, it is possible that more frequent marijuana use is partially to blame for mood disorders, which then cause sleep problems, according to the study’s authors.
But the evidence that marijuana causes mood disorders is also far from conclusive.
That means this explanation is still just a theory at this point, Conroy said. But it does suggest that future studies about how pot affects sleep should carefully account for the role that mood disorders play, she added.
3. Poor Sleep May Lead Smokers To Smoke More
Because this study reports survey answers, the research does not necessarily explain whether smoking marijuana contributes to poor sleep or poor sleep causes people to smoke more, Conroy added.
Previous studies have found that marijuana use does affect the various stages of sleep ― reducing rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and increasing the deepest stages of sleep. Other research, though, has suggested prolonged, regular marijuana use suppresses deep sleep. But there is not really enough evidence to confirm a clear consensus about how sleep specifically affects the brain during sleep, Conroy said. “Unfortunately, there still are only a few studies,” she said.
The bottom line is that marijuana use does affect your brain and your sleep, Conroy said. And if you have a daily pot habit, this new study suggests lighting up could be hurting your shut-eye.
Sarah DiGiulio is The Huffington Post’s sleep reporter. You can contact her at [email protected].