It’s age old information—cannabis can stop you from dreaming—but is it true? And more importantly, does Delta-8-THC affect REM sleep and dreaming in the same way that traditional cannabis products supposedly do?
If so, that may make it a useful therapeutic option for managing some specific sleep ailments, like PTSD related nightmares. We know that Delta-8-THC has the potential to improve sleep, especially when poor sleep is linked to pain or anxiety, but there’s more to the story.
Here’s what we know about Delta-8’s impact on REM cycles, dreams, and nightmares:
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REM stands for rapid eye movement, and refers to a phase of sleep that follows NREM, or non-REM sleep. To better understand this, you need to take a look at sleep cycles and what they do for the body. Here’s a quick rundown:
There are four different sleep cycles (referred to as “stages 1-4”) that happen during NREM sleep. Stages 1 and 2 represent light stages of sleep. These stages may seem inconsequential, but they’re pretty important.
Multiple things happen during early phases of NREM sleep. The body’s hormones change to prepare for deeper phases of sleep. Crucial cognitive processing elements take place in which the brain transfers new memories to be stored in the long-term memory portion of your brain.
Stages 3 and 4 represent deeper stages of sleep, and these are equally important. During these phases, the body engages in restorative functions, like cellular repair and immune system regulation. Memory processing also takes place during late-stage NREM sleep.
After all four NREM sleep phases comes a short period of REM sleep where the eyes move rapidly under the eyelids without sending any visual signals to your brain. Dreaming most commonly happens during REM sleep, although it can sometimes happen during other phases of sleep, too.
REM sleep is also the portion of sleep where the brain does most of its emotional processing as well as many other cognitive functions involving memory. For this reason, dreaming during REM sleep is not always a pleasant experience for all people, especially those who suffer from disruptive dreaming caused by conditions like REM Sleep Behavior Disorder or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
We’re here to discuss whether Delta-8-THC affects REM sleep, but most of the evidence on this topic involves whole-plant cannabis or Delta-9-THC products and not Delta-8 on its own. First we’ll discuss the impact of cannabis on REM sleep and the reason that THC is sometimes used to limit dreaming, and then we’ll see how Delta-8-THC’s effects compare down below.
One systematic review of the impact of cannabinoids (the active compounds found in cannabis) on sleep found that cannabis may increase the length of light non-REM sleep stages, but found it to have no impact on later phases of NREM sleep. However, a 2019 study found that cannabis may also increase deeper phases (stage 3 and 4) of NREM sleep.
Other evidence suggests that THC may improve breathing during sleep. One study from 2013 found that a THC-based prescription medication called Dronabinol could successfully reduce markers of sleep apnea and was well-tolerated in most patients.
Evidence suggests high-THC strains of cannabis are likely to reduce the duration of REM sleep during regular sleep cycles. Because REM sleep is the sleep phase where dreaming, and especially emotionally-responsive dreaming, takes place, THC is thought to have some potential to reduce dreaming in the case of various sleep disorders that may cause nightmares.
These effects have rarely been studied in depth regarding whole-plant cannabis or natural THC extracts, but one study focused on nabilone, a prescription drug designed to work in the body similarly to THC.
Dr. George Fraser, a doctor working at the Operational Trauma and Stress Support Centre at Canadian Forces Health Services Centre, found that the use of nabilone was promising for reducing nightmares in patients with PTSD. He published a study in 2009 in which he found that 72% of his 47 participating patients reported either a complete cessation of nightmares or significant reduction in the intensity of the dreams.
The evidence is clear: THC has sedative effects that may help you fall asleep faster and increase the duration of NREM sleep phases. It may also reduce REM sleep and dreaming, which can be useful in various situations.
However, THC isn’t the only compound found in cannabis that affects sleep, and if too much dreaming isn’t your problem, you may be looking for a different kind of sleep support. Other cannabinoids, like CBN and CBD, may also have an impact on sleep.
Now for the answer we’ve been waiting for—Does Delta-8-THC affect REM sleep like Delta-9-THC does? We really don’t know, but it’s likely.
It’s possible that Delta-8 may reduce the length of REM sleep and inhibit dreaming in the same way that the THC-based medications Nabilone and Dronabinol imitate THC’s functions. Unfortunately, research has yet to investigate the impact of Delta-8-THC on sleep cycles, so we can’t say for sure.
We do know that Delta-8 interacts with the Endocannabinoid System and brain in a manner that is similar to Delta-9 and is therefore likely to produce very similar results. In fact, Delta-8 acts on the same endocannabinoid receptors in the brain that Delta-9 binds to, and multiple studies have found that Delta-8 replicates the effects of Delta-9. One study even found Delta-8-THC to be more effective than Delta-9 at reducing nausea and vomiting in pediatric cancer patients.
Ultimately, we need more research to fully understand the impact Delta-8-THC has on REM sleep, but we believe that it could follow this trend. It’s possible that Delta-8-THC may even have increased benefits for sleep because it also interacts with the immune-system portion of the Endocannabinoid System (unlike Delta-9), which causes significant “body effects.”
Want to know more? Read “Delta-8-THC for Sleep” to get the rundown on existing research.
Although THC may have some sleep-inducing, nightmare-banishing benefits, there also may be some drawbacks to discontinuing THC use that negatively impact sleep.
Some research found that quitting THC, especially after heavy, long-term use, may lead to increased sleep disruptions and trouble falling asleep. In some cases, anecdotal reports suggest that dreams may get a little wild as your body adjusts to the lack of THC, but there’s no evidence available to support this.
It’s hard to say whether THC “withdrawal” actually causes these negative sleep experiences, or if they are just an assemblage of sleep issues that existed pre-cannabis-use that are now surfacing.
More evidence is needed to understand the complete impact of THC, including Delta-8-THC, on sleep and REM cycles. For now, it’s important that you always involve your doctor when making decisions regarding your wellness routine or when considering cannabinoid products for health-related reasons.
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