Alcohol & Drug Counseling, Assessment, & Prevention Services

Washington State University ADCAPS

Does Smoking Cannabis Affect Sleep?


The facts:
  • Marijuana decreases sleep quality, which then affects your overall quality of life.  
  • Disturbances in sleep patterns can remain for up to five days after use and normal sleep patterns may not return until after one week. With chronic marijuana use, sleep may be disturbed on an ongoing basis with relief only after longer term abstinence.  
  • In research studies marijuana users have a disturbed sleep pattern throughout the night and experience less REM or rapid eye movement sleep as well as less SWS or slow wave sleep.  
  • Not getting enough sleep limits your cognitive and physical abilities.


Here's why:

  • General information: The cannabis plant contains over 60 cannabinoids. THC - Delta 9 Tetrahydrocannabinol - is the constituent primarily responsible for the psychotropic effects of marijuana. These psychotropic effects are mediated mostly by cannabinoid CB-1 receptors, which can be found in high concentrations in the frontal cortex, cerebellum, and basal ganglia. CB-1 receptors activate a variety of signal transduction pathways and interact with numerous neurotransmitters and neuromodulators. 
  • Individual effects: Acute subjective marijuana effects are highly variable. There may be contradictory effects depending on the individual and condition. Marijuana can induce mild euphoria, talkativeness, intensification of sensory experiences, difficulty concentrating, altered time perception, relaxation and drowsiness. 
  • The arousing effects of THC use may predominate initially but, in time, THC decreases sleep latency, meaning one falls asleep more easily (Chait, 1990; Tassinari, et al, 1976).  
  • Generally, THC use increases stage 4 sleep or Slow Wave Sleep stage (SWS) in the first part of the sleep period (Nicholson, et al., 2004).  
  • Some studies have found an increase in stage 2 sleep though out the sleep period with both single/naive and chronic use (Pranikoff, 1973; Tassinari, et al, 1976).  
  • THC consistently decreases total REM sleep and REM density (Freemon, 1982). Moderate REM Rebound can occur upon withdrawal or abstinence (Kales, 2004).  

o REM rebound: REM Rebound effect means that the amount of REM sleep shifts in the opposite direction to the physiological changes induced by marijuana and even exceeds normal levels once the acute effects of marijuana on the body are reduced upon withdrawal or abstinence.  

  • Due to the slow elimination of THC, sedative effects are sometimes still present the following morning and beyond (Nicholson, et al., 2004).

o As it is fat soluble, it takes longer than a day for the active ingredient -THC - to leave your system. Disturbances in sleep patterns can remain for up to five days after use and normal sleep patterns may not return until after one week or longer.Refer to Marijuana and the Body graphics.

  •   Chronic and heavy marijuana use:

o Research suggests that some tolerance occurs to the sleep inducing and SWS-enhancing effects of cannabis, but evidence is conflicting (Pranikoff, et al., 1973).

o Recently abstinent MJ users showed differences in multiple sleep measures compared to a drug-free control group: lower total sleep times, and less slow wave sleep. They also showed worse sleep efficiency, longer sleep onset and shorter REM latency than the control group (Bolla, et al., 2008).

o A study of subjective changes of marijuana effects over the years indicated that the desirable effects of marijuana upon sleep are reported less frequently after years of use, compared to initial ratings (Halikas, et al., 1982).

o People with substance related disorders often experience sleep problems that persist for months after cessation of drug use (Budney, et al., 2003).


In sum, there are five (5) main points to remember:

(1) As a psychotropic with sedative effects, marijuana may help one fall asleep more quickly.

(2) Smoking up compromises the cyclical balance of the stages of sleep throughout the night

(3) Marijuana use affects the cycle of consistent and balanced SWS (slow wave sleep) in Stages 3 & 4, which is the deep, restful, and restorative part of the sleep cycle.

(4) Marijuana use suppresses the cycle of consistent and adequate REM sleep and keeps you in stage 2 of sleep.

(5) Disturbances in sleep patterns can remain for up to five days after use and normal sleep patterns may not return until after one week. With chronic use, sleep may be disturbed on an ongoing basis and even after one is abstinent.

General Effects and Motivations for Use:
  • Self medication: Some people use marijuana to decrease feelings of stress, irritability, anxiety, insomnia, and depression although this may not address underlying issues in the long run. 
  • For some people using marijuana can actually increase feeling of anxiety, depression, stress, and insomnia; however, they may not attribute these feeling to their marijuana use. 
  • Regular marijuana use can result in a lack of motivation and lethargy. This makes it difficult to get to class, to maintain a workout schedule, and socialize. This inactive lifestyle also can impact ones quality of sleep.





ADCAPS - Alcohol & Drug Counseling, Assessment, & Prevention Services, WSU Counseling Services, 280 Lighty Student Services Building. Washington State University, Pullman WA 99164-1065 | (509) 335-4511 |