Although sleep is essential for our health, its biological purpose is not fully understood. Oddly, the seemingly inactive state of sleep is actually a dynamic and critical process that helps us store memories, build immunity, repair tissue, regulate metabolism and blood pressure, control appetite and blood sugar, and process learning, along with a myriad of other physiological processes – all of which are regulated by the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Here is everything you need to know about marijuana and sleep.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at the National Institute of Health (NIH), new findings suggest “sleep plays a housekeeping role that removes toxins in your brain that build up while you are awake.”
Poor sleep is the number one reported medical complaint in the Unites States and a serious public health concern. The average adult needs between seven and eight hours of sleep per day. Yet, 10-30 million Americans regularly don’t get enough sleep.
Over 60 percent of American adults report having problems sleeping several nights per week. Over 40 million Americans suffer from more than 70 different sleep disorders. The most common sleep-related ailments include:
- Insomnia – when one cannot fall asleep or stay asleep.
- Sleep apnea – which involves impaired breathing while sleeping.
- Restless leg syndrome – characterized by tingling, discomfort and even pain in the legs that increases at night and is relieved by movement.
- Circadian rhythm disorders – when one’s internal clock is off and one’s sleep patterns are disturbed.
- Parasomnias – which entails abnormal movements and activities while sleeping, including sleep walking and nightmares.
- Excessive daytime sleepiness – when an individual experiences persistent drowsiness during daylight hours from narcolepsy or another medical condition.
Poor sleep is a risk factor for serious illness. Compared to people who get enough sleep, adults who are short-sleepers (less than 7 hours per 24-hour period) are more likely to experience one or more of 10 chronic health conditions, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, stroke and depression.
Those with chronic illnesses are at greater risk for insomnia, which exacerbates their discomfort. Comorbid medical disorders – including conditions that cause hypoxemia (abnormally low blood oxygen levels) and dyspnea (difficult or labored breathing), gastroesophageal reflux disease, pain, and neurodegenerative diseases – have a 75-95 percent increased risk of insomnia.
Pills That Kill
In 2016, according to the industry research firm MarketsandMarkets, Americans spent $3.38 billion on prescription sedatives and hypnotics, over-the-counter (OTC) sleep drugs, and herbal sleep aids. It’s projected that the market for such products will experience about a 4.5 percent growth rate between now and 2021.
The quest for good night’s sleep can be hazardous to one’s health. Daniel F. Kripke, MD, sleep expert and co-founder of Research at Scripps Clinic Vitebri Family Sleep Center, discusses the dangers of sleep aids in his paper “Hypnotic drug risks of mortality, infection, depression, and cancer: but lack of benefit.”
Dr. Kripke reviewed 40 studies conducted on prescription sleeping pills, which include hypnotic drugs such as zolpidem (Ambien, Edlmar, Intermezzo and Zolpimist), temazepam (Restoril), eszopiclone (Lunesta), zaleplon (Sonata), triazolam (Halcion), flurazepam (Dalmane and Dalmadorm), quazepam, and other barbiturates used for sleep. Of these 40 studies, thirty-nine found that consumption of hypnotics is “associated with excess mortality” to the tune of a 4.6 times greater risk of death for hypnotic users.
Grim statistics: 10,000 deaths per year are directly caused by and attributed to hypnotic drugs, based on medical examiner data. However, large epidemiological studies suggest the number of fatalities may actually be closer to 300,000-500,000 per year. The difference can be attributed to underreported use of hypnotics at the time of death and the fact that prescription hypnotics are rarely listed as the cause of death.
Dr. Kripke concludes that even limited use of sleeping pills causes “next day functional impairment,” increases risk of “on-the-road driver-at-fault crashes,” increases falls and accidental injuries especially among seniors, is associated with “2.1 times” as many new depression incidents compared to randomized placebo recipients, and increases the risk of suicide. Furthermore, the use of opioids combined with hypnotics – two known dose-dependent respiratory suppressants – can be extremely dangerous, especially when mixed with alcohol and other drugs.