Forget counting sheep—many marijuana enthusiasts toke up before bed to lull themselves into oblivion.
But are they really getting good, quality shuteye? Maybe, or maybe not—it depends how often they do it, according to research from Boston University.
In the study, published in the Journal of Addictive Diseases, 98 men and women, mostly in their early 20s, were broken into three groups: daily marijuana users (49 people), nonsmokers (20), and in-betweeners who smoke at least once a month and up to five days a week (29).
Researchers examined sleep patterns in all three groups, using sleep-quality scales, morning and evening surveys, and the Insomnia Severity Index, among others. Overall, the team didn’t find any real difference in the sleep characteristics of sporadic marijuana users and those who abstain. The groups didn’t vary much in terms of daytime sleepiness, either.
But potheads, on average, scored higher on the Insomnia Severity Index—about 20% of nonsmokers were classified as insomniacs, while 39% of daily smokers met the criteria. They also tended to sleep fewer hours, get poorer-quality sleep, and feel less restored than other groups. Women also had a harder time getting high-quality shuteye, but that wasn’t unexpected—insomnia is more common in women than men.
That having been said, if you or your friend swears by weed’s ability to help you fall and stay asleep, you’re not exactly wrong, either. “Sleep disturbance, which is common in this age group, may not be increased by nondaily use,” the authors said in a press release. In other words: toking up every once in a while can help.
Bottom line: Marijuana’s influence on sleep is similar to alcohol’s, the researchers say. It can help pull you under and get a consistent, continuous sleep cycle if you use it once in a while. Make a habit out of smoking, however, and it’ll start to have the same effects of alcoholism on sleep, meaning you could become restless at night or have difficulty falling and staying asleep.
Something else to note: “It remains possible that the [insomnia] scores might have been higher in the daily marijuana users because marijuana was contributing to anxiety, which in turn may have exacerbated the severity of insomnia,” the researchers said.
Then again, it might not just be the pot. Remember, studies like this one track correlation, not causation. So while the study suggests that smoking marijuana every day is associated with lower-quality sleep, it could also be the reverse—that is, people with chronic sleep problems are more likely to smoke every day to try and wind down.
The researchers admit as much: People with anxiety may be heavier users of marijuana because they’re trying to self-medicate and fix their sleep problems, they said. Speak to your doctor if you find your anxiety is hurting your ability to sleep and overall health.