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Marijuana is a potent sleep aid validated by scientific research. Individuals who struggle with insomnia can reap the benefits.

Marijuana is a potent sleep aid, and this belief has been validated by due scientific research. Individuals who struggle with insomnia and stress/pain/anxiety, which hampers with their sleep quality, can reap measurable benefits from marijuana consumption. However, what about dreams – the imaginings of our mind when it isn’t quite asleep but also not fully awake? We have been trying to demystify dreams for hundreds of decades now. Why do we dream, and what do our dreams mean? Are our dreams useful to us? Marijuana smokers report diminishing dreams when they go to bed if they still manage to dream at all. Curious, isn’t it? What happens to our brains on weed that inhibit dream formation? 

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While you could argue that our brains do not really rest when it’s dreaming and therefore, not dreaming does not impair your quality of life – you would be making an uninformed argument. Our dreams serve a crucial purpose, and scientists back the importance of dreaming. Sometimes we dream as a coping mechanism to mentally process the events and occurrences in our waking lives. At other times, we might be dreaming as our brain stores memories without additional stimulus. Mostly, scientists are of the opinion that dreams allow our minds to process the memories and emotions that we are met with, while we are awake, but are unable to process during this wakefulness. Dreams can be used to process both positive and negative emotions.

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It has been observed that individuals who suffer from PTSD are regularly subject to night terrors. These night terrors evoke events and emotions that their waking self is familiar with, which produces great anxiety and panic in them. It is their mind trying to carefully help them process these traumas that they wouldn’t be able to deal with otherwise, consciously. A recent study conducted in a sleep lab in the UK found that the more complicated the emotions experienced by an individual in their daily waking life, the more intense their dream were. The study also verified the assumption that dreams store memories related to occurrences by teasing out the emotions and recollections we have from them. 

If you’ve ever smoked marijuana before bedtime, you will know how you woke up the next day without any recollection of having dreamed. You might not have dreamed at all or have zero recalling capability even if you had dreamed. Before we jump into discussing how cannabis impacts our sleep cycle and our dreams, let’s try to acquaint ourselves better with these different sleep cycles, we experience in a single sleep.  

What Are The Different Stages Of Sleep?

Stage One

In the first stage of sleep, our eye movement slows down and we may experience the occasional muscle twitch. It is when we are slowly starting to fall asleep, but still very much in our senses. We are experiencing a light sleep state and can be easily awakened by an external stimulus. Stage One of the sleep lasts about 7 minutes on average. 

Stage Two

Stage Two of sleep is when our brains produce sudden spikes in frequency and then slows down brain activity. You might be aware of this form of sleep as a “power nap.” 

Stage Three And Four

Stage Three of sleep is when we begin drifting off into deep sleep. Our brains produce slower delta waves, our eye movements and our muscle activity come to a stop gradually. We are much harder to awaken when we are in this state of sleep as our sensitivity decreases significantly. As we enter deeper and deeper into this sleep stage, our sleep grows more restful and restorative. It’s when our body begins self-healing and boosts our immunity, stimulates our growth, and builds energy for expending the next day.  

REM Stage

The REM stage of our sleep cycle begins approximately 90 minutes into our sleep and lasts for around an hour. On average, most adults cycle through all of these stages of sleep at least 3-4 times every night. Our brain activity increases during the REM stage of sleep, and we experience Rapid Eye Movement, after which the sleep stage has been named. Our heart beats faster, breathing becomes shallow, and rapid blood pressure increases. Our brains use the REM stage of sleep to enhance our memory and learning skills. The REM stage is when most of our dreams occur. We are better able to recall the dreams we are subject to during this time, as the dreams are vivid and memorable. 

How Marijuana Intake Affects Our Sleep Cycle

The THC content of marijuana aids easier sleep. Individuals who suffer from insomnia, PTSD, multiple sclerosis, pain, and other auto-immune conditions find marijuana usage all the more relevant for this relaxatory effect it provides.

However, it also decreases the duration of time they spend in the REM stage of sleep. So the dreams that they are subject to occur less frequently and are far less vivid. PTSD patients find this decrease in quantity and vividness of dreams temporarily helpful, as they no longer have to deal with retrieving traumatic memories in their sleep.

THC also stimulates the release mood-elevating neurotransmitters that enhance our emotional wellbeing. It staves off feelings of anxiety and fear from accumulating in us. It also regulates the serotonin levels in our brain and helps maintain regular breathing in people who suffer from sleep apnoea.

The REM sleep state should not be dismissed that easily. Subject matter experts emphasize how important it is to our fundamental wellbeing and performance. REM sleep takes away the sting from the traumatic episodes we are faced with during the day.

Not only does it provide emotional resolution, it enhances our problem-solving ability and improves our creativity by connecting individual memories in unique and abstract ways. Dreaming also helps our brain formulate rules from the learnings it acquired throughout the day.

Research has found that REM sleep deprivation for more than 72 hours negatively affects our spatial memory. So, if you find yourself feeling more disorganized and less able to trace objects, you know why. Dreaming is an integral part of our learning and memory retention apparatus. Not being able to dream can bring about mood alterations and usher in cognitive dysfunction into our brain.

Effects Of Consuming Marijuana On Our Dreams

Studies conducted to examine marijuana’s impact on dreams are inconclusive. A number of these studies testify that cannabis can, and usually does, decrease/suppress REM sleep. THC i.e. the predominant psychoactive component found in cannabis, has been found to suppress REM sleep. If you smoke marijuana regularly, you will find that you dream less or remember any dreams you might have had less since you spend little time in the REM sleep stage. 

Individuals who regularly intake marijuana to help them sleep and then, are put on a tolerance break or stop using marijuana for any other reason usually experience this phenomenon called REM Rebound. When you experience REM rebound, your dreams become more vivid, frequent, and even strange, with the body compensating for the decrease registered in REM sleep, while you had been using marijuana.

Basically, REM rebound is a way for your mind to recoup lost dreams. A REM rebound can be an intense experience, not always comfortable. It is one of the reasons heavy marijuana usage is warned against. In a REM rebound, you have a high probability of experiencing more nightmares, rapid onset of REM sleep, denser REM sleep, and elongated REM sleep cycles.  

What Can You Do To Protect Your REM Sleep Despite Marijuana Usage

 REM sleep suppression is not healthy, and neither is insomnia. It is important to be able to strike a healthy balance between REM sleep and dreamless sleep. You can regulate your marijuana intake to attempt to effect this balance. Small doses of marijuana can help you get quality sleep without suppressing your REM sleep. It is when you start indulging yourself with high doses of marijuana regularly, that you affect your REM sleep quality. 

Individuals who experience severe insomnia are recommended to seek out professional help from a physician instead of self-medicating with marijuana. Your physician can inform you about the type of insomnia you happen to be suffering from and then write you a prescription for medical marijuana, if necessary. Your friend or the dispensary handler may be well-intentioned but they lack appropriate knowledge to treat your insomnia effectively. 

If you are beginning to use marijuana as a sleep aid by yourself to help you sleep better, always practice microdosing initially. It will extend to you the relaxatory effects you are looking for, a well as, help protect your REM sleep stage.

Last Words

In conclusion, if you enjoy hitting that bong, you don’t entirely have to stop, to promote better sleep health. All you need to do, is partake of marijuana in moderation. Use marijuana in small doses occasionally, and you will be able to benefit from the full glory of this wonder plant. However, err on the side of overconsumption, and you will be taking away your dreams, hampering your sleep, and damaging your brain functions. You wouldn’t possibly want that now, would you? Enjoy with caution, and have a restful and fulfilling sleep!

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