People who habitually cap off their night with a bowl of cannabis are probably missing out on something closely related to the psychoactive effects of the plant: dreams. Not a lot of people talk about how their dreams take a backseat after a nightly toke – most individuals just shrug off the harmless phenomenon without giving it much thought. Like all things in life, including sleep paralysis, there’s a legit explanation as to why you’re either struggling to remember your dreams or why you could not be dreaming at all during this period.
Interestingly, cannabis enthusiasts who experience this on a regular basis can also collectively agree that when they skip a night cap session, their dreams return with full force. In fact, the returns are so intense it almost feels like your brain is trying to make up for those nights your mind was sleeping with a blank canvas.
Less REM = More Rest
For answers to this dilemma, we turn to the effects of the plant on the mind and body. A handful of studies have shown that consuming cannabis (smoking or ingesting) reduces Rapid Eye Movement (REM) during sleep. In a 2008 study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), scientists were able to link high doses of Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) with this phenomenon. REM sleep is a state wherein the chances of dreaming is said to be the highest. Partaking in cannabis with copious amounts of THC before hitting the sack greatly affects these chances. But the trade off to being absent in your dreams is also huge: less REM sleep equates to more restful, peaceful sleep.
When paired against a placebo, scientists were able to prove that cannabis really does contribute to better sleep. This was uncovered in trials conducted by Dr. Timothy Roehrs, a sleep expert at the Henry Ford Health System and researchers from Wayne State University School of Medicine. The results of the study revealed that participants who were given a placebo showed decreased levels of slow-wave sleep, or deep sleep.
“They also showed very poor sleep efficiency, meaning that in the 8 hours that they spent in bed, they slept about 80 percent of the time [sleeping],”
said Roehrs. When given real cannabis, individuals who were previously on a placebo were able to restore deep sleep back into their rest cycle.
The sleep expert cited that when REM sleep gets disrupted, people are more likely to remember their dreams. On the opposite end of this practice, sleeping through one’s REM cycle reduces the likelihood of recollecting that nightmarish chase you had with a giant donut down a colorful mountain. This suggests that you might still be dreaming under the effects of THC-potent cannabis, but simply failing to remember them.
Deep Sleep (Stage 3)
Deep sleep is the third phase of the sleep cycle (other terms include delta sleep or N3), which occurs after eye movements stop. During this period, the body is preparing itself for deep sleep by reducing overall brain activity (slowing down electrical pulses and neurons). When deep sleep takes over, the body goes into hyper-repair mode. Waste components created by the brain are pushed out and blood is allocated to muscles for repair. The term “deep sleep” comes from the state of mind people are in at stage 3 of the sleep cycle. As other parts of the body actively switch to repair mode, the brain slows down to accommodate maintenance.
Waking up feeling refreshed is a sign of prolonged deep sleep. Your body’s ability to cope with stress is also associated with the quality and amount of deep sleep you get at night. Older people are prone to getting less deep sleep, resulting in mindless states of wakefulness, irritability and stress.
“Subjectively deep sleep is a time of nearly complete disengagement from the environment. It is very difficult to awaken a person in deep sleep, and children in this state may be nearly impossible to wake up. It is from this stage that sleepwalking emerges,” said John Cline Ph.D. from Psychology Today.
It’s interesting to point out that both adults and kids need generous amounts of deep sleep to maintain daily performance. For aging adults suffering from lack of quality sleep, the application of cannabis could curtail the proliferation of such medical conditions.
The REM Rebound Effect
Is there a way to experience both (the effects of cannabis and dreams) at night? The answer, at least for now, seems to be no. Switching over to a strain with high CBD content is ineffective in addressing this issue, since the compound promotes energy and wakefulness. You could try to move your nightly sessions a couple of hours before going to bed, in order to reduce the persistent effects of THC on REM sleep. If successful, you’ll end up with a watered down version of your dreams – usually filled with tiny, short blips of images and clips (if you’re lucky). You may also experience restlessness in the middle of the night or before waking up, most likely due to the effects of THC “leaving the body” at an earlier time.
Those nights you go without cannabis before sleeping are usually associated with crazy, relentless dreams. The reason this happens is due to a spike in REM sleep, or the REM rebound effect. When this occurs, individuals stay in REM sleep longer, resulting in more dreams. Cannabis isn’t the only substance that affects sleep. Sleep medication, high levels of stress and alcohol also disrupt sleep patterns in their own respective ways. The REM rebound effect, as cleverly phrased, is the body’s coping mechanism for missing out on (or lacking) REM sleep.
So far, there are no indications that the effects of cannabis on REM sleep is harmful to the body. Researchers are still in the process of uncovering the importance of REM sleep and have provided sufficient evidence surrounding the role that deep sleep plays in healthy living – a sleep stage that is actively promoted by cannabis.
“Amazingly, even though we spend about 27 years dreaming over the course of an average life, scientists still can’t agree on why it’s important,” said Christie Nicholson from Scientific American.