Terpenes are found in plants, including marijuana, and could provide a much-needed boost to individuals suffering from insomnia. Terpenes such as Alpha-Pinene, Linalool, Myrcene, Terpinolene, and Phytol could help you get a good night’s sleep.
Humans need sleep to rest and recuperate adequately. During the sleep period, our body and mind are busily processing, strengthening, and restoring. Researchers have found that after sleep, we perform better on memory tasks and retain information more effectively. In general, adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night, while teenagers, younger children, and babies need more.
In the United States, however, a significant proportion of the population get nowhere near that amount. According to the CDC, a whopping 35% of adults don’t get the bare minimum of 7 hours a night requirement.
Overall, anywhere between 50 and 70 million Americans have at least one sleep disorder. 30% of the adult population have insomnia, and 10% have chronic insomnia. People with insomnia have a higher risk of medical problems such as chronic pain, GSD, and hypoxemia.
Fortunately, help could be coming from a long-prohibited source: The marijuana plant! As well as containing well over 100 cannabinoids, weed also has hundreds of other compounds. Terpenes are one of the most interesting groups.
What Are Terpenes?
They are molecules found in plants that give them unique traits. They are the primary reason why you get different aromas, flavors, and medical benefits from different marijuana strains. To date, more than 150 terpenes have been identified in the cannabis plant, and they could have a positive effect on mood, energy, alertness, and sleepiness.
Plants and botanicals containing terpenes have been used in traditional medicine and aromatherapy for thousands of years. They have potent effects and tend to work better when accompanied by other compounds in what is known as the ‘entourage effect.’ You may be surprised to learn that terpenes are practically everywhere when it comes to flora. For instance, linalool alone is found in over 200 plant species, including lavender.
However, not all terpenes are ideal for sleep. Some of them could actually provide an energy boost, which is the last thing you need at night. Below, we outline terpenes known to help you sleep with studies to back everything up.
The Best Terpenes for Sleep
This terpene is found in significant quantities in certain marijuana strains and is also found in a myriad of herbs and fruits such as mangoes, thyme, basil, and lemongrass. A 2002 study by do Val et al., published in Phytomedicine, looked at the effects of myrcene, citral, and limonene on rodents. It found that myrcene and limonene increased the duration of sleep in the mice at a dose of 200mg/kg. The study concluded that all three compounds had sedative effects.
As we mentioned above, linalool is found in hundreds of plants and is the main terpene in lavender, which is associated with better sleep. A 2017 study by Takeda, Watanuki, and Koyama, published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, looked at the effects of inhalation aromatherapy on elderly patients with dementia who also suffer from sleep disturbance.
The study involved observing the sleep of 19 patients over a 20-day period, before applying inhalation aromatherapy for the next 20 days. Overall, the total duration of sleep was much longer than during the control period, and early morning awakening occurred less often when the essential oils, which contained linalool among other terpenes, were placed on the patients’ pillows.
So far, evidence suggests that linalool also has sedative effects on healthy adults. This terpene has been linked with stress-relieving effects, which means you should consider using a linalool-laden marijuana strain close to bedtime.
As well as having anxiety-reducing effects, alpha-pinene has been shown to increase the level of REM sleep in mice. A 2016 study* by Yang et al., published in Molecular Pharmacology, tested this theory on mice and found that the effects on sleep of the terpene mimicked that of the well-known anti-insomnia drug, zolpidem.
This terpene is strongly linked with sedative effects and is believed to have similar effects to myrcene. Rather than inducing sleep, however, Terpinolene reduces the urge to become active, which makes it a good option if you are often restless in bed. There are no studies to suggest it could help with restless leg syndrome, but it may be worth exploring.
A 2013 study by Ito & Ito, published in the Journal of Natural Medicines, looked at the sedative effect of Terpinolene on mice and found it reduced locomotor activity.
This terpene is linked with a reduction in anxiety and stress levels. A 2014 study** by Costa et al., published in Brain Research, looked at Phytol’s anxiolytic-like effects. It found that Phytol could help increase the duration of sleep.
This terpene is found in citrus peels and is abundant in certain marijuana strains. As well as having possible anti-depressant effects, limonene has also been linked with a reduction in stress and anxiety. Furthermore, it may provide a mood-lifting effect and help promote sleep by raising the level of serotonin in the brain.
A 2002 study by Carvalho-Freitas and Costa looked at the sedative and anxiolytic effects of essential oil from citrus aurantium L. The duo discovered that limonene could reduce insomnia symptoms.
Several studies have concluded that this terpene has sedative qualities including a 2012 study by Galdino et al. While it didn’t impact motor coordination or locomotor activity of rats, it did promote sleep and had an anxiolytic effect.
How Does Marijuana Aid Sleep?
The most likely explanation for why marijuana impacts sleep cycle is via its effect on the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS includes cannabinoids which are similar to the phytocannabinoids found in weed. These endocannabinoids include the bliss molecule, anandamide, which is similar to THC, and 2-AG, which is similar to CBD.
Both 2-AG and anandamide are neurotransmitters, which means they have an impact on the messages sent and received by your brain. This is why the ECS is believed to have such an effect on functions such as sleep, appetite, and mood. Cannabis phytocannabinoids bind with the same neuroreceptors that bind with endocannabinoids. The CB1 and CB2 receptors that are part of the ECS are found in the body and brain.
Ultimately, cannabinoid signaling could help stabilize sleep and even help you get to sleep quicker. It is common for people to assume that Cannabis Indica and Sativa strains have very different effects on sleep. It is often believed that Indicas help you sleep while Sativas give you more energy.
In reality, the effect on sleep caused by a specific marijuana strain has little to do with its classification, and everything to do with its cannabinoid and terpene content. If a marijuana strain is high in at least one of the terpenes mentioned above and doesn’t have energy-promoting terpenes, it is likely to help you sleep.
As for why terpenes in particular help you sleep, it has a lot to do with the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, GABA. There is a GABAA receptor and a GABAB receptor. Benzodiazepines are a well-known class of sedatives, and they work via the GABAA receptors. They bind to a specific receptor site and increase activation of the receptor by GABA.
Recent evidence suggests that terpenes work similarly to the GABAA receptors. This is hardly a surprise since terpenes and benzodiazepines have very similar pharmacological profiles. In cell experiments, it was found that alpha-pinene and myrcene, in particular, increase GABAA receptor activity.
Which Marijuana Strains Work Best for Sleep?
Now that we are aware of the best terpenes to aid restful sleep, it is a simple matter of discovering marijuana strains high in these terpenes. Here is a quick list, although there are many more:
- Granddaddy Purple: GDP is a superstar of the marijuana circuit and has a very high level of myrcene along with some alpha-pinene.
- Blueberry: This is another classic, and it can help make for enjoyable bedtimes due to its high myrcene content.
- Cherry Pie: As well as being delicious, this strain has an abundance of Beta-Caryophyllene and a reasonable amount of limonene.
- Purple Kush: This strain comes from the marijuana royalty known as the Kush family. It has a large amount of alpha-pinene and a little bit of myrcene.
- Sensi Star: This potent strain has a large amount of terpinolene and some myrcene.
Final Thoughts on Terpenes and Sleep
To date, the evidence that connects terpenes with better sleep is limited to tests on rodents and elderly individuals with dementia. In other words, we don’t yet have conclusive data to suggest terpenes help healthy adults to get better quality sleep. However, there is ample evidence that marijuana helps people get to sleep faster and sleep for longer.
It also appears as if strains with an abundance of terpenes work best for sleep quality. Perhaps terpenes work via synergistic interactions with THC, or maybe smelling them helps us sleep rather than ingesting them. Until we get more evidence, all we can say is that you should be your own scientist. Experiment with different marijuana strains and discover if a high terpenoid content helps you to sleep better.
There are several methods of consumption to consider. Some people like to light up a joint or inhale smoke from a bong. Vaping is a better option for those looking to consume terpenes, however. Combustion can burn away terpenes whereas vaporizers are designed to heat your flower, concentrate or cannabis oil at a low enough temperature to keep the plant’s terpenes intact. Begin with a small amount of marijuana and work your way up until you find the minimum effective dose.