How much sleep did you get last night? Statistically, probably not enough. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 3 American adults don’t get the minimum seven hours a night they need. … Let me repeat that for the insomniacs laughing involuntarily: the minimum amount of sleep you need if you’re age 18 to 60 is seven hours.

Now, if you struggle with falling and/or staying asleep, then saying that you need at least seven hours of sleep each night is comparable to saying that something costs “a bajillion dollars.” It’s a cute expression, but nothing you could possibly take seriously. Right?

Tragically, many sleepless poor souls might be unaware that something exists in nature to help fight insomnia; they just know that something exists in a burnt-orange, childproof bottle to help fight that. As an alternative, however, the cannabinoid cannabinol (CBN) can provide a gentle means of getting the quality sleep needed for basic human wellness.

First off, it’s important to recognize how serious sleep deprivation/deficiency is. Being tired while having to get your kids (two- or four-legged) ready in the morning, and then having to drive to work and remain cognitively functional for an entire merciless day – five or more days a week – is brutal on its own. But sleep deficiency also causes:

  • An inability to learn or retain information.
  • Obesity.
  • Diabetes.
  • Heart disease and hypertension.
  • Mood disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety).
  • A weakened immune system.
  • A tendency toward substance abuse.
  • Premature death.

Some sleep experts attribute sleep deprivation/deficiency to a person’s unwillingness to prioritize getting enough sleep, insisting that willfully lousy sleep hygiene is what results in lethargy. That might be true for plenty of people, but sleep eludes insomniacs for reasons beyond their control. So, things like turning electronics off an hour before bedtime or getting up at the same time every day of the week (debatably prohibited by law as cruel and unusual punishment) don’t override their bodies’ and minds’ refusal to sleep.

Conversely, a theory that likely does apply to insomniacs is one put forth by Harvard Medical School, that of “social jetlag.” This is when your circadian rhythm is out of sync with the schedule demanded of you by society – notably, your job. Otherwise put, those who thrive mentally at night but have day jobs are the victims of a wellness custody battle being fought by Mother Nature and Father Paycheck.

Photo by Sander Sammy on Unsplash

Photo by Sander Sammy on Unsplash

If you’ve tried all the home remedies (e.g., regular exercise, guided meditation, no coffee after 12 p.m.) and still can’t sleep, maybe you’ve explored prescription or OTC options. Prescription drugs include benzodiazepines (e.g., Ativan, Valium, Xanax), barbiturates (tranquilizers), antidepressants (e.g., Lexapro) and targeted sleep aids (e.g., Ambien, Lunesta, Sonata). OTC options include melatonin, diphenhydramine (e.g., Benadryl), doxylamine (e.g., Unisom) and valerian supplements.

In bitter irony, prescription sleep aids – like sleep deprivation/deficiency itself – can cause confusion, dizziness, memory problems, headaches, prolonged drowsiness and performance problems. Worse still, they can cause parasomnia, making you eat, walk, drive or even have sex while in a sleep state. And then there’s all the fun that comes with OTC sleep aids, such as muscle weakness, dry mouth, heartburn, gas, and constipation or diarrhea. (Imagine showing up to work perky from having gotten a good night’s sleep, only to spend all day blowing up a communal bathroom.)

Are night owls condemned to sleep-deprivation-induced cardiovascular disease and sleep-aid-induced fecal adventures for the duration of their employed lives then? Not necessarily. There’s another option, one that lies in the gray area between a doctor’s note to a pharmacist and a value-brand knockout pill at the corner drug store. It’s the cannabinoid CBN.

CBN is one of the 113+ cannabinoids occurring naturally in cannabis, existing as an all-natural sedative proven anecdotally to help you fall asleep and stay asleep. Photo of Cannabis Sativa by Gaurav Dhwaj Khadka, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

CBN is one of the 113+ cannabinoids occurring naturally in cannabis, existing as an all-natural sedative proven anecdotally to help you fall asleep and stay asleep. Photo of Cannabis Sativa by Gaurav Dhwaj Khadka, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

CBN’s ability to lull you to sleep derives from its mildly psychoactive effect. It won’t get you high like the cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) will, but it’s a more potent sedative than the calming cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD) is. (Click here to read an Herb article comparing the effects of CBN, THC and CBD on sleep.) Since CBN comes from aged THC though, urinalysis drug tests can sometimes confuse CBN for THC. So, that’s something to keep in mind.

CBN was the first cannabinoid to be isolated for research in the late 1800s, and it’s been shown to have an impressive variety of medicinal uses. However, little data has been captured specifically on using CBN to sleep, and the studies often cited date back to the 1970s and 1980s. Consequently, the scientific community remains noncommittal in vouching for the utility of CBN as a sleep aid. Moreover, cannabis and sleep scientists alike aren’t convinced that the sleep benefit of CBN isn’t psychosomatic, rooted in the power of suggestion.

That said, no desperate, conscious-but-comatose zombie suffering from chronic, severe insomnia will immediately dismiss the anecdotal evidence of CBN’s efficacy. After living on painfully little sleep for a long enough time, you become rather open to any possible means of elevating your abject quality of life. So, if the subjects in the CBN-for-sleep experiments said it helped (they did), and if they were safe throughout the experiments (they were), and if the product is legal (it is), CBN can’t help but appeal to insomniacs.

The risks of taking CBN as a sleep aid, according to the Sleep Foundation, include dizziness upon standing up, dry mouth, paranoia or memory problems, and unsafe driving. So, it’s a balancing act. In this case, insomniacs have to weigh the consequences of sleep deprivation/deficiency against the side effects of doing what it takes to get sleep. Ultimately, they’re faced with choosing whichever option is the least undesirable. For that, they can go to a physician for a chemically compounded pill, or they can go to a vendor for a naturally present substance, CBN.

Like many cannabis-derived products, CBN is available for consumption in every way imaginable. The Calm Leaf, for example, offers CBN edibles (mints, caramels, gummies, tablets and drinks), concentrates (syringes and hash), tinctures and capsules. Herb recommends 10 CBN sleep aids in an article that includes an isolate, tinctures, drops and gummies in assorted flavors. So, you could nibble on something sweet before heading to bed, or maybe sip CBN-infused chamomile tea while reading a book before you’re ready for lights-out. Whatever you prefer, it’s probably available – and affordable, no less.

Photo by Cup of Couple/

Photo by Cup of Couple/

Even so, you have to be careful when choosing which CBN product to try. Forbes recommends that you limit your purchases to companies that have a certificate of analysis for all of their products, and that use third-party testing. Plus, it goes without saying that you should consult your physician before trying CBN (or any other sleep aid, for that matter). So, do your due diligence before experimenting with ways to solve your sleep problem that go beyond sleep hygiene. Also, keep in mind that the average consumer of CBN won’t feel the effects until 30 to 180 minutes after taking a CBN product. So, don’t double your dose if the industry-standard 20-minute kick-in period lets you down. Also, be sure to approach your dosage as determined by your physician.

In the hopes that you’ll get a good night’s sleep, I wish you sweet dreams! May you awaken refreshed – and free of gastrointestinal wildcards – for once, and ever thereafter.

Kathleen Hearons is a writer, editor, linguist and voice over actor from Los Angeles. She specializes in creative writing and research-intensive analysis and reporting.