These days people are using cannabis for all sorts of reasons, including for sleep. With recreational cannabis legal in 11 US states—with more likely to follow soon—millions of people are free to consume cannabis for pleasure, similar to the way we consume alcohol. (I wrote recently about the differences in how alcohol and cannabis affect sleep.) People are also using cannabis therapeutically, both with a prescription and on their own. Cannabis and its individual active components are increasingly being used as a complemental therapy in the treatment of health conditions such as cancer, and to relieve pain and regulate mood. And there’s a lot of interest in cannabis as a sleep tool. Research has shown there’s promise in cannabis as one therapy for insomnia and sleep apnea, and other sleep problems.
As with any substance and supplement, information and thoughtful use are key to getting the most benefit from cannabis while minimizing any potential side effects. It’s important to understand how cannabis works in the body and how to choose the type of cannabis (and the delivery method) that’s best for your individual needs. I’ve been writing about cannabis in connection with sleep for a while now. Here’s where you can find those articles that cover all the basics of how cannabis affects sleep, and how to identify sleep-friendly cannabis products.
Today, I’m talking about the morning after you’ve used cannabis, and what steps to take.
Whether you’re using cannabis for sleep on a regular basis or occasionally, the choices you make in your morning routine can help you optimize your use and avoid potential side effects, including disruptions to sleep, the so-called “brain fog” and daytime tiredness.
It happens that several elements of a morning routine that supports cannabis use are also great for sleep, too. Let’s take a look at what the morning after cannabis-induced sleep ought to include.
Do This: Drink Water
I start my day, every day, with a 16-ounce glass of water. I recommend to my patients that they do the same. That’s the start of a regular hydration regimen that lasts throughout the day, so I’m hydrated at night without having to drink too much water too close to bedtime. (That translates into multiple awakenings to make trips to the bathroom, a big-time sleep disruptor.)
We lose fluid as we sleep—about 1 liter every night–and by morning the body is dehydrated. We expel water with every breath we take during sleep. People who snore or have other forms of sleep disordered breathing, including sleep apnea, lose more fluid through breath. Environmental factors also play a role. Sweating in a too hot room is dehydrating for the body, and so is a room that’s very dry. A big intense evening workout with a lot of sweating can also contribute to nighttime dehydration.
Being dehydrated can interfere with sleep. And there’s some recent research showing that not getting enough sleep can cause dehydration by interfering with the body’s bio-times release of the hormone vasopressin, which helps the body retain fluids and balance its fluid levels at night and during the day.
Alcohol is a big dehydrator. It’s important to hydrate with water when you’re drinking. Along with not drinking within 3 hours of bedtime, I recommend a glass of water for every alcoholic drink you consume.
What about cannabis? While cannabis does not appear to be the major fluid depletory that alcohol is, cannabis does have diuretic effects, which can add an additional layer of dehydration to a night’s sleep. Some of the symptoms that people associate with cannabis use, including headache, feelings of shakiness or sluggishness, can be signs of dehydration.
Cannabis also decreases saliva production, which can contribute to the dry mouth that some cannabis users report feeling in the morning. A dry morning mouth after cannabis use the night before might be from having less saliva, or from dehydration, or both.
Do This: Hold Off on Caffeine—just for a bit
I can almost hear you saying: “whaa…?” Many people feel deeply reliant on that morning cup of coffee. Here’s the myth-shattering truth: your body’s own bio rhythms go immediately to work to boost your alertness, lift your energy, and shake the cobwebs from your brain. Any caffeine you consume right upon waking will have a negligible effect on your alertness. But it will increase your tolerance for caffeine, so you’ll need more overall in order to experience its effects, regardless of the time of day.
First thing in the morning, several stimulant hormones are on a steep rise, including cortisol, insulin, and adrenaline. The adrenal gland produces cortisol in higher and lower amounts throughout the day, according to the timing expressed by the gland’s bio clock. This initial waking boost of cortisol and other hormones is powerful, and it renders caffeine useless, in terms of elevating alertness.
Some people who use cannabis report feeling fuzzy in the head the next day. “Brain fog” is an often-cited side effect of cannabis. Caffeine will help sharpen your mind during the day. But first thing in the morning is the wrong time to savor your coffee or tea. The key to using caffeine effectively is to time your coffee break for when cortisol levels are low. Under these conditions, caffeine will trigger an adrenaline boost, helping you feel more alert. The right time for coffee depends on your chronotype—I’ll be getting into those details in just a minute, so keep reading.
Where does the cannabis “brain fog” come from? If you’re experiencing a foggy mind the morning after using cannabis, it may be a result of the slowdown in activity among the receptors in the brain that interact with cannabis. There are 2 types of receptors that are part of the body’s endocannabinoid system—you can read more about how that system works, and affects sleep, here. CB1 receptors in the brain are activated when you use cannabis. If you’ve used cannabis at night, the next morning your brain might be feeling sluggish because that boost in CB1 receptor stimulation has subsided.
As with all substances, moderation of cannabis use is important. And if you’ve been using cannabis regularly and stop, brain fog is one of the symptoms that can occur, perhaps at least in part because of the lack of stimulation to CB1 receptors.
Do This: Get Some Exercise
Want to wake up your brain after a night that’s included cannabis, and help improve your sleep for the night to come? Incorporate some exercise to your morning schedule. It doesn’t need to be a hard-core workout. Go for a short, light jog, take a quick a walk outside, do a little stretching or a 10 minute yoga session to start your day.
Exercising early in the day will lift your mood, increase your energy, and improve brain function throughout the day to come. In addition to brain fog, cannabis users sometimes report experiencing some low mood, irritability, and feeling sluggish. Research has identified a relationship between morning exercise and improved cognition. This 2020 study found that low-intensity morning exercise is linked to improved cognitive performance after a night of short sleep. (If your evening of cannabis included staying up later than usual, a little exercise the next morning could be particularly helpful.) And research released in 2019 found that moderate-intensity exercise in the morning can improve working memory, attention, and other executive functions, including things like decision making.
There’s also evidence of a specific link between morning exercise and improved nighttime sleep. According to research, people who get some physical activity early in the day tend to need less time to fall asleep at night, and experience fewer awakenings throughout their night’s sleep.
Do This: Soak Up Some (Sun)light
You knew I was going here, right? Feelings of mental and physical sluggishness, low mood, and irritability—all side effects of cannabis that some people report experiencing—can be diminished by a good, healthy dose of morning light.
A word about cannabis use and these side effects: if you’re experiencing sluggishness and mood issues regularly, take a look at your consumption levels, both in terms of frequency and amount of cannabis you’re consuming. It also makes sense to take another look at the cannabis strain you’re using. A strain that’s high in THC, for example, can contribute to next-day tiredness for some people.
Exposure to light in the morning elevates mood and cognitive performance. Sunlight is ideal, but studies show that artificial light exposure in the morning can achieve these results too.
Morning light exposure benefits sleep and circadian rhythms, the daily bio rhythms that regulate sleep-wake cycles. Light exposure early in the day has been demonstrated to have an array of benefits for sleep and circadian function, including:
- Improved sleep quality
- Increased sleep amounts
- More slow-wave sleep
- More readiness for sleep at bedtime—and less time to fall asleep
- A shift in circadian timing to an earlier “phase”—meaning you’ll be inclined to go to bed earlier
Do This: OPTIMIZE These Strategies for Your Individual Chronotype
Every element of a morning routine that I’ve described here can help you manage your cannabis use more effectively, sleep better, help you feel more energized heading into the day, be more productive, and take more pleasure in your waking day. Want to really optimize your morning after cannabis—and every morning? Implement these strategies with your bio type in mind.
You’ve heard me talk plenty about Chronotypes. I wrote a book about the power of using individual circadian timing to live healthier, happier, more productive lives, and sleep better every step along the way. (You can check out my book, The Power of When, here.)
When to drink that first glass of water, sip your first cup of coffee, roll into your first-round exercise (and what type of exercise you do), all depend on your chronotype. If you don’t yet know your individual bio type, you can take this short quiz: www.chronoquiz.com.
Here’s a quick primer of how to structure your morning routine, according to chronotype.
Best time to wake up is about 6:30. Drink up that tall glass of water! Dolphins will benefit from an immediate dose of morning sunlight and short burst of cardio—a quick jog is great for Dolphins, and gets you the morning light you need. Hold off on coffee until 9:30 a.m. and skip it altogether if you can—Dolphins are wound pretty tight without the caffeine boost.
You early risers do best drinking a cool glass of water around 6 a.m., after waking up somewhere between 5:30 and 6. Lions are pretty get up and go about life, especially in the mornings. I actually recommend Lions take 10 minutes to lie in bed and just relax before jumping into the day. Grab your first cup of coffee around 8, after some mind-body exercise such as yoga—ideally outdoors or near a sunny window. Save the run or the high-intensity workout for later in the day.
Thirsty Bears will go looking for their morning drink of water at around 7 a.m., after they’re alarm has told them it’s time to get up. Bears, get right out into the sunshine if you can, it will shake off the cobwebs in your head and lift your energy. Bears will benefit from a jog or brisk walk before breakfast, and ideally tuck into their first cup of coffee around 10 a.m. when it will provide welcome fuel for their energy and focus.
It might feel strange to these night dwellers, but the best rising time is about 7:30 a.m. That’s how Wolves can stick to a bedtime that gets them enough rest and keeps them aligned with society’s schedule—which operates on a very different timetable than their own. Wolves will feel much more alert and able to begin the day with some morning light right away. Drink your tall glass of water in the sunshine if you can. Wolves’ strong late-day preferences means morning isn’t an optimal time for any rigorous exercise—but Wolves can and should do something physical, like taking a walk, to get themselves rolling into the day. Put off coffee until 11 a.m., when cortisol levels start to lag and Wolves are tempted to power down.
I’m excited and encouraged by the emerging research I’m seeing of the potential benefits for cannabis for sleep, and in the treatment of health conditions that complicate sleep. If you’re using cannabis, or thinking about it, pay attention to how you structure your morning routine in order to maximize all the sleep benefits of cannabis while avoiding next-day downsides.
Michael J. Breus, PhD, DABSM
The Sleep Doctor™