The land of dreams is calling, where twinkling pastels and nebulous visions merge to create a serene atmosphere of rest and rejuvenation. Will you answer the call?
But before you surrender to the tranquil embrace of slumber, allow us to guide you through a fascinating exploration of how psychedelics may hold the key to the door of dreamscapes.
For many, the path to dreamland is paved with restless nights and sleepless hours. If you find yourself struggling with insomnia or staying asleep through the night, psychedelics may be a useful tool for rediscovering that elusive tranquility.
As you delve into the potential of psychedelics as a tool for slumber, we unravel the scientific underpinnings that make this connection possible.
And with the plethora of positive research suggesting that therapeutic psychedelics are effective and safe tools for mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, and PTSD, it is no surprise that they could aid in sleep issues as well.
Let’s explore the sleeping brain, the ways in which psychedelic medicines interact with our restful states, and if utilizing these medicines is right for you.
The Science of Slumber: The Importance of Sleep Hygiene
Sleep is an indispensable physiological process that plays a vital role in promoting overall well-being and optimal brain function.
It is a complex and dynamic state during which the body and mind undergo essential restoration and consolidation of memories. Healthy sleep is not merely a luxury but a fundamental necessity for our physical, mental, and emotional health.
The brain is the epicenter of sleep regulation, orchestrating a symphony of neural activities that guide us through the different stages of sleep.
Sleep is divided into two main categories: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. These stages cycle multiple times throughout the night, each serving unique functions.
During REM sleep, our brains exhibit heightened activity, and our eyes move rapidly behind closed eyelids. This stage is closely linked to dreaming and emotional processing, fostering creativity, and memory consolidation.
NREM sleep, on the other hand, is characterized by slow, synchronized brain waves and is divided into three stages. It is during these NREM stages that physical restoration, hormone regulation, and memory consolidation predominantly occur.
During sleep, our brains engage in a symphony of electrical activities, which can be categorized into different brain wave patterns. These brain waves play a crucial role in defining the different stages of sleep and the essential functions carried out during each phase:
- Beta waves — produced when we are awake and alert, and during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. These fast, low-amplitude waves signify active cognitive processing, concentration, and focused attention.
- Alpha waves — produced when we start to relax and prepare for sleep, and during REM sleep. These slightly slower and higher in amplitude waves are associated with a state of relaxation.
- Theta waves — produced during non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep stages. In NREM stage 1, we experience a drowsy state between wakefulness and sleep and those sudden muscle contractions known as hypnic jerks. Also produced in NREM stage 2 sleep along with sleep spindles and k-complexes.
- Sleep Spindles — produced in NREM stage 2 sleep. Sleep spindles are brief bursts of brain activity that play a role in memory consolidation.
- K-Complexes — produced in NREM stage 2 sleep. These large, slow waves help protect sleep stability, preventing us from waking up to external stimuli.
- Delta waves — produced during NREM stage 3 and is known as slow-wave sleep (SWS). These deep, slow brain waves are characteristic of restorative sleep. During this phase, the body engages in tissue repair, hormone regulation, and the release of growth hormones, vital for physical restoration.
Throughout the night, the sleep cycle undergoes several repetitions, with each cycle lasting approximately 90 to 120 minutes. As the night progresses, REM sleep duration increases, while deep SWS decreases.
This cyclical nature of sleep allows the brain to experience the diverse range of brain wave patterns and supports essential cognitive functions and physical restoration.
Adequate and restful sleep impacts various aspects of brain health. During slumber, the brain clears out metabolic waste products that accumulate during wakefulness, a process known as the glymphatic system.
This cleansing function is crucial for maintaining cognitive function and preventing the build-up of harmful substances linked to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Moreover, sleep profoundly influences learning and memory. Throughout the night, the brain consolidates newly acquired information, moving it from short-term to long-term memory storage.
The consequences of insufficient sleep are far-reaching and can manifest both neurologically and physically.
Chronic sleep deprivation is associated with impaired cognitive function, mood disturbances, weakened immune response, and an increased risk of chronic conditions like obesity and cardiovascular disease as well as mental health and mood disorders.
Let’s explore what available research tells us about psychedelic medicines and their ability to affect and potentially improve our sleep quality.
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Psychedelic Sleep Research & How Hallucinogens Impact Our Sleep
So what does today’s research tell us about psychedelic medicines and their effects on sleep and insomnia? That is what we will cover here in this section.
One thing that is important to highlight before we discuss these studies is that research is still extremely limited, with many studies having been conducted on animals rather than humans, and available research being limited in general.
The studies available on psilocybin mushrooms specifically are even more sparse, so we will be covering a more broad swath of substances including ayahuasca and LSD as well as psilocybin of magic mushrooms.
Firstly, one 2020 study done on human participants involving psilocybin found results which “revealed prolonged REM sleep latency after psilocybin administration and a trend toward a decrease in overall REM sleep duration” (Dudysova et al.).
They concluded that “shortened REM sleep onset latency, increased REM sleep duration and increased REM density have been previously considered as biological markers of depression…
Thus, induced changes of REM sleep onset latency observed in the present study may be related to the antidepressant effects of psilocybin where corresponding doses of psilocybin (i.e., 10–25 mg) were administered.”
Another study published two years later similarly observed that “administration of psilocin led to delayed REM sleep onset and reduced NREM sleep maintenance for up to approximately 3 h after dosing” in the 8 animals that were tested (Thomas et al., 2022).
This suggests that psilocybin decreases REM sleep and slows down the onset of REM sleep once someone has fallen asleep. Remember that REM sleep is similar to wakefulness and is a more active stage of sleep as far as brain activity goes.
Given that psilocybin did not show decreases in the duration or onset of sleep in general, this finding implies that NREM sleep which is characterized by slower brain wave activity and bodily rejuvenation is increased as a result of acute psilocybin intake.
A 2008 study found that “ayahuasca inhibits rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, decreasing its duration, both in absolute values and as a percentage of total sleep time, and shows a trend increase in its onset latency” (Barbanoj et al.), which echoes those same findings.
Furthermore, Kay and Martin found in their 1978 research done on cats (yes cats!) that “LSD increases wakefulness and drowsiness and decreases spindle sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep during the first 75 min.”
Their overall conclusion was that “LSD and tryptamine both increase wakefulness, decrease spindle sleep, and decrease REM sleep,” and while this finding is not at all dissimilar to the one’s deviously covered, there is something interesting here.
Their finding that drowsiness was increased during the first 75 minutes could have implications on insomnia.
The decrease in sleep spindles may sound alarming given that spindles play a key role in memory consolidation, however this notion that REM sleep is needed for memory skills was challenged in 2009.
Rasch and colleagues found that “rapid eye movement (REM) sleep has been considered important for consolidation of memories, particularly of skills.
Contrary to expectations, we found that REM sleep suppression by administration of selective serotonin or norepinephrine re-uptake inhibitors after training did not impair consolidation of skills or word-pairs in healthy men but rather enhanced gains in finger tapping accuracy together with sleep spindles” (Rasch et al.).
All of these findings together suggest that psychedelics potentially increase NREM sleep state duration which is responsible for physical restoration, hormonal regulation, and memory consolidation while decreasing REM sleep.
The overall findings seem to suggest that after psychedelic administration, onset/latency of sleep cycles, duration of sleep cycles, and brain waves all slow down.
If “REM sleep suppressive medications can be useful adjuncts in the treatment of REM sleep parasomnias and symptoms” including “both benzodiazepines and antidepressants,” psychedelics (which are repeatedly showing to be antidepressant alternatives) could have similar effects on sleep disturbances (Pagel & Parnes, 2001).
While there is no research which yet indicates how these substances directly impact insomnia, we do know insomnia to be a frequent symptom of other underlying issues and conditions.
Importantly, psychedelics have been shown to heal or improve a variety of other conditions which could symptomatically manifest as insomnia, such as:
Anecdotal Finding: Improvement in Sleep From Microdosing
We wanted to highlight an anecdotal report of a respondent who says, “When I microdose, I feel like my sleep is more restful and deeper. And when I wake up, I feel more revitalized.”
This feeling of greater revitalization after sleep mirrors the findings previously covered, and other results showed a positive effect on sleep quality, duration, and feelings of restfulness.
The respondent reported microdosing with psilocybin (magic mushrooms) at regular intervals of once a month or more and finding temporary support and relief through this method.
Considerations & Future Directions for Scientific Sleep Research
Further research is needed to conclude whether or not psychedelics like magic mushrooms:
- Improve instances of insomnia
- Improve easiness of falling asleep
- Aid in remaining asleep throughout the night
- Increase NREM sleep, therefore increasing feelings of rejuvenation and restfulness
- Improve sleep hygiene
- Reduce sleep-related anxieties
While there is still much research that needs to be conducted, the available studies and findings suggest potential positive effects of psychedelics on sleep, especially in depression-related sleep disturbances.
Connect With a Local Psychedelic Guide
Here at Psychedelic Passage, it is our mission to provide psychedelic resources and access to professionals who can improve the quality of your overall psychedelic journey through harm-reduction and expert support.
Our network is located all over the country, and we encourage you to book a consultation with our concierges today to get connected and begin your healing journey.
Please utilize our resources page for additional articles and information on a wide variety of psychedelic topics, from how-to articles to scientifically-backed information on mental health research.