Sleep is extremely important for our health. During sleep the human body regains strength, heals, digests food, forms muscle tissue, rebalances organ functions, and anchors new neural patterns (learning) to name but a few benefits. On average, a person needs from 6-10 hours of sleep for these processes to take place.
Insomnia is unfortunately one of the most common health issues. Insomnia symptoms occur in approximately 33% to 50% of the adult population in the United States, while Chronic Insomnia disorder that is associated with distress or impairment is estimated at 10% to 15%. It manifests itself in trouble falling asleep, restless sleep with frequent awakenings after which it is difficult or impossible to sleep, daytime apathy, and fatigue. During the day, it can lead to irritability, lethargy, reduced level of attention, distractions, and mood swings.
Can microdosing help with insomnia?
The list of physical benefits of microdosing that are commonly reported include improved sleep and physical energy, enhanced sensory perception, reduced premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and decreased pain levels.
In this article we take a closer look at microdosing to improve sleep – what do we really know?
Fact: Improved sleep is a common motivation for people to try microdosing
A study amongst 3933 microdosers by Stamets et al. (2022) reflects that improving sleep is a popular motivation to try microdosing. Approximately 25% of participants cited improved sleep as a motivation to microdose (21.5% of those microdosing LSD and 28.8% of those microdosing psilocybin).
Question: Can microdosing improve sleep?
Currently, the only evidence regarding microdosing’s impact on sleep is primarily from anecdotal reports. Most notably, in a study amongst 3000 users of amanita muscaria by B. Masha (2022), many microdosers reported that when taken at night, it helped them to quickly fall into a deep sleep with amazing, realistic and fantastic dreams. In the morning, they woke with a feeling of vigor and the sensation of a well-rested body. Successful use as a sleep aid was reported by 73% (719) of the 980 participants with no dependency. The effects were long-lasting after the course ended. There were no changes in 17% and insomnia was observed by 10% of participants.
In a study of the impact of LSD on sleep, Muzio et al. (1966) suggest that low doses of LSD may lead to prolonged REM phase sleep. It’s worth noting that in this study all doses (6-40 mcg) were inconsistently grouped together and it is not clear if the reported outcomes are truly representative of effects in the microdose range (6-20mcg).
How does it work? Three hypotheses:
There are currently three hypotheses as to how microdosing may lead to better sleep, which all remain to be verified through scientific experiments:
- Microdosing may support bringing the nervous system into a more relaxed state of rest and relaxation.
- Microdosing may have the capacity to extend our REM sleep.
- Microdosing causes people to worry and ruminate less – both triggers for causing insomnia.
With increased feelings of calm, some people find it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep, and some report waking up feeling more rested and energetic in the morning.
For some, the opposite is true
In our microdosing community, some people have reported that microdosing was not beneficial for their sleep – in fact, they felt their mind was still very active by the end of the day, making it challenging or even impossible to fall asleep.
Kim Kuypers, lead researcher for a number of microdosing studies at Maastricht University, summarized the state of the field of microdosing research in 2021 as “more questions than answers”. We would like to see some of the questions around sleep and insomnia answered sooner rather than later. Even though insomnia is a complex condition that does not stand on its own – we believe that there is an interesting relation between microdoses and sleep (as indicated by Baba Masha in her book Microdosing with Amanita Muscaria) and studying this will possibly shed light on this relation, and hopefully provide more detailed suggestions for use.
An interesting claim for the benefits of microdosing to improve sleep comes not from the world of psychedelics, but from the claim that taking melatonin in tiny amounts can improve sleep. A number of companies now promote products for microdosing melatonin. These companies claim that an optimal melatonin dose is 0.2 – 0.3 mgs, whereas most products contain 3 to 10 mgs, which is up to 33 times more than the necessary dose for triggering sleep.
Melatonin does not induce drowsiness like a sleeping pill or alcohol. Instead, melatonin is responsible for “firing a starting pistol”, so to speak. Some theorize that higher doses of melatonin can actually interrupt sleep because it keeps firing that pistol, triggering the start of the sleep cycle over and over again and preventing one from entering deep REM sleep. This lack of deep sleep can often cause more time spent in the dreamscape and a lack of feeling rested upon waking.
Dose-response effects have been sen to plateau at 0.3 mg, suggesting that 0.2 – 0.3mg of melatonin may indeed be the optimal dose. Doses of 0.3mg to 0.5mg create blood melatonin levels most similar to those seen in healthy young people, and – critically – when people with sleep problems were given either 0.3mgs or 3mgs, the lower dosage generated better sleep with less side effects.
Microdosing for better sleep: where to start?
If you are seeking to microdose with a classic psychedelic substance to improve sleep quality, here are a few suggestions to get you started:
- Before beginning any microdose protocol, it is important to do research to understand the benefits and risks. Our free How to Microdose Guide or self-guided video course Explore Microdosing are great places to start.
- Psilocybin, Amanita muscaria or B. caapi may be the most optimal microdosing substances for the intention of improved sleep.
- Take your microdose early in the day or, alternatively, try the nightcap protocol (take it less than 1 hour before bedtime)
- Do not rely on microdosing alone! Take time to learn more about the science of sleep and take all other relevant measures to wind down and get into a state of rest before going to bed.
- If microdosing does not work for your intentions, or the effect is adverse, discontinue your microdosing practice.
- Book: Matt Walker: Why We Sleep
- Huberman Lab podcast: Sleep Toolkit: Tools for Optimizing Sleep & Sleep-Wake Timing
- Book (forthcoming in 2023): Philip Carr-Gomm: The Gift of the Night
- Rootman, J.M., Kryskow, P., Harvey, K. et al. Adults who microdose psychedelics report health related motivations and lower levels of anxiety and depression compared to non-microdosers. Sci Rep 11, 22479 (2021).
- Rootman, J.M., Kiraga, M., Kryskow, P. et al. Psilocybin microdosers demonstrate greater observed improvements in mood and mental health at one month relative to non-microdosing controls. Sci Rep 12, 11091 (2022).
- Muzio, J. N., Roffwarg, H. P., & Kaufman, E. (1966). Alterations in the nocturnal sleep cycle resulting from LSD. Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology, 21(4), 313–324.
- Masha, B. (2022) Microdosing with Amanita Muscaria
- Philip Carr-Gomm
- Kuypers KP, Ng L, Erritzoe D, Knudsen GM, Nichols CD, Nichols DE, Pani L, Soula A, Nutt D. Microdosing psychedelics: More questions than answers? An overview and suggestions for future research. J Psychopharmacol. 2019 Sep;33(9):1039-1057. doi: 10.1177/0269881119857204. Epub 2019 Jul 14. PMID: 31303095; PMCID: PMC6732823.