Do Psychedelics Improve Sleep?

November 17, 2022 3 min read

As psychedelics ramp up in popularity I have been asked about this association several times, and multiple research papers and patient experiences have led to many questions in my mind about the benefits of psychedelics and ways (if any) that the results may be similar too, or in some way connected to psychedelics. I'll be 100% frank at the onset and tell you the ultimate answer that I am obligated to give--as a scientist and physician--and that answer is both predictable and unsatisfying at first blush. That answer, of course, is I don't know, but I think so.

However, I have been on several advisory boards dealing with the use of psychedelics for special populations for the past six or seven years. I have not only followed many people through their psychedelic experiences, but I have tried most of the compounds myself (under the supervision of medical experts) and I am continually surprised by the results. My surprise doesn't come from the results being more and more obvious or more robust (although that is true too). My surprise comes in the realization that I am RE-amazed with every transformation. This email is going to deal with a very small, very isolated association: Sleep and Psychedelics. I expect to write much more in the coming months about other associated findings with psychedelics.

Researchers are beginning to document many neurophysiological changes during and after psychedelic use. In the interest of not boring y'all with a bunch of data I'll just summarize that regions of your brain communicate differently while you are under the influence of psychedelics and for some time after the experience has passed. Also, the activity of your brain's energy use is altered. One of the most significant findings--if not THE finding is that psychedelics seem to decrease the activity in the region of the brain known as the amygdala. You may have heard this described as the "alarm center" of the brain. Neuroscientists forgive me here, but I am going to over simplify for the sake of a broad audience. 

The amygdala is a walnut sized region of your brain (one in each hemisphere) that is part of a system that makes us aware of and pay attention to danger in our environment. Ideally this region would only fire if there was real danger, but unfortunately it fires pretty well when we simply think about danger, or possible danger. Worrying about being late to work, or your ability to afford rent next month is just as real as our ancestors seeing the eye of a predator looking at them.

This system is largely the foundation for the "fight or flight" response in mammals. So, it should come as no surprise that if your amygdala is notifying you to pay attention to something dangerous (real or imagined), your first response is definitely NOT going to be laying down to sleep. The amygdala increases the amount of stress hormones in your brain and body, and stress hormones increase the activity of the amygdala. 

When researchers documented up to a 90% decrease in amygdala activity with psychedelics--boy did that catch my attention. Imagine 90% of the intensity of your worries going away in a single day, and these effects can last for months--with certain psychedelics. Since the most common cause of insomnia is stress related thinking and beliefs, you can bet the farm that your ability to sleep soundly is greatly enhanced by a reduction in stress hormones.

I don't think that psychedelics are going to be prescribed (yes, some psychedelics are actually being prescribed) for insomnia any time soon. I am sure that the research around psychedelics is going to impact the field of sleep research significantly, and many people will be getting better sleep long before medical/administrative science begins to consider using these compounds for sleep.

Until that day comes my friends, you are stuck with me and my nutritional supplements for sleep. But, don't worry, Sleep Remedy is helping tens of thousands of people sleep.

Sleep well my friends,

Kirk Parsley, MD