Ashwagandha Supplements for Sleep
Nothing is worse than tossing and turning in bed when you have to get up in a few hours. Not being able to fall asleep or stay asleep can do more than make you feel groggy and grumpy the next morning. It can throw your blood pressure, hormones, and immune system out of whack and leave you with a ravenous appetite that can pack on extra pounds.
It’s easy to find over-the-counter sedatives and prescription sleeping pills that offer temporary relief, but many of these can also cause unwanted side effects like daytime drowsiness, agitation, and brain fog. But what if you could find a natural fix for your sleepless nights?
You might discover the antidote you need in ashwagandha, a root that has been used for centuries as a tonic for helping people sleep as well as promoting physical and mental vitality and longevity. Also known as Indian ginseng or winter cherry, ashwagandha is an evergreen shrub that originated in the dry regions of India, parts of the Middle East, and northern Africa, and belongs to the same nightshade family as tomatoes and peppers. A robust plant capable of surviving in the extreme ends of high and low temperatures, it’s considered one of the most important medicinal herbs in traditional Chinese medicine and the ancient practice of Ayurvedic medicine in India.
In Sanskrit, ashwagandha means “the smell of a horse,” a description that refers to both the scent of its roots and its reputation for giving those who ingest it the vigor and strength of a stallion. Ancient healers have used it for a variety of physical and mental ailments, from skin infections, rheumatism and digestive problems to nervous breakdowns, exhaustion and infertility. Its leaves, seeds, and reddish-orange fruit have all been used medicinally for ages.
What Makes Ashwagandha Good for Sleep
Ashwagandha has long been prized by Eastern cultures for its potential to support energy, strength, and stamina, which has sparked modern-day studies investigating the medicinal properties of the plant. Researchers have found a variety of potential benefits from using it, including its capability for supporting the adrenal glands, which produce hormones that regulate essential bodily functions such as metabolism, and response to stress and blood pressure.
Exposing your body to high levels of stress over an extended period of time can cause adrenal fatigue, which can leave you feeling moody, sluggish, restless, and unable to sleep. Along with providing adrenal support, ashwagandha has been shown to have a mild depressant effect on the central nervous system in preliminary lab studies, resulting in tranquilizing and relaxant effects on the brain. The herb also has adaptogenic properties, which are believed to enhance the body’s adaptive response to damaging effects of stress from internal and external toxins. Several clinical trials suggest that ashwagandha may help lower levels of cortisol - the stress hormone produced by the adrenals - and ease anxiety and depression brought on by stress.
Ashwagandha also supports the immune system with its free radical scavenging antioxidants and properties that block inflammatory reactions in the body and inhibit the growth of bacterial infections.
More extensive research is needed to understand exactly how ashwagandha works and the extent to which it helps the body. Several clinical trials have explored how the herb may help counteract stress, but few have focused on its connection with sleep specifically.
An study conducted on mountaineers in training found that healthy adults who took ashwagandha daily for 29 days reported improved sleep patterns, responsiveness, alertness and physical capabilities. In a randomized, controlled study conducted by Indian researchers found that people with chronic stress who took 300 milligrams of an ashwagandha root extract twice daily exhibited considerably lower cortisol levels than the placebo group. Those who took the supplement also reported having more energy, less fatigue, better sleep and an enhanced sense of well-being on stress-assessment questionnaires.
Another 2012 study published in the Journal of Ayurvedic and Integrative Medicine found that healthy adults taking gradually escalating doses of ashwagandha (from 750 milligrams - 1,250 milligrams per day) over 30 days experienced a better quality of sleep, along with lower cholesterol and improved muscle strength. Researchers also noted that the herb was well tolerated in subjects, producing few adverse effects.
A study by Japan researchers at the University of Tsukuba claims to have found an active component in ashwagandha leaves that helps induce sleep during their investigation into how different components of the plant affected sleep in mice. Researchers observed that an extract of the ashwagandha leaf rich in triethylene glycol (TEG) helped trigger deeper sleep, known as non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM) sleep, which is essential for physical recovery and aspects of memory and learning. However, the study noted that more research is needed to explore the safety of extracting TEG from ashwagandha for promoting sounder sleep.
Though research is inconclusive, proponents of ashwagandha say that it can help ease sleeplessness brought on by stress and anxiety without sapping energy. Though it’s not as strong as a sedative, it may help you settle down at night or go back to sleep when you wake up in the middle of the night and your mind is racing.
Tips for Taking Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is available as a powder, a dried root, a liquid extract or a capsule supplement. Recommended dosages include 1 - 2 teaspoons of the powder per day; 3 - 6 grams of the dried root per day; or 450 - 2,000 milligrams of the supplement per day. When choosing a supplement, make sure the product is standardized to at least 1.5 percent of withanolides (the primary active ingredient in ashwagandha) per dose.
Whatever form of ashwagandha you choose, it’s a best to consult with your doctor about proper usage before you start taking it regularly. Consuming too much at once can can cause side effects such as an upset stomach, diarrhea, or vomiting. It helps to introduce ashwagandha supplements into your system gradually and take them with meals. Avoid ashwagandha if you are pregnant, suffer from severe gastric irritation or ulcers, have a sensitivity to nightshade plants, or take drugs such as sedatives or immunosuppressants.
Ashwagandha has a bitter taste, but mixing it with tea, smoothies, or almond milk and honey can help make it more palatable. A popular Ayurvedic bedtime ritual is boiling a teaspoon of ashwagandha root or powder with milk and blending it with honey and spices like cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg. Drinking a cup an hour before bedtime may help you get a more restful night’s sleep!
Ashwagandha won’t knock you out as quickly as a sleeping pill might, but taking it as a supplement over a few weeks may support your natural circadian rhythms so you can get the shut-eye you’ve been missing. Pairing it with other healthy sleep habits like avoiding caffeine at night, keeping your bedroom free of electronics and keeping consistent bedtimes may be just what you need to feel more alive every morning.