High-quality sleep is the cornerstone of good health. Without it, we face various health issues such as fatigue, poor concentration, digestive issues, and decreased stress tolerance. When our stress tolerance is low, we face even more health issues, such as anxiety, cardiovascular problems, and burnout.
In this article, we’ll explore how ashwagandha, a natural herbal remedy native to India and the Middle East, can drastically improve your sleep quality and prevent the onset of those uncomfortable and challenging symptoms that follow a bad night’s rest.
Why is it so important to sleep well?
Sleep is the key to a healthy and fulfilled life. It’s a basic human need and is what lets us rest enough for the body and mind to recover from the work and stress from the day before. It’s a chance for the body’s systems to reset, recharge and prepare us for the day to come.
Without enough sleep, which is a sleep duration of between 7 and 9 hours per night for healthy adults, each part of our brain and body suffers. The organs don’t function as well as they could, the heart has to work extra hard, and the brain struggles to keep up.
If you’ve ever gone a night without sleep, you’ll just know confused and disoriented you can feel the next day. Of course, you may already know that sleep is crucial for your health, but the fact remains that many of us simply don’t get enough high-quality rest each night. Whatever the cause for your lack of sleep, it’s always helpful to have some tools at hand to induce some deep rest.
What is ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha (‘Withania somnifera’ or ‘Indian ginseng’) is a plant that offers a broad range of health benefits, from improved sleep to better focus, increased fertility in men, higher energy levels, and more. Ashwagandha has been around for thousands of years and is a popular type of ayurvedic medicine used to treat a range of health issues and optimize our well-being.
While conventional methods and treatments for sleep and other health issues involve medication and different types of therapy, more and more health practitioners are prescribing complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs).
CAMs are a holistic approach to health that incorporates the whole person regarding health issues. They are an addition to conventional treatment and involve practices like exercise, dietary changes, lifestyle changes, and meditation.
Ashwagandha is one of many plant-based medicines that have been used for thousands of years across different cultures for its healing properties. One might be naturally suspicious of plant-based remedies, but there is strong evidence to support the claims that they are effective.
Understand that these plants contain the same chemical compounds as some modern medicines. Many modern medicines are derived from the chemical structures and compounds found in plants and herbs.
Health benefits of ashwagandha
Some of ashwagandha’s many health benefits include, but are not limited to:
- Stress and anxiety reduction
- Improved sense of well-being
- Reduced blood sugar
- Increased testosterone and fertility in men
- Improved erectile function in men
- Reduced inflammation
- Lowered cholesterol
- Mental alertness on rising
- Improved memory and cognitive functions
According to research published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, ashwagandha ‘safely and effectively improves an individual’s resistance towards stress and thereby improves self-assessed quality of life.’
How does ashwagandha improve sleep quality?
In order to understand why ashwagandha is so effective in improving sleep quality and sleep duration, it’s essential to understand what causes sleep issues in the first place.
Stress vs. sleep efficiency
In general, poor sleep quality and sleep disorders stem from prolonged or chronic stress. Stress is a natural state and helps us function in daily life, but it becomes a health concern when it persists. Though natural, many of us live in a highly stressed state every day. We pressure ourselves to be productive and rarely take adequate time and space to rest, let go of our responsibilities, and simply relax.
Even if your work or family environment isn’t inherently stressful, modern life comes with its own stressors that can be hard to escape, such as concerns with global affairs, constant exposure to conflicting themes on social media, and a rapidly advancing digital world that poses a threat to our connection to ourselves and nature.
When stress reigns, the body suffers. Stress is a byproduct of a highly activated sympathetic nervous system (SNS), the brand of the nervous system involved in our fight/flight response. In SNS activation, we can’t rest. Our brain and body are alert and ready to deal with any potential threat.
To rest and get high-quality sleep, we need to come out of SNS activation and enter parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) activation. The PSNS is the branch of the nervous system that governs rest and digestion, and that’s where we need to be if we want to get some quality rest.
This is where ashwagandha comes in. Ashwagandha is an adaptogen – a plant substance that promotes greater stress tolerance in the body. Research has found that ashwagandha supplements both reduce stress and induce sleep, leading to a significant improvement in sleep efficiency and quality.
But how exactly does it work? Researchers have observed that ashwagandha root extract reduces the level of cortisol in the brain and bloodstream. Cortisol is one of several stress-related hormones, and its release from the brain into the body is a major cause of sympathetic nervous activation and the array of symptoms associated with stress and anxiety, such as high blood pressure, a rapid heartbeat, excessive sweating, and mental hyper-alertness.
With a reduced cortisol release, less SNS activation, and greater PSNS activation, you’re much more likely to be able to fall asleep. Sleep itself is a function of the parasympathetic nervous system, so if we’re experiencing a heightened SNS, then sleep will be extremely difficult to achieve.
Research is ongoing into the effects and safety of this ayurvedic medicine, but so far, the evidence for its positive effect is strong. In a 2020 randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study over six weeks, participants in the experimental group (those who took ashwagandha) reported on average a 72 percent increase in their sleep quality compared to the control group (those who took a placebo).
Ashwagandha dosage for sleep quality
The recommended and appropriate ashwagandha dosage depends on your unique needs.
Generally, one shouldn’t take more than 2-3 grams of Ashwagandha per day. In general, 300 – 600 mg is the optimal dose.
Research published in the journal Cureus reports that a study on ashwagandha’s sleep-inducing potential found that insomnia patients achieved significant improvements in their sleep quality following an 8-week course of around 600mg daily (300 mg twice per day).
‘Ashwagandha extract is a natural compound with sleep-inducing potential that is well tolerated and improves sleep quality and sleep onset latency in patients with insomnia at a dose of 300 mg extract twice daily. It could be a potential candidate for the treatment of insomnia and anxiety.’
So, if you have insomnia or other sleep issues that prevent you from getting enough sleep at night, a 300 mg dose of ashwagandha twice per day may be effective.
If you’re interested in taking ashwagandha for better sleep, but you don’t have insomnia, then a different dose may be appropriate. Since it helps the body manage stress and reduces our level of anxiety, each optimal dose varies. We all experience stress and anxiety to varying degrees, so you might want to experiment with different doses.
While generally safe, stay under 2 grams per day. More than this, you increase your risk of ashwagandha’s negative side effects, such as nausea and vomiting.
Is taking ashwagandha for sleep safe?
The best way to get high-quality sleep is to follow a healthy routine, exercise and eat well throughout the day, and avoid distraction and excess stimulation before bed. Still, even those erasures don’t help everyone fall asleep.
Sleep is such a crucial part of our day (or night) because it lets us stay focused, concentrate on tasks, reduce risks and prevent the risk of injury, and in general, helps us live a healthy and happy life.
As mentioned earlier, a lack of sleep or consistent sleep debt can lead to a range of challenging and undesirable symptoms, such as headaches, tension, increased stress and anxiety, heart issues, digestive issues, and more.
As such, in an attempt to prevent or escape from these symptoms, those who struggle to sleep may be tempted to reach for unhealthy coping methods such as alcohol or substance use.
A substance may offer some short-term relief from sleep issues but can cause serious damage to the mind and body in the long term. Ashwagandha and other natural, herbal dietary supplements share a much wiser and safer option than reaching for an unhealthy sleep aid.
Who should NOT take ashwagandha?
In general, healthy adults can take ashwagandha without little to no side effects, as long as they don’t take too high a dosage. Those with pre-existing health conditions need to be mindful of dietary supplementation, including but not limited to ashwagandha.
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised not to take ashwagandha.
- Those with autoimmune issues such as multiple sclerosis and lupus should always avoid it, as it can heighten activity in the immune system, which can exacerbate some of the associated symptoms of these diseases.
- People with thyroid disorders who are at risk of thyroid issues should generally avoid ashwagandha, or at least use it sparingly and under the strict consultation of a medical professional who understands their medical history.
- Pre- and post-surgery patients (up to around two weeks) should stop or avoid taking ashwagandha. One of its effects is a slowed-down activity in the CNS. Medication prescribed for surgery pain may also have this effect, making the combination potentially dangerous.
If you’re struggling to get enough sleep (7-9 hours per night as per CDC guidelines), then ashwagandha root extract supplements may help. Understand they’re not a cure-all quick fix for sleep issues, and such cases often stem from underlying stress and anxiety and unresolved physical and mental health issues.
Still, ashwagandha acts as a powerful sleep aid and can help you get the rest and recovery your body needs. With the extra energy, clarity, and sense of well-being you reap from your ashwagandha supplement, don’t forget to reach out to a doctor or other health professions and inquire about other potential issues affecting your sleep, such as increased stress and anxiety, and how you choose to handle them.
When to take ashwagandha for sleep
If you’re using ashwagandha to induce sleep and get a better night’s rest, then you can take it around 30 minutes before you go to bed.
Ultimately, ashwagandha’s stress-reducing effects should help you get a better night’s sleep no matter what time of the day you take it. Still, some people experience a little stomach discomfort after consumption, so it might be wise to take it before bed rather than in the morning when you have things to do throughout the day and need to feel your most active.
Can ashwagandha cause insomnia?
No, ashwagandha has consistently been found to induce feelings of relaxation and sleepiness. It does not cause insomnia but can be used in a multipronged approach to insomnia patient’s treatment.
Insomnia is often associated with high-stress levels and anxiety, both of which are reduced by ashwagandha intake. It has been found to reduce blood pressure and heart rate, which promotes sleep.
Can you take too much ashwagandha?
Yes, ashwagandha has a long list of benefits, but there are side effects to taking too much of it. It’s recommended that an individual take no more than 1-2 grams of ashwagandha in a day. Side effects of overdose include nausea and vomiting.
It’s been found effective in helping those with insomnia elicit sleep induction, but those who over-sleep as per a related sleep disorder should avoid ashwagandha. It is also not recommended for use by those with pre-existing low blood pressure, as herbal root extract lowers blood pressure.
Is it safe to take ashwagandha daily?
Yes, you can take ashwagandha daily. Still, remember only to take less than or equal to the recommended dosage, as too much can elicit disconnecting and sometimes dangerous side effects.
As with any supplement, always consult a doctor first. Medical conditions and pregnancy may alter how your body reacts to a supplement. Consult a professional to ensure that you do what works best for your body.