Ashwagandha For Sleep
The only sleep solution that is not a sedative!
Ashwagandha is a combination of two different Sanskrit words, ‘Ashwa’ meaning horse and ‘Gandha’ meaning smell – indicating that the herb has a strong horse-like odour.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, these are categories of plants that help your body cope with chronic stress. This could be mental stress or physical stress. Ashwagandha helps in dealing with many problems related to lack of sleep, anxiety, depression, weakness, neurogenerative diseases, arthritis, and sexual wellness to name a few.
Ashwagandha, or Withania somnifera, has been an active ingredient in Ayurvedic medicine and has been in use for the treatment of many ailments in the Indian subcontinent for the last 3,000 years. It has a long history of use in several practices, from Ayurveda to Indian and African traditional medicine.
Traditionally, the medicinal properties were derived from the powdered roots of the Ashwagandha plant - even the leaves, seeds, and fruits are used for various treatments. The seeds are anthelmintic and help in destroying parasitic worms. Ashwagandharishta is a health tonic made from Ashwagandha seeds and is used to treat hysteria, anxiety, memory loss, syncope, etc. Ashwagandha for sleep is an effective supplement as you shall see further.
Does Ashwagandha Help in Better Sleep?
Replenishing your regular health is a vital life requirement. This is fulfilled through sleep cycles. Sleep is a necessary part of your life as it rejuvenates your body physiologically, biochemically as well as at the cellular level. An average human spends 30% of his/her life sleeping. Sleep is directly associated with the proper functioning of the nervous system, maintenance of blood pressure, metabolism, catabolism, memory, temperature regulation, and other essential physiological functions. In recent times, sleep-related issues are becoming a common phenomenon. Our stressful and highly demanding lifestyle is making sleeplessness and insomnia a common disorder impacting a large global population. This is poorly impacting the general well-being of a lot of people.
Ashwagandha benefits for sleep are many and it has traditionally been used in Ayurveda to help with sleep. Ashwagandha for sleep can help you in either of the two ways:
- By influencing the sleep directly and,
- By lowering stress
In clinical trials for ascertaining the impact of Ashwagandha for sleep improvement, it was observed that participants taking ashwagandha root extract twice a day saw marked improvements in several sleep markers. Ashwagandha root extract has sleep-inducing potential and improves sleep quality. Although more large-scale studies are needed, ashwagandha can be of huge use in improving several sleep parameters such as total sleep time, total time in bed, rapid eye movement sleep, non-rapid eye movement sleep, and mental alertness upon waking.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen substance and helps the body adapt to a variety of emotional and physical stress. Higher stress is related to shorter sleep cycles. By reducing stress, sleep cycle time is increased. The effects of Ashwagandha on stress are quite well studied and experimented with and it is found to significantly improve mental health, concentration, energy levels, vitality, social functioning, and overall quality of life. Even stress-related problems like insomnia can also be treated by the usage of Ashwagandha.
Ashwagandha And Insomnia
Insomnia is clinically characterized by difficulty in sleep onset or sleep maintenance or a combination of both and impairment of daily functionalities. The clinical criteria that qualify as insomnia are average sleep latency of more than 30 min, wakefulness after sleep onset of more than 30 min, sleep efficiency of less than 85% of total sleep time of fewer than 6.5 hours.
Today, insomnia is a global concern. The prevalent socio-economic changes and modern urban lifestyle are partly to be blamed for this. Often, chronic fatigue, endocrinological issues, energy depletion, lack of attention are the initial outcomes of chronic insomnia followed by illness associated with mild or severe disease conditions including depression, diabetes, blood pressure, cognitive impairment, renal disease, cardiovascular diseases, and others.
Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that can deeply impact your mental health and physical wellbeing. It can come in one of the two forms:
- Acute Insomnia - These lasts from a few nights to a few weeks. Often associated with some stressful life event, this kind of insomnia normally goes away on its own without any need for medical intervention.
- Chronic insomnia – This occurs if you have disrupted sleep for a minimum of three nights per week for a minimum of three months.
Differentiating insomnia from sleeplessness is tricky. However, people suffering from insomnia suffer one or more of the symptoms below:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Waking up during the night, along with trouble falling back to sleep
- Non-restorative sleep
- Fatigue or low energy
- Cognitive impairment
- Mood problems
- Interpersonal relationship problems
- Difficulty at work or school
- Behavioural issues
The most common causes for insomnia can be summarized as below:
- Depression - There is an association between depression and insomnia however it is not clear as to what is the cause and what is the result.
- Anxiety – Tension, excessive worrying, overwhelmed feeling makes it difficult to sleep.
- Lifestyle – Late night working, long afternoon naps, irregular working shift hours make it difficult to stick to sleep routines.
- Food and Drinks – substances like alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and heavy dinner can cause insomnia.
Most common solutions for insomnia include over-the-counter (OTC) drugs that exert adverse effects on the long-term wellbeing of the body. Natural and herbal therapies could be effective in treating insomnia. Ashwagandha is a proven ‘Rasayana’ or adaptogen as per ancient ayurvedic texts and has the potential needed to treat insomnia. Ayurveda practitioners regard Ashwagandha as a multipurpose and valuable herb. It has proven benefits in reducing and managing stress and anxiety, improving memory, and is beneficial in controlling symptoms of depression. These are the most common causes of insomnia. Usage of ashwagandha for sleep should help you in relieving these conditions, avoiding insomnia and sleeplessness, and having a better sleep.
Ashwagandha dosage for sleep:
Dosages that are used in various clinical studies to ascertain the benefit of ashwagandha for sleep range from 250 mg per day up to 600 mg per day. 500 mg to 600 mg of ashwagandha per day for 6-12 weeks may help relieve anxiety and lower the likelihood of insomnia related symptoms in people with stress and anxiety disorders. It should be kept in mind here that stress and anxiety are two major causes of sleeplessness and insomnia.
How to consume Ashwagandha for improved sleep:
Consuming milk and ashwagandha before bed is an ideal practice to get rid of sleep problems and insomnia related symptoms. You can use warm milk and whisk in a half tablespoon of ashwagandha powder along with a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg (both optional). You can sweeten this with honey if needed. Consume this before going to bed for best results.
Side Effects of Ashwagandha For Sleep
Taken in the right dose, Ashwagandha for sleep is considered a safe supplement. Though the effects of long-term consumption of Ashwagandha are not known that well, there have not been any cases of severe side effects. It is important to keep the following in mind before starting to consume Ashwagandha for sleep:
- It is recommended that you consult once with your doctor before using it to treat any medical condition.
- It is not recommended to replace any ongoing medical treatments with Ashwagandha.
Although it is taken by most people, there are some general side effects:
- In some people, Ashwagandha usage can irritate the gastrointestinal tract causing vomiting, diarrhoea, or an upset stomach.
- Side effects include giddiness, blurry vision, a heavy sensation in the head.
- Side effects include increased testosterone levels and increased stomach acid.
Certain underlying conditions or medications that you need to be careful of before going for the consumption of Ashwagandha for sleep:
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised to not take Ashwagandha. Lactating women, to be on the safer side, are advised to not use the herb.
- Unless medically recommended, people with autoimmune disease should avoid the usage of Ashwagandha.
- If you are on medication for thyroid dysfunctionality or are taking blood-thinning medication or are taking medication that affects your cortisol levels, it is recommended that you consult your doctor before using ashwagandha.
- If you are taking blood sugar and blood pressure medications, you may need to adjust the dosages.
- If you are taking medications such as sedatives for anxiety treatment, Ashwagandha may increase their effect.
Ashwagandha has been used to improve the quality of life since centuries in Ayurveda medicine as well as in various other cultures. We have elaborated on the benefits of Ashwagandha for sleep and tried to explore how these benefits to aid in relieving symptoms of insomnia. We have also highlighted the possible carefulness and due precautions that must be exercised before including Ashwagandha as a supplement.
Ashwagandha can improve your sleep in several ways and also help lower stress, anxiety, and symptoms of depression. You must go for this alternative to avail an all-natural and organic approach to deal with the most common lifestyle problem of sleep and insomnia in today's urban population.
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Dr. Shailendra Chaubey, BAMS
A modern-day Vaidya with 11 years of experience. He is the founder of Dr. Shailendra Healing School that helps patients recover from chronic conditions through the Ayurvedic way of life.