Everyone has experienced sleep deprivation at some point in their lives. Maybe you experienced this as a new parent, up all night with a crying baby.
Or perhaps you slept little in college while you were up late studying and writing papers. It could have been while you were going through a stressful period at work.
Whatever the reason, insomnia is uncomfortable, exhausting, and can have long-lasting effects on your health.
Sleeping pills can have some nasty side effects and can lead to dependency. You don’t want to get to the point where you have to take a pill to fall asleep, do you? This is where natural herbs and supplements can be useful.
Ashwagandha is something you may want to consider. We will discuss what ashwagandha is, the benefits of ashwagandha, the health effects of ashwagandha, how this herb acts as a sleep aid, and other supplements that help with sleep as well.
What is ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha is also called Withania somnifera. In Latin, “somnifera” means sleep-inducer. This refers to the herb’s extensive use as a remedy against stress.
Some herbalists called ashwagandha “Indian ginseng.” This is based on the herb’s use in India. It is used similarly to how ginseng is used in traditional Chinese medicine.
It is used to treat a wide range of human diseases. Ashwagandha is one of the ayurvedic herbs. Practitioners use it as a Rasayana or nervine tonic.
Ashwagandha is a shrub, and herbalists use various parts of it. These include the berries, leaves, and roots. Ashwagandha root powder is often used in folk remedies as an aphrodisiac or diuretic.
Sometimes in India, they boil the fresh ashwagandha roots in milk to leach out undesirable particles. Another use of ashwagandha is the berries. They are sometimes used as a substitute to coagulate milk in cheese making. The active components of ashwagandha are called withanolides.
Ashwagandha powder or capsules are the most common forms.
What health benefits does ashwagandha offer?
Traditional Ayurvedic practitioners use ashwagandha to enhance memory and improve cognition. Researchers conducted a study with 50 adults with mild cognitive impairment. They gave the subjects 300 milligrams of ashwagandha root extract twice daily.
This was a placebo-controlled study. The study went on for eight weeks. The participants taking ashwagandha showed significant improvements compared to the placebo group. This was in immediate memory, general memory, logical memory, verbal memory, facial recognition, and memory of family pictures.
The participants taking ashwagandha also showed significantly greater improvement in sustained attention and information processing speed.
Ashwagandha also helps with neurodegenerative diseases. These include Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. This is because ashwagandha mimics gamma-aminobutyric acid, which helps with these diseases. Ashwagandha also promotes the formation of connections between nerve cells.
Subclinical hypothyroidism is a disorder that doesn’t display the typical symptoms of an underactive thyroid. It occurs in three to eight percent of the population globally. Ayurvedic practitioners often use ashwagandha for thyroid dysfunction.
Researchers conducted a study observing 50 subjects with high levels of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone. This was defined as 4.5 to 10 micro International Units per Litre. The subjects ranged in age from 18 to 50. They took either a placebo or 600 milligrams of ashwagandha per day.
Ashwagandha improved blood levels of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone, free T3, and free T4 (the active form of the thyroid hormone). Researchers concluded that ashwagandha normalized thyroid levels in the blood effectively.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb. This means that it helps the body and mind better adapt to stress over time. In one experiment, ashwagandha was able to increase stamina during swimming endurance tests.
Ashwagandha is known to help reduce postoperative and nerve pain. At a dose of 300 milligrams per kilogram, ashwagandha was able to decrease pain in a study. Cytokines are inflammatory markers.
Ashwagandha was able to reduce cytokine levels in this study significantly. The active compound at work here is Withaferin A. This shows potential as a drug or supplement in the treatment of pain.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a chronic psychiatric disorder. It is linked to what’s called the serotonergic system. One study looked at 30 patients with a confirmed diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder according to the DSM-IV criteria. Subjects took either a placebo or 120 milligrams per day.
All patients were also taking their typical prescribed medications, called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. The study went on for six weeks. They used the Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale to assess symptom severity at the start and end of the study.
Ashwagandha was significantly more effective than placebo. Scores in the placebo group dropped from 18 to 16, with a difference of only two. Scores in the ashwagandha group, however, went from 26 at the start of the study down to 14 after. This gives a whopping 12 point difference from the beginning to the end of the study.
The researchers concluded that ashwagandha is beneficial as a safe and effective addition to Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors in the treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder.
People in countries all over the world use ashwagandha in fertility treatments. This is because it improves the reproductive system in several ways.
One study found that ashwagandha extract decreased infertility in men. It did this by enhancing the quality of semen, improving the activity of enzymes in the semen, and lowering oxidative stress. In females, sexual behaviors were enhanced.
Ashwagandha was also able to balance levels of luteinizing hormone and follicular stimulating hormone in females. It also helped to increase gonadal weight.
There was increased death of cancerous cells following treatment with ashwagandha as compared with placebo. Ashwagandha is known as a powerful antioxidant and anticancer agent.
Get Your FREE Sleep Guide
- Learn how to naturally improve your sleep
- Dietary recommendations, supplements, and lifestyle changes
- Developed exclusively by our medical doctor
Other health benefits
- Reduces uterine fibroids
- Anxiolytic (this means it helps to reduce feelings of anxiety)
- Improves energy levels (it does this by improving the health of the mitochondria – the powerhouses of our cells)
- Anti-inflammatory (helpful in auto-immune diseases)
- Anti-arthritic (for both Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis)
- Helps control blood sugar levels
- Helps to manage blood pressure
- Helps to manage the sleep-wake cycle
- Helps with adrenal fatigue
What is the link between ashwagandha and sleep?
Practitioners of Indian Ayurvedic medicine have used ashwagandha to induce sleep for centuries. This herb helps to reduce anxiety and chronic stress. This allows the body to settle down and prepare for sleep.
One double-blind study looked at the effect of ashwagandha on sleep regulation. They found that the alcoholic extract contained high levels of active withanolides, but was still unable to induce sleep effectively.
The water extract of ashwagandha contains trimethylene glycol as a significant component. The water extract was able to induce a considerable amount of non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM sleep), and a slight increase in rapid eye movement sleep. Triethylene glycol is in the ashwagandha leaves. It is an active sleep-inducing component of the herb.
Sleep helps to regulate the cells of the body. Ashwagandha helps to manage sleep deprivation-induced stress and the functional impairments that come along with it. One study looked at ashwagandha’s role as a nerve protecting agent in the acute stress stage of sleep deprivation.
The group that took ashwagandha showed significant improvement in behavioral test scores compared to the placebo group. There appeared to be less cellular stress in the ashwagandha group.
Researchers concluded that ashwagandha could potentially be used to suppress the acute effects of sleep loss on learning and memory impairments. It may also emerge as a supplement to help control sleep deprivation-induced memory impairments.
Ashwagandha is also known for its essential role in neurological disorders associated with GABAergic signaling dysfunction. One such dysfunction is sleep disturbances.
Can ashwagandha improve sleep?
Researchers conducted a study observing 60 stressed healthy male and female adults.
The study was conducted for a total of eight weeks. To qualify for the study, subjects had to score higher than a 20 on the perceived stress scale. Subjects took either 125-milligram capsules of ashwagandha, 300 milligrams, or placebo.
These were taken twice per day. Researchers assessed the subjects’ stress at the start of the study, after four weeks, and after eight weeks. They used the Hamilton Anxiety scale to measure anxiety. They also measured the subjects’ levels of the stress hormone cortisol through the blood (serum cortisol).
They assessed sleep quality using a seven-point scale. At the end of the study, there was a significant reduction in stress scale scores for both ashwagandha groups. They had significant sleep improvement as well compared to placebo.
Another study observed 60 patients who took 300 milligrams of ashwagandha or placebo twice daily for 10 weeks. They took the capsule with either milk or water.
Researchers used sleep actigraphy to look at how long it took the subjects to fall asleep, total sleep time, sleep efficiency (percentage of time in bed spent sleeping), and wake after they fell asleep. They also assessed the total time spent in bed with a sleep log. They looked at mental alertness upon waking, sleep quality, and a measurement tool called the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index.
They assessed anxiety levels with the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale. It took subjects much less time to fall asleep after 10 weeks in the ashwagandha group compared to placebo. Sleep efficiency scores increased in the ashwagandha group.
Before the study began, sleep efficiency was at an average of 75.63. After the 10 week study, sleep efficiency average was 83.48. That’s an improvement of almost 10 percent. The placebo group, on the other hand, saw more modest improvement.
Sleep efficiency went from 75.14 to 79.68. There was also a significant improvement in sleep quality, time to fall asleep, sleep quality, and anxiety scores in the ashwagandha group compared to placebo.
Ashwagandha was well tolerated in this study and helped subjects get a more restful sleep as well. Researchers concluded that ashwagandha could be of potential use to improve sleep parameters in patients with insomnia and anxiety.
Other supplements to improve sleep
Sleep quality might be directly related to levels of vitamin D in the blood. Some studies have found that people with lower vitamin D levels have a lower sleep quality. One study looked at 89 people with sleep disorders, as determined by Petersburg’s Sleep Index.
The treatment group was given 50,000 International Units of vitamin D one every two weeks for eight weeks. The other group was given a placebo. Researchers assessed Petersburg’s Sleep Quality Questionnaire, International Physical Activity Questionnaire, general information questionnaire, sun exposure, vitamin D serum level, and three-day food record questionnaire.
At the end of the study, the sleep score improved significantly in those taking vitamin D compared with the placebo group.
Researchers concluded that vitamin D supplementation could enhance the quality of sleep, reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, increase sleep duration, and improve overall sleep quality. This study was for people aged 20 to 50 years old with a sleep disorder.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (called GABA for short) is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter. Nutritionists and scientists are aware that the activation of GABA receptors helps with sleep. L-theanine is a naturally occurring amino acid. It was first discovered in green tea.
L-theanine is known for its relaxation benefits. It is especially helpful in anxiety. A sleep test was conducted to investigate total sleep time and quality in sleep-deprived rats. GABA and L-theanine were mixed in a 100 to 20 milligram per kilogram ratio.
The combination of GABA and L-theanine led to a decrease in sleep onset latency and an increase in sleep duration. This was a greater improvement than just L-theanine or just GABA on their own.
The combination therapy led to a significant increase in rapid eye movement and non-rapid eye movement sleep compared to placebo. This combination of GABA and L-theanine was able to restore sleep time and quality to normal levels.
A study looked at melatonin’s effect on sleep-deprived mice. They found that sleep-deprived mice had significantly low melatonin in their bloodstreams. There is, therefore, a possibility that melatonin supplementation could be helpful in sleep issues.
Although ashwagandha has been used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, it is only now becoming popular here in the western world. With anxiety and stress levels on the rise, insomnia has become a widespread problem as well.
Now that you have become more familiar with ashwagandha and its benefits, you may want to give it a try. You may also want to look into other supplements for sleep that is listed and described above.
But just because you know all about ashwagandha and its relation to sleep doesn’t make you an expert! Always seek the advice of your health care provider before trying a new supplement. Ask your health care provider today if an ashwagandha supplement might be a good choice for you. You may have a healthy sleep in no time.
How can you state that ASHWAGANDHA IS SAFE WHEN YOUR TRIAL SHOWED CANCEREOUS CELLS HAD INCREASED WITH THIS HERB
Hi there Grace, in the article Dr Corina says that the study showed an increased death of cancerous cells, not an increase of cancer cells, following treatment with ashwagandha as compared with placebo. The Ben’s Natural Health Team.
What product do you find Ashwagandha in ?
Hi James our product Testo Booster contains Ashwagandha in, which has been found to lowers stress and combats infertility and low libido. Wishing you good health, The Ben’s Natural Health Team.