Ashwagandha for Sleep

Ashwagandha for Sleep

A lack of sleep is one of the most common health problems in the UK, with millions not getting the right amount of rest. It doesn’t help that modern society does its best to disrupt sleep, with stressful jobs, home responsibilities and our always-on culture getting in the way of a regular sleep schedule. We all need help drifting off sometimes – Ashwagandha might be your new go-to supplement for sleep support.

We’ll be looking at just how ashwagandha can be utilised to help you get a full, sound night’s sleep. This ancient medicine and its abilities have some basis in modern science, having been carefully put under the microscope. Let’s quick recap exactly what ashwagandha is before we dive into the details:

What is Ashwagandha?

Also known as Indian Ginseng or Withania somnifera, ashwagandha is a small shrub that grows in India (of course), along with other parts of eastern Asia. The plant is characterised by small orange berries that grow inside pale yellow flowers. The name comes from two Sanskrit words meaning “horse smell,” which describes the odour of the root after it’s been unearthed. Interestingly, the somnifera part of its Latin name means “sleep inducing”.

As we mentioned, ashwagandha is used in an ancient Indian medical tradition called Ayurveda. In fact, it’s one of the most important herbs in the tradition, used in multiple forms to give ‘child-like energy’ to those who might be lacking (amongst a multitude of other uses, from helping swollen boils to excess flatulence). It was also used – and continues to be used – for calming the nerves.

This has become popular recently, due to the relentless pace of modern life, where people are looking for a way to lower their anxiety and stress levels. Its delivery method has been refined since the olden days, from pastes and tonics to standardised capsules of powdered ashwagandha. Just exactly how does the millennia-old remedy hold up to 21st century scrutiny? Are thousands of people taking a placebo?

Directly Affecting Sleep

We can now look at ashwagandha on a chemical level and see what exactly it is that promotes sleep. Observed in the plant are a series of chemicals called adaptogens. These build up the body’s resistance to stress and anxiety – both physical and mental. Much like how exercise builds stamina, extended periods of taking adaptogens can support a level mood and lowered stress levels.

Getting even more granular, there’s one particular adaptogen that’s been recently identified as helping with sleep: triethylene glycol. This humble chain of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon atoms has a calming effect on the body; a 2017 study found that it “induced [a] significant amount of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep with [a] slight change in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep”. We spend roughly 80% of our sleep in an NREM state, so anything that increases the amount that we get will help with sleep overall.

In terms of scientific research, this is one of the few studies that looks very specifically at how ashwagandha can directly affect sleep. That said, there’s a huge amount of colloquial evidence and people who swear by the herb for relaxation. It’s also been creatively worked into people’s sleep schedule.

One bedtime aid that’s picking up popularity is the whimsically-named Moon Milk. You may have seen the name on social media sites, but don’t quite know what makes it so special. It uses ingredients thought to promote sleeping: warm milk, honey, nutmeg and, of course, ground ashwagandha. Drinking this easy-on-the palate mix has reportedly been giving individuals’ success in getting a sound night’s sleep. With warm milk being a classic bedtime helper and also an ayurvedic remedy, it makes sense that that they got combined.

We’ve seen how ashwagandha can help with sleep directly, which is really only half of the story. Sleep is much more than lying in bed, closing your eyes and dreaming; getting the mind and body into a relaxed state can be extremely difficult for some. Persistent thoughts and stressors can keep us awake for hours, sometimes entire nights – ashwagandha can promote positive effects both as a sleep aid and as a general anxiety-buster.

Ashwagandha and Relaxation

One of, if not the most famous effect of ashwagandha is its ability to enhance stress relief. As we mentioned, the adaptogens in its chemical make-up support the body in this process. This is an area that’s had a large amount of focus, in terms of scientific study – if anxiety’s keeping you awake at night, read on.

One study took 64 subjects with chronic stress and split them into two groups: one taking a high-concentration ashwagandha supplement and the other a placebo. After sixty days a drastic improvement in stress symptoms was seen in the ashwagandha group, leading to the conclusion that it “effectively improves an individual's resistance towards stress and thereby improves self-assessed quality of life”. One of the great things about this research is that they directly measured the level of cortisol in participants (cortisol being the ‘stress hormone’ in the body, which prepares the body for its fight or flight response).

This conclusion is echoed in a number of studies on the subject. One 2014 review (a piece looking at a large number of studies and analysing them) found that all the research it analysed showed the effectiveness of ashwagandha against stress and anxiety.

Conclusion

Ashwagandha is one of those rare and wonderful things: an ancient medicine that has effects proven by science. Its ability to help the body unwind and relax makes it perfect for aiding sleep, even without getting into the nitty-gritty about how it can directly assist people with drifting off. With modern manufacturing and refinement techniques we can help bring out the fullest of ashwagandha, making it easier than ever to weave into daily life.

As always, remember to consult your doctor if you are on any other medication or have any other concerns about taking ashwagandha.


Sources:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3252722/

https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/moon-milk-ashwagandha#1

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5313221/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23439798

https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/acm.2014.0177

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3252722/

https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/acm.2014.0177

https://www.ajol.info/index.php/ajtcam/article/view/67963