Many of us struggle to fall asleep, stay asleep, or get anywhere near the recommended seven hours we need every night. Natural sleep aids can be a handy short-term workaround, and many people look to ashwagandha. This plant-based remedy has a range of purported benefits, including a relaxing effect that can help promote sleep. Here’s what to know about using ashwagandha for sleep.
What Is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha comes from a small evergreen shrub native to India and some parts of Asia. It’s also known as Indian ginseng or winter cherry, and it’s been a staple in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. “Ashwagandha is an herbal supplement and is also considered an adaptogen, acting as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and reducing anxiety,” says Dr. Carleara Weiss, PhD, MS, RN, and sleep scientist.
Ashwagandha And Sleep
There is some evidence that ashwagandha can help promote sleep, but studies are limited. One study of 50 adults taking ashwagandha daily for 12 weeks found that it improved sleep quality and mental alertness after waking compared to placebo. A review of five studies looking at the effects of ashwagandha on sleep also reported improved sleep quality.
Dr. Chelsie Rohrscheib, a neuroscientist and the head sleep expert at Wesper, says that some studies indicate ashwagandha may mildly improve sleep quality by promoting the activity of GABA, “an amino acid that also acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain, which is important for relaxation and sleep.” However, she cautions that more research is needed to confirm these findings.
How To Use Ashwagandha For Sleep
Ashwagandha is a little different from other natural sleep aids, because the onset of its benefits can vary pretty widely. Anecdotally, some report benefits within a few days, but clinical studies report that it can take much longer. In one study, it took ten weeks before participants taking 300 mg daily began noticing full benefits on their quality of sleep. Participants in another study saw improvements in sleep quality and quantity after about eight weeks.
Ashwagandha can be purchased in tablet, capsule, gummy, or powder form. It’s also available as a tea and in topicals, like oils and creams, though research to date has focused on its efficacy in ingested forms. Dosing ashwagandha appropriately will depend on the product you buy, so it’s important to read the directions carefully. “A safe dose ranges from 250-550 mg per day,” says Weiss, but keep in mind that this will vary depending on the form you’re using. It’s best to speak with your healthcare provider about the most appropriate dose.
While you should plan on taking ashwagandha nightly at least for several weeks to help promote better sleep, it shouldn’t be considered a long-term solution. Remember, research is still limited, especially long-term studies. At this time, it’s only considered safe as a daily supplement for up to three months.
Ashwagandha And Anxiety
Stress reduction is one of the most well-known benefits of ashwagandha. That’s evidenced by its classification as an adaptogen, which describes substances that help the body manage the physical symptoms of stress. Ashwagandha appears to work in several ways to minimize stress. It helps control specific stress mediators, including cortisol, and it reduces the activity of a specific system in the body that regulates our stress response.
Because ashwagandha can help reduce anxiety, Weiss says it’s particularly helpful for those experiencing sleep issues as a result of anxiety.
Other Health Benefits Of Ashwagandha
Beyond taming anxiety and promoting sleep, ashwagandha has a few other things going for it. Interestingly, it may help enhance athletic performance by increasing muscle strength and improving maximum oxygen consumption during exercise.
There is also evidence that ashwagandha could benefit male fertility by increasing testosterone. In men with low and normal sperm counts, supplementing with ashwagandha is associated with an increase in sperm concentration, motility, and volume. One study found that men taking ashwagandha for fertility saw these benefits within 90 days.
Compounds in ashwagandha may also reduce inflammation and help reduce blood sugar levels. However, researchers note that more studies are needed to confirm all of these potential benefits.
Side Effects Of Ashwagandha
“Although considered ‘natural,’ all sleep aids have side effects and contraindications,” says Weiss. Generally, however, side effects of ashwagandha supplements are mild. Some people experience an upset stomach, especially if they take ashwagandha on an empty stomach. Other side effects can include diarrhea, headache, and stomach irritation.
According to Weiss, drowsiness, memory impairment, and difficulty with attention and concentration are also possible. “People taking medication such as anticoagulants to treat cardiovascular problems and diabetes should consult their primary care provider before using natural sleep aids because they interfere with these medications,” she adds.
In rare cases, liver problems can also occur in people taking ashwagandha. If you’re noticing side effects, discuss them with your doctor.
Ashwagandha Compared To Other Sleep Aids
There isn’t much in the way of clinical research comparing ashwagandha to other natural or pharmaceutical sleep aids, such as melatonin. “Ashwagandha is not comparable to melatonin as they target completely different mechanisms in the brain,” says Rohrscheib. “While ashwagandha promotes relaxation, melatonin acts as a circadian rhythm regulating hormone that our brain makes naturally. Melatonin should be reserved to help you adjust your sleep, whereas ashwagandha is better for individuals who find it difficult to wind down at night.”
Valerian root, another popular herbal remedy, has soothing, sedative benefits that help promote sleep. The same is true of magnesium glycinate, and both appear to work in a similar fashion as ashwagandha. “Like many sleep supplements, they prompt the activity of GABA in the brain, which helps us sleep,” explains Rohrscheib.
Who Should Use Ashwagandha?
Herbal sleep aids like ashwagandha can be a good option for people who aren’t looking to treat chronic sleep conditions. “The effect of ashwagandha on sleep is mild and primarily works by promoting relaxation,” says Rohrscheib. “Unfortunately, it’s not likely to help with chronic sleep issues, but it can be used by individuals that have occasional sleep problems.”
It’s important to speak with your healthcare provider before taking ashwagandha for sleep. Those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and people with autoimmune diseases, thyroid issues, or those who have recently had surgery shouldn’t use it.
The Last Word From Sleepopolis
Ashwagandha may be an effective sleep aid for people who have a hard time winding down at night. However, Dr. Weiss points out that with many herbal remedies, the science is inconsistent. “Most of the recommendations are based on peoples’ experiences and cultural influence,” she says.
Remember that it takes time for the full benefits of ashwagandha to become noticeable, so you may need to take it nightly for several weeks before it improves your sleep. Before trying ashwagandha for sleep, it’s a good idea to discuss it with your healthcare provider first.