The People's Perspective on Medicine

Can Ashwagandha Help You Sleep Better?

A reader wonders: Could ashwagandha help you sleep? Although this Indian herb has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine, there are no scientific studies.

Have you had trouble sleeping? If you have, you’ve probably looked for something that could ease you to sleep more quickly or ensure that you stay asleep all night. Could an Indian Ayurvedic herb called ashwagandha help you sleep better?

Will Ashwagandha Help You Sleep?

Q. I have read about ashwagandha for sleeping problems. I have never heard of this stuff. What is it and how do you find it?

A. Ashwagandha comes from the Ayurvedic medical tradition of India. Consequently, many Americans are less familiar with this herb than plants such as valerian or passionflower that are frequently used to enhance sleep.

Nevertheless, you might wish to pay attention to ashwagandha. Dr. Tieraona Low Dog is one of the country’s leading experts on botanical and integrative medicine. During an interview on our syndicated public radio show, she mentioned that this ancient Indian plant (Withania somnifera) could help people who were wired but tired. (At her website, you’ll also find several more plants she recommends for better sleep.)

We could not find any randomized clinical trials of ashwagandha for sleeping problems. Researchers in India are conducting such a study, but the results have not yet been published (Medicine, June 2018).

Which Product Might Help?

Ayurvedic practitioners have prescribed this herb for stress, insomnia and joint inflammation for thousands of years. A double-blind study found that it helps correct subclinical thyroid hormone imbalance (Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, March 2018). In another placebo-controlled study, people taking ashwagandha had lower levels of stress hormones than those on placebo (Medicine, Sep. 2019).

You can find ashwagandha in health food stores and some pharmacies. ConsumerLab.com has reviewed a number of products and found that only about half passed their rigorous tests. Nature’s Way Ashwagandha and Sundown Naturals Stress Support had the greatest potency.

You can learn more about ashwagandha for insomnia, arthritis and anxiety in our eGuide to Favorite Home Remedies. In addition, our eGuide to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep has other suggestions for nondrug approaches to help you sleep better.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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Citations
  • Deshpande A et al, "Study protocol and rationale for a prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study to evaluate the effects of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract on nonrestorative sleep." Medicine, June 2018. DOI: 10.1097/MD.0000000000011299
  • Sharma AK et al, "Efficacy and safety of ashwagandha root extract in subclinical hypothyroid patients: A double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled trial." Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, March 2018. DOI: 10.1089/acm.2017.0183
  • Lopresti AL et al, "An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study." Medicine, Sep. 2019. DOI: 10.1097/MD.0000000000017186
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You forgot to mention side effects! I’ve been reading articles on ashwagandha by you and other sources for years, and finally decided to try it for a better night’s sleep. It gave me the most awful diarrhea all night long and a bellyache the next day. When I did a search to find out if the diarrhea was actually linked to the ashwagandha (since there was no other obvious cause) I found it was a known side effect, and I also learned that if you take thyroid you shouldn’t take ashwaganda. Yes, I take thyroid.

My reaction may have been unusual — I have no way of knowing — but I’m not the only person to have had it. I think many herbs have side effects; these should be listed by the sellers, and if you know of them you should mention them in articles about them. Now you know about this one, as well as the thyroid warning.

Thank you for alerting us to this, Judy.

Would be very cautious about trying ashwagandha even though it’s been used for centuries. My husband tried it for insomnia and stress, but after only one capsule he became very ill: bloating, upset stomach, diarrhea. It lasted for almost 24 hours, and he was miserable. Might work for some, but obviously some people can also have an extreme reaction to it.

Have been on ashwagandha for a few years.. amazing…

I read that Ashwagandha may activate the immune system, therefore, it may not be safe for people with autoimmune diseases. What are your thoughts?

I have been using Aswagandha or Tulsi for better sleep without any side effects and with much success.

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