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Will Saffron Extract Help You Sleep Better?

Research shows that saffron extract from crocus stamens can ease insomnia and depression and slow the progress of macular degeneration.
Will Saffron Extract Help You Sleep Better?
Dried saffron stigmas on slate surface closeup

People with insomnia face a difficult dilemma. Could saffron extract help overcome it?

The Insomniac’s Dilemma:

On the one hand, insomniacs hear that if they don’t sleep, they may develop diabetes, hypertension or impaired cognition, among other problems. But sleeping pills also come with potentially harmful side effects. Diphenhydramine, the sedating antihistamine in most PM pain relievers, has strong anticholinergic activity. That means it interferes with the critical brain chemical, acetylcholine. Some people find that it makes them feel confused or forgetful.

Natural sleep aids might be an alternative. However, the scientific research to support such approaches is frequently incomplete. 

Saffron Extract for Better Sleep:

Now, a small randomized controlled trial in Belgium suggests that saffron may be an effective sleep aid (Nutrients, April 27, 2021). Saffron is a natural product derived from Crocus sativa. The 66 volunteers took either placebo or 15.5 mg of standardized saffron extract every night for six weeks. The volunteers wore devices to measure their movements and responded to detailed questionnaires.

Both objective and subjective measures showed that people taking saffron fell asleep more quickly and slept longer and more deeply. They also reported less pain.

The authors conclude that their

“results suggest that a saffron extract could be a natural and safe nutritional strategy to improve sleep duration and quality.”

Other Uses for Saffron:

Scientists have also discovered that the extract of this exotic spice can slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration. Here’s a link to that story.

In addition, research shows that saffron helps to alleviate the severity of psychological depression (Planta Medica, Jan. 2019). Moreover, a study showed that saffron extract works as well as sertraline (Zoloft) to treat depression among older people (Psychiatry Research, Dec. 2019). It is not clear whether the same components of crocus stamens have all these varied activities, or whether there are different compounds responsible for each.

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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. .
  • Pachikian BD et al, "Effects of saffron extract on sleep quality: A randomized double-blind controlled clinical trial." Nutrients, April 27, 2021. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13051473
  • Tóth B et al, "The efficacy of saffron in the treatment of mild to moderate depression: A meta-analysis." Planta Medica, Jan. 2019. DOI: 10.1055/a-0660-9565
  • Ahmadpanah M et al, "Crocus Sativus L. (saffron) versus sertraline on symptoms of depression among older people with major depressive disorders-a double-blind, randomized intervention study." Psychiatry Research, Dec. 2019. DOI: 10.1016/j.psychres.2019.112613
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