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Will Taking Ashwagandha Help You Fall Asleep?

Some readers report success with an Ayurvedic herb for insomnia. Could the Indian herb ashwagandha help you sleep better too?

giveLots of people have trouble sleeping. They may take medications to overcome insomnia but worry about the potential side effects. For the last few years, anxiety about infection or job insecurity has kept lots of people awake. Could the Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha help you fall asleep? Some readers report success.

Ashwagandha Eliminated Insomnia:

Q. I’ve had unbelievable success completely eliminating my insomnia by taking ashwagandha. I’ve been an insomniac all my life, with intrusive thoughts and worries consistently keeping me from sleeping well.

I started using ashwagandha on a daily basis about five years ago. Gradually I started sleeping better and better. I’d been taking an assortment of sleep meds with little relief. Now I need absolutely nothing else to help me sleep.

The only hard part is getting up in the morning. I could easily sleep eight hours or longer! For me, ashwagandha is pure gold when it comes to combating insomnia.

Furthermore, I’ve tested it: If I don’t take ashwagandha, I almost immediately revert to poorer sleep again.

Ashwagandha Has Pros and Cons:

A. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) has a reputation for calming a restless mind and promoting sleep. Some readers, like you, get good results. But others have experienced unpleasant side effects.

Digestive upset is not uncommon.

One woman wrote:

“My husband tried this supplement for anxiety and better sleep and was sick as a dog for 24 hours after taking one capsule. He had horrible cramps and diarrhea.”

Other complications may include drowsiness, headache, liver problems or a drop in blood pressure. To learn more about the pros and cons of ashwagandha and many other natural approaches for overcoming insomnia, you may wish to consult our eGuide to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep. Other readers describe their experiences with ashwagandha for sleep below.

Feeling Too Sleepy:

Q. I had a recent experience with teas for relaxation and sleep. A friend had given me a package of herbal tea that contained some of the many herbs that are supposed to be relaxing.

I had never seen any effect until I had a cup that I made stronger than usual. Fortunately, I was at home. After an hour or so, I felt groggy and could not maintain a normal conversation. You might include a warning that these natural products can sometimes be quite sedating.

A. Thank you for reminding us that some herbal products, including tea blends, can be sedating. That means people should avoid driving or operating machinery after taking such supplements or drinking that type of tea.

Herbs that are often promoted for relaxation, stress relief or sleep include valerian root, passionflower, lemon balm and ashwagandha, among others. Since you didn’t specify what was in your tea, it makes sense to pay attention to any that might make a person feel too sleepy. To learn more about these and other natural approaches to overcoming insomnia, you may wish to consult our eGuide to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep.

Taking Ashwagandha to Calm Down:

Q. I have been having trouble falling asleep, because I cannot get my mind to stop churning. Although I tried melatonin, it didn’t help. Then I read that an Indian herb called ashwagandha might be helpful. So far, taking it before bedtime seem to calm down and fall asleep within a reasonable amount of time. What should I know about ashwagandha?

A. There are only a few randomized controlled trials of ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) for insomnia. One involving 80 individuals lasted two months and found improved sleep quality and a shorter time to fall asleep (Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Jan. 10, 2021). In additiona, a systematic review of five such studies concluded that this plant product “…has a beneficial effect in improving sleep in adults” (PloS One, Sept. 24, 2021).

Side Effects:

That review did not turn up any serious side effects, but some people find that it can give them headaches, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Others have reported elevated liver enzymes and even jaundice and itching indicating liver injury (American Journal of Gastroenterology, Oct. 1, 2021; Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, Dec. 2021). People with pre-existing liver disease would be wise to avoid taking this supplement. Ashwagandha is a member of the nightshade plant family, and those who cannot tolerate nightshades may react badly to the supplement.

Other Natural Approaches for Insomnia:

Other herbs that have traditionally been used to overcome insomnia include valerian, passionflower, lemon balm and hops. Lavender, when used as aromatherapy, can also help people relax and get to sleep (Medicine, March 5, 2021). You can learn more about all of these in our eGuide to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep.

Could Ashwagandha Help You Sleep Better?

Q. I am high-strung and have had a lifelong struggle with insomnia. That is, until I added ashwagandha to my supplement regimen.

The change was slow and gradual and took a few months, but I started noticing that I could easily fall asleep.

Then, I had the reverse problem. I’m a night person. I love to stay up late after work to watch stuff I’ve taped off the TV, and now I find that I simply can’t stay awake. Every night I fall asleep in my armchair, wake up hours later, amble off to bed and sleep some more.

I could probably sleep ten hours a day if I wanted to (but I don’t). I know it’s the ashwagandha.

What Is Ashwagandha?

A. Ashwagandha is the common name for an Indian herb known officially as Withania somnifera. In the Ayurvedic tradition, practitioners would prescribe it to people needing a tonic, a stimulant or an aphrodisiac (African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines, July 3, 2011). They used it for children as well as frail elderly individuals.

That doesn’t sound like a promising candidate to combat insomnia. However, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial demonstrated stress-relieving activity for this plant-based compound (Medicine, Sept. 2019). Another eight-week, randomized placebo-controlled study found that people taking ashwagandha (250 mg/day or 600 mg/day) had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than those on placebo (Cureus, Dec. 25, 2019). They also reported improved sleep quality. Dr. Tieraona Low Dog, one of the country’s leading experts on the scientific basis of botanical medicine, has described ashwagandha as helpful when a person is “tired but wired.”

Learn More:

To learn more about this herb and other natural approaches to overcoming insomnia, you may wish to consult our eGuide to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep. This electronic resource is available in the Health eGuides section at www.PeoplesPharmacy.com. In it, you will find information on the pros and cons of various sleeping pills, including those that you purchase without a prescription. In addition, there is a checklist of simple dos and don’ts that can be surprisingly helpful. And you will also learn how to use ashwagandha to help you get the sleep you need in these troubled times.

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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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