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Will Taking Ashwagandha Help You Fall Asleep?

One reader reports success with an Ayurvedic herb for insomnia. Could the Indian herb ashwagandha help you sleep better too?
Will Taking Ashwagandha Help You Fall Asleep?
Ashwagandha superfood powder and root on cutting board on wooden table.

Lots of people have trouble sleeping. They may take medications to overcome insomnia but worry about the potential side effects. At this time, anxiety about infection or job insecurity may be keeping lots more people awake. Could the Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha help you fall asleep?

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. .
Citations
  • Langade D et al, "Clinical evaluation of the pharmacological impact of ashwagandha root extract on sleep in healthy volunteers and insomnia patients: A double-blind, randomized, parallel-group, placebo-controlled study." Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Jan. 10, 2021. DOI: 10.1016/j.jep.2020.113276
  • Cheah KL et al, "Effect of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract on sleep: A systematic review and meta-analysis." PloS One, Sept. 24, 2021. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0257843
  • Weber S & Gerbes AL, "Ashwagandha-induced liver injury: Self-reports on commercial websites as useful adjunct tools for causality assessment." American Journal of Gastroenterology, Oct. 1, 2021. DOI: 10.14309/ajg.0000000000001369
  • Ireland PJ et al, "Drug-induced hepatocellular injury due to herbal supplement ashwagandha." Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, Dec. 2021. DOI: 10.4997/JRCPE.2021.409
  • Cheong MJ et al, "A systematic literature review and meta-analysis of the clinical effects of aroma inhalation therapy on sleep problems." Medicine, March 5, 2021. DOI: 10.1097/MD.0000000000024652
  • Singh N et al, "An overview on Ashwagandha: A Rasayanda (rejuvenator) of Ayurveda." African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines, July 3, 2011. oi: 10.4314/ajtcam.v8i5S.9
  • 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, Sept. 2019. DOI: 10.1097/MD.0000000000017186
  • Salve J et al, "Adaptogenic and anxiolytic effects of ashwagandha root extract in healthy adults: A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical study." Cureus, Dec. 25, 2019. DOI: 10.7759/cureus.6466
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