Traditional herb ashwagandha reduces stress and anxiety, which may improve sleep quality and make it easier to fall asleep.
Ashwagandha is a root herb with a long history of use in Asia. Ashwagandha appears to be an effective sleep aid thanks to:
- Reducing anxiety. Ashwagandha has been demonstrated to reduce anxiety and stress.
- Improving sleep quality. Preliminary data suggests that ashwagandha can enhance the quality of sleep.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), also commonly known as Indian ginseng, is a shrub plant from the nightshade (Solanaceae) family. The root, leaves and berries of ashwagandha have been used by traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years to help with inflammation, sexual issues, nerve tissue damage, stress, anxiety, insomnia and many other ailments.
Meanwhile in modern times, ashwagandha has been studied as an adaptogenic, antioxidant, anxiolytic, antidepressant, cardioprotective, thyroid-modulating, immuno-modulating, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, and cognition-enhancing compound.
Given its stress-reducing effects, it’s not surprising that Ashwagandha is also frequently used as a sleep aid. Indeed, many people use ashwagandha supplements to improve sleep quality and prepare the mind for going to sleep.
How Ashwagandha Might Help With Sleep
Counteracting neuron excitation
One of the main hypotheses for how ashwagandha helps with sleep is through antagonizing extracellular calcium, which reduces brain cell excitation. Calcium excitation appears to be involved in anxiety and other mental conditions, which means that reducing it can result in an anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) effect.1
Ashwagandha Sleep Benefits
Ashwagandha is best known as an adaptogen – a herb that helps the body resist a wide variety of physiological and psychological stressors. Adaptogens support the body’s ability to respond to stress in a healthy way and can theoretically help with a wide variety of health concerns.
In terms of sleep, research suggests that ashwagandha supplements seem to reduce stress and anxiety, allowing the body to settle down and prepare for sleep. In addition, ashwagandha also appears to improve sleep quality. There is also some evidence that ashwagandha can help with insomnia, but more studies are needed.
Although ashwagandha has not been extensively studied as a sleep aid, it has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, which are some of the most common causes of poor sleep.
This study examined the safety and activity of ashwagandha in healthy people. Eighteen people (aged 18-30) were given ashwagandha extract capsules (750 mg x 10 days, then 1000 mg x 10, and 1250 mg for 10 more) for 30 days. Ashwagadnha was found to be safe, and 6 people saw an improvement in quality of sleep among other effects.
- The researchers concluded that “the formulation was found to be safe…This study has also demonstrated muscle strengthening, lipid lowering, and improved quality of sleep…“2
This double-blind, randomized study examined ashwagandha’s use in helping with anxiety. Thirty-nine people with anxiety disorder were given ashwagandha extract (500 mg) or placebo daily for six weeks. The ashwagandha dose was lowered or raised at two weeks for each patient depending on efficacy and side effects. Compared to placebo, the ashwagandha group showed a trend towards reduced anxiety at week 2, and had significantly reduced anxiety at week 6.
- The researchers concluded that “ethanolic extract of Withania somnifera has useful anxiolytic potential and merits further investigation“3
In this randomized trial, 81 adults with moderate to severe anxiety were assigned to receive one of two interventions for 12 weeks – PT: standard psychotherapy with deep breathing techniques; or NC: deep breathing plus dietary counseling, a multi-vitamin, and ashwagandha (300 mg standardized to 1.5% anolides). Improvement was measured by the Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI) and quality of life measures.
The NC group improved BAI score by 56.5%, compared to only 30.5% for PT. The NC group also had greater improvement in mental health, fatigue, vitality, and overall quality of life.
- The researchers concluded that “Withania somnifera, a multi vitamin, dietary counseling and cognitive-behavioral therapy appears to be a safe and effective, with benefit over standardized psychotherapy in the treatment of mild to severe generalized anxiety“4
This double-blind, randomized trial examined the efficacy of ashwagandha in helping with stress and anxiety in stressed adults. Sixty-four people with chronic stress were given placebo or ashwagandha extract (600 mg) daily for 60 days. Compared to placebo, the ashwagandha group saw significant improvement on all scores of stress assessment, also a reduction in serum cortisol (stress hormone) levels.
- The researchers concluded that “high-concentration full-spectrum Ashwagandha root extract safely and effectively improves an individual’s resistance towards stress and thereby improves self-assessed quality of life“5
Dosage for Sleep
- Successful clinical trials have used doses of 300 – 1250 mg ashwagandha
- Ashwagandha supplements supply doses ranging from 450 – 1000 mg
- Taking ashwagandha 30 minutes before sleep appears to be ideal
Supplements in Review Says
- Ashwagandha 750 mg in capsule form, 30 min before bed.
Ashwagandha seems to be a safe, natural sleep aid. Ashwagandha is backed up not just by thousands of years of traditional use, but also a good number of recent clinical research trials. It has been found to be relatively safe and effective at improving sleep quality both when measured directly, and indirectly through stress and anxiety reduction.
Most studies of ashwagandha use extract in capsule form. Furthermore, 750 mg is the only dose to have been directly linked to improved sleep quality, and also happens to be the dose recommended by the most popular ashwagandha supplements.
- Grunze H et al. Modulation of neural cell membrane conductance by the herbal anxiolytic and antiepileptic drug aswal. Neuropsychobiology. 2000;42 Suppl 1:28-32. ↩
- Raut AA et al. Exploratory study to evaluate tolerability, safety, and activity of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in healthy volunteers. J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2012 Jul;3(3):111-4. ↩
- Andrade C et al. A double-blind, placebo-controlled evaluation of the anxiolytic efficacy ff an ethanolic extract of withania somnifera. Indian J Psychiatry. 2000 Jul;42(3):295-301. ↩
- Cooley K et al. Naturopathic care for anxiety: a randomized controlled trial ISRCTN78958974. PLoS One. 2009 Aug 31;4(8):e6628. ↩
- Chandrasekhar K et al. A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian J Psychol Med. 2012 Jul;34(3):255-62. ↩
- Biswal BM et al. Effect of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) on the development of chemotherapy-induced fatigue and quality of life in breast cancer patients. Integr Cancer Ther. 2013 Jul;12(4):312-22. ↩