According to Ayurveda, sleep is one of the three pillars of health that supports the human body. Those three pillars are Ahara (diet) Nidra (sleep), and Brahmacharya (abstinence).1
The ancient Ayurvedic master Charaka in his treatise Charaka Samhita says, happiness, misery, nourishment, emaciation, strength, weakness, virility, sterility, knowledge, ignorance, life and death occur depending on proper or improper sleep.2
The Physiology Of Sleep
Will Ashwagandha Help You Sleep?
Ashwagandha Sleep: Modern Research Findings
The Physiology Of Sleep
Sleep is due to the body and mind having depleted the vital energy which keeps the body going. The Ayurvedic strategy to induce sleep is not to sedate the already exhausted body and mind, but to revive and rejuvenate the sattva quality of the mind and balance the Kapha dosha. It is also necessary to mitigate the rajas induced by the excessive Vata aggravation, so that the body has a restful, natural sleep and a calm and peaceful mind on waking up the next morning.
In today’s fast paced, media centric world, where everyone is in a rush it is obvious to experience an adrenal surge leading to stress, anxiety, restlessness and sleepless nights. To view this point Ayurvedically, there is an aggravation of the Vata dosha (physical element) as well as Rajas (mental faculty) responsible for passion, activity and creativity as well as confusion in a person.
Ashwagandha helps calm down the Vata and Rajas and in turn balances Kapha and enhances Sattva guna. Sattva is the quality of balance, harmony, goodness and purity. It is universalizing, holistic, constructive, creative, building, positive in attitude, luminous, serene, peaceful and virtuous.
According to the Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia of India, Ashwagandha is a bitter, astringent herb which is light in digestion and is unctuous. It possesses a heating potency and sweet post digestive taste. All these properties make it a Kapha Vata pacifier and a highly rejuvenative and nourishing herb with strengthening and aphrodisiac properties. In Ayurvedic healing it has earned the status of sattvik kapha rasayana.4Continue reading. We will explain.
Rasa denotes many entities in Ayurveda. Here it refers to the preservation, transformation, and replenishment of energy or the vital essence derived after proper metabolism. The word ayana also has various meanings. Here it means “to increase” or “to circulate”. Thus, we can understand rasayana as a substance which will increase and promote the circulation of the vital essence of life or vital energy, known as Ojas.
According to Ayurveda, Ojas is the subtle essence that is responsible for life, radiant health, strong immunity, vigor, longevity and the overall well being of an individual. The subtle essence called ojas that is extracted from the proper digestion and efficient metabolism of food nourishes the bodily tissues of the blood, plasma and lymph, muscle, fat, bones, bone marrow, semen and ojas.5
Will Ashwagandha Help You Sleep?
Ashwagandha enhances the Ojas, which in turn enhances the sattva (balanced mental faculty) and balances the Kapha dosha by nourishing the body tissues. Thus it is referred to as a sattvik kapha rasayana. Being a rasayana, it possesses adaptogenic properties.
An adaptogen is a nontoxic substance, especially a plant extract, that has two functions. It aides in increasing the body’s ability to resist the damaging effects of stress and promotes or restore normal physiological functioning.6
Ashwagandha is considered to be one of the most well studied adaptogens belonging to the solanaceae family (nightshade family), commonly called Indian ginseng or winter cherry. The roots and leaves of the plant are most commonly used for their medicinal properties. The presence of withanolides, a group of steroidal lactones, contribute to the herb’s health benefits. So will Ashwagandha help you sleep?
Interestingly, it’s botanical name – Withania Somnifera – sheds some light on one of its immensely beneficial properties. Translated in English, somnifera means ‘sleep-inducing,’ giving us an idea about the herb’s calming nature, which in turn, supports restful sleep.
The Ayurvedic herb Ashwagandha supports healthy sleep by rejuvenating the body and addressing stress-related exhaustion. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) has emerged as one of the world’s most powerful adaptogens, which means it helps the adrenal system regulate hormones and helps the body cope with stress.
So, will Ashwagandha help you sleep? The answer is, yes! Ashwagandha may help you sleep. The latest studies also support this. Let’s find out how.
Ashwagandha Sleep: Modern Research Findings
Ashwagandha has been shown to positively affect the neural receptors responsible for receiving GABA, an important neurotransmitter in reducing neuronal excitability. Appropriate GABA levels are critical to settling the mind and offsetting the tendency to worry.7
Overproduction of the stress hormone cortisol leads to sleep disturbances. According to our circadian clock, cortisol should naturally decrease in the early evening in preparation for sleep. Stress can overrule these rhythms and cortisol can stay elevated into the night and affect sleep success. Ashwagandha, in numerous studies, has been shown to help control and limit the production of cortisol as a result of stressful situations.8
One study showed that glyco withanolide, a bioactive constituent of Ashwagandha, induced an antioxidant effect in the brain and liver, which triggered a natural protective effect against heavy metal damage, shielding the body’s main blood and lymph cleansing organ.9
52 overweight adults were given Ashwagandha or a placebo for 8 weeks. At 4 and 8 weeks, they gave the subjects the Perceived Stress Scale, Food Cravings Questionnaire Oxford Happiness Questionnaire, Three-Factor Eating Questionnaire and measured serum cortisol, body weight, and body mass index. The study showed positive outcomes on all counts, suggesting that Ashwagandha root can be effectively used to combat stress and cravings, support mood and happiness, and support healthy body weight management in adults under heavy stress.10
Yet another study, investigated the anxiolytic and antidepressant actions of the bioactive glycowithanolides (WSG), isolated from Ashwagnahda roots, in rats. WSG (20 and 50 mg/kg) was administered orally once daily for 5 days and the results were compared by those elicited by the benzodiazepine lorazepam (0.5 mg/kg, i.p.) for anxiolytic studies, and by the tricyclic antidepressant, imipramine (10 mg/kg, i.p.), for the antidepressant investigations. Both these standard drugs were administered once, 30 minutes prior to the tests. WSG induced an anxiolytic effect, comparable to that produced by lorazepam, in the elevated plus-maze, social interaction and feeding latency in an unfamiliar environment, tests. Further, both WSG and lorazepam, reduced rat brain levels of tribulin, an endocoid marker of clinical anxiety, when the levels were increased following administration of the anxiogenic agent, pentylenetetrazole. WSG also exhibited an antidepressant effect, comparable with that induced by imipramine, in the forced swim-induced ‘behavioral despair’ and ‘learned helplessness’ tests. The investigations support the use of WS as a mood stabilizer in clinical conditions of anxiety and depression in Ayurveda.11
Taking Ashwagandha for sleeping issues activates mechanisms which reduce stress and anxiety by controlling and limiting the cortisol production, reducing hormones produced by the body during stressful situations and promote natural relaxation.
Ashwagandha works by pacifying the aggravated Vata and the rajas and at the same time balancing the sattva quality of the mind and Kapha dosha of the body. It does not work as a sedative unlike conventional sleep aids, which increases the tamas quality of the mind. With more than 30 percent of the world’s population suffering from insomnia at any given time, serious solutions are needed, without the heavy chemical side effects and dependencies associated with conventional sleep aids.
Thus we can say that taking Ashwagandha might not induce sleep directly as a sedative does but yes, it may help you sleep indirectly by reducing your stress and anxiety levels and calming your agitated nerves and adrenal surge.
1. K. R. Srikantha Murthy, Astanga Hridaya (Sutra Sthana) Vol 1, with english translation, Chowkhamba Krishnadas Academy, Varanasi, (2016), verse-52, pp 119.
2. R.K Sharma, Bhagwan Dash, Charaka Samhita (sutra Sthana) Vol 1, with english translation, Chowkhambha sanskrit Series office Varanasi (2016), verse-36-38, pp 381.
3. R.K Sharma, Bhagwan Dash, Charaka Samhita (Sutra Sthana) vol 1, with english translations, Chowkhambha Sanskrit series office, Varanasi(2016), Verse -35, pp 381.
4. Changhadi Govardhan Sharma, “Ashwagandharishta – Rastantra Sar Evam Sidhyaprayog Sangrah,” Krishna-Gopal Ayurveda Bhawan (Dharmarth Trust) Nagpur, (1938): 743–744.
5. K.R Srikantha Murthy,Ashtanga hridaya Vol 1, Sutra Sthana, Chowkhambha Krishnadas academy, Varanasi, 2016,verse-37-38,pp-163.
6. “Adaptogen.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/adaptogen.
7. Candelario, M, et al. “Direct Evidence for GABAergic Activity of Withania Somnifera on Mammalian Ionotropic GABAA and GABAρ Receptors.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2 Aug. 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26068424.
8. 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 Journal of Psychological Medicine, Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3573577/.
9. Bhattacharya, A, et al. “Effect of Withania Somnifera Glycowithanolides on Iron-Induced Hepatotoxicity in Rats.” Phytotherapy Research : PTR., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Nov. 2000, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11054855.
10. Choudhary, D, et al. “Body Weight Management in Adults Under Chronic Stress Through Treatment With Ashwagandha Root Extract: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial.” Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Jan. 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27055824.
11. Bhattacharya, S K, et al. “Anxiolytic-Antidepressant Activity of Withania Somnifera Glycowithanolides: an Experimental Study.” Phytomedicine : International Journal of Phytotherapy and Phytopharmacology., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 2000, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11194174.