Is there anything better than a good night’s sleep? Sinking into bed, closing your eyes, and gently drifting off to enjoy eight hours of uninterrupted Zzz’s — for a lot of us, this is merely a dream, particularly as we age. Stress, caffeine, and endless to-do lists play their part, too. Whatever the reason, sleepless nights happen, and in some cases, turn into insomnia — a common sleep disorder that makes it difficult to fall and stay asleep. Recently, an Ayurvedic herbal supplement called ashwagandha has gained favor among those who struggle with snoozing. It has additional health benefits, as well. Read on to learn all there is to know about ashwagandha, including how it can support quality sleep and improves overall health.
What is ashwagandha?
First things first: What is ashwagandha? Short answer: It’s an Ayurvedic medicine. Longer answer: It’s an Ayurvedic medicine made from the roots of Withania somnifera — a plant in the nightshade family — that’s been used in India as a holistic healing treatment for thousands of years. Also known as winter cherry or Indian ginseng, ashwagandha is a Sanskrit word that means “smell of a horse.” (It earned its name because of its pungent odor.) Don’t worry, though. Taking this herb won’t make you smell.
What’s so special about the effects of ashwagandha?
This Ayurvedic herb is part of a special class of plants called adaptogens. Their job, as the name suggests, is to help you and your body “adapt.” As an adaptogen, ashwagandha is an herbal pharmaceutical that enables you to handle physical, mental, and environmental changes and promotes homeostasis and balance in the body. Both of these are necessary for living a healthy and happy life.
Can ashwagandha be used as a sleep aid?
Struggling to summon the Sandman? Ashwagandha supplements might be able to help. A number of placebo-controlled studies indicate that the herb reduces anxiety by building resistance to stress.This is great news for those whose sleep issues are due to chronic stress. Why? Because stress can impede sleep and reduce quality of life overall. If anxious thoughts or tension are negatively impacting your well-being by reducing your ability to sleep, ashwagandha might be a solution. It’s supported by science and provides a chemical-free alternative to healing.
In addition to soothing stress — and thus indirectly inducing sleep — researchers behind clinical trials believe that the trimethylene glycol found naturally in ashwagandha may play a role in the plant’s soporific effects. Still others believe that the perennial herb acts on GABA receptors, which are vital players in the sleep-wake cycle. (GABA receptors regulate the stress hormone cortisol in your body, and cortisol levels correlate to both stress levels and cognitive functioning.)
The precise process by which ashwagandha interacts with the body is as yet unknown, but as scientists discover new compounds that contribute to its effectiveness as a sleep aid and procure additional evidence-based research, the benefits of ashwagandha will likely grow.
Does ashwagandha provide any other benefits?
If supporting quality shut-eye wasn’t enough to get you excited about the health benefits of ashwagandha, the non-toxic herb has several other perks.
Promotes Thyroid Health
According to a clinical study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, ashwagandha proved beneficial in normalizing thyroid dysfunction among patients with hypothyroidism. Another study published in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine concluded that ashwagandha has thyroid-supporting properties.
Note: If you’re considering boosting your thyroid with ashwagandha, consult your healthcare provider first. While the healing plant may work for those with an underactive thyroid and adrenal fatigue, it might not be suitable for those with a hyperactive thyroid, as in Graves’ disease. In this case, traditional medicine may be a better option.
Supports Hair Health
No one can stop the hands of time — but there’s nothing that says we can’t try. Although more evidence is needed to support the hype, research has found that regular consumption of an ashwagandha formulation may help rejuvenate hair melanin production. Fewer gray tresses? Yes, please.
May Benefit Male Fertility
Many healthy adult males struggle to keep their sperm count up. Studies suggest ashwagandha can help men dealing with an underactive reproductive system and low testosterone levels, an issue of particular concern to older males.
Boosts Muscle Mass
On a mission to tone and tighten your muscles? Consider ashwagandha. Small studies suggest that adding it to your supplement protocol increases muscle strength gained from weight-lifting. In fact, an eight-week study showed participants taking ashwagandha powder had increased their muscle strength and lost more body fat than their placebo-taking counterparts.
Reduces Blood Sugar Levels
Ashwagandha won’t prevent diabetes, but it could be a useful tool for keeping your blood sugar levels in check. Early research suggests that the ancient herb might support glucose control, which would mean fewer blood sugar spikes and more sustained weight loss. Scientists don’t fully understand why or how this happens just yet, but there are experts who believe the antioxidants found in ashwagandha have something to do with it.
Protects Against Diseases
In preliminary studies, researchers found ashwagandha helped ease inflammation, support cell cycle regulation, and reduce the development of blood vessels around tumors, all of which are crucial aspects of cancer prevention.
Note: Speak with your healthcare provider before taking anything new — such as ashwagandha — when managing cancer care.
The Bottom Line
Ashwagandha is an ancient healing herb with a multitude of possible health benefits. Current findings suggest that this ancient herb helps ease feelings of stress and anxiety, which, in turn, supports a good night’s rest. But promoting good sleep is only the tip of the iceberg. With continued research, ashwagandha will likely reveal numerous additional wellness perks.
Thinking about taking ashwagandha? Be sure to consult your healthcare provider first — especially if you have an underlying medical condition or are taking prescription medications. While ashwagandha is generally regarded as safe, it’s always best to consult your doctor for medical advice before making changes or additions to your diet or lifestyle.