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Ashwagandha and its potential role in improving sleep quality and duration

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Ashwagandha and its potential role in improving sleep quality and duration

Is it really true that Ashwagandha can help you fall asleep? Although we are designed to fall asleep naturally. But often our sleep rituals are interrupted and we might need a natural and time-tested sleeping aid. If you would like to wake up feeling refreshed and feel like you have had a great sleep and want to enjoy full-day energy then you probably have come across Ashwagandha. So what’s the deal? Does it really work? What exactly is meant by sleep quality? Let’s explore this important topic.

Why sleep matters and what are the different stages of sleep?

Sleep is when our body heals itself. When you sleep less than 7-8 hours or your sleep quality is poor, you’re at a greater risk of chronic problems including obesity, type 2 diabetes, and depression. There are two distinct stages of sleep throughout the night, during which we move in and out of deep and shallow sleep. The first stage is Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep which accounts for the majority of sleep time. And it’s especially important as we experience a particularly deep sleep where we experience rejuvenation and growth. Apart from this, the second stage is Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep where we go through the vivid dreaming stage. While we never think much about our sleep, it’s the quality of the sleep that really matters.

What exactly is high-quality sleep?

This is a tricky question because there’s surprisingly no benchmark around the Quality of sleep. Most people think 7-9 hours of sleep is good but what if you never went into the deep sleep stage? And the body never got the chance to refresh itself? It’s estimated that insufficient sleep for one night can impact your mental powers and decision-making the next day. Imagine the damage your body undergoes if you don’t get good quality sleep over a longer period. 

So let’s first understand the factors that make up high-quality sleep:

a) Sleep efficiency: if you were sleeping for the majority of your time in bed then the sleep efficiency was higher. But if you were awake or disturbed from sleep then the sleep efficiency will go down. High-quality sleep means higher sleep efficiency.

b) Sleep continuity: if you toss and turn in bed or frequently visit the washroom at night then it can impact your sleep quality negatively. A higher sleep quality means sleeping continuously shifting in the different stages naturally.

c) Sleep architecture: it means how well distributed and balanced were the two different stages of sleep. When you take caffeine or alcohol late in the evening they block you from experiencing the rejuvenating form of sleep i.e. NREM sleep. So an optimal sleep architecture helps you experience a high quality of sleep.

In short, when you wake up refreshed and in a good mood, you have basically experienced a high quality of sleep. So it’s not about the time spent in bed. Now the obvious question is, can Ashwagandha help you experience this high-quality sleep? 

Let’s see why there’s such hype around Ashwagandha and what science and Ayurveda say about it.

What exactly is Ashwagandha and why it’s ‘King of herbs’?

In Ayurveda, Ashwagandha has been mentioned as a rasayanam herb which means it promotes rejuvenation and overall well-being. It’s one of the most widely used herbs, often called the ‘king of herbs, and has been consumed for over 3,000 years by people who desire greater mental and physical strength.  Apart from this, it also supports the immune system, improves digestion, and promotes restful sleep. Even though the whole plant is beneficial but it has been observed that the roots which are closer to the soil are especially rich in nutrients.

Ashwagandha, Sleep, and the science behind it

Although in Sanskrit the name Ashwagandha means ‘smell of the horse’. Because it has been seen to provide vitality to a horse when consumed. However, the herb contains many compounds like alkaloids, withanolides, and sitoindosides which are particularly considered to be responsible for their adaptogenic properties. What it means is that it can help you adapt to stress and also produce a calming effect on the body. Thus promoting restful sleep at night and vitality during the day.

There are two major ways KSM 66 helps you gain better sleep quality: 

a) Enhance the activity of GABA: GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter and Ashwagandha enhances its activities. This helps inhibit anxiety which promotes relaxation and calmness. This way Ashwagandha aids in sleep initiation and maintenance.

b) Mood regulation: Ashwagandha also helps regulate neurotransmitters like Serotonin which plays a vital role in mood management and sleep. Apart from these Ashwagandha helps balance energy levels in the body. So it prevents restlessness or anxiety from impacting sleep.

In recent years several studies have investigated the potential effect of Ashwagandha on sleep quality and duration. and overall evidence seems to suggest that Ashwagandha can be a great sleep aid.

For example, a double-blind study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine (1) examined the effects of Ashwagandha on sleep in individuals with insomnia. Researchers found what has always been suggested by ancient traditions. They found that Ashwagandha significantly improved sleep quality, reduced the time it takes to fall asleep, and increased the number of hours someone sleeps. Apart from this, participants also felt improvement in anxiety levels and mental alertness.

How does Ashwagandha compare with other sleeping aid?

Although it’s hard to compare one herb with others because there isn’t scientific research like that. Plus,  everyone is different, for some people, one herb can work well over others. Having said that Ashwagandha is a well-tolerated herb and can be used by anyone. Apart from this, herbs like Valerian Root, Chamomile, and Lavender are proven to bring deep sleep.

What’s the best way to take Ashwagandha to sleep?

Surprisingly there’s no single best way of taking Ashwagandha for sleep. What’s important is that you have a consistent ritual and you stick to it. And the effects will be seen. Here are some guidelines though:

a) Before sleep: if you’re planning to take Ashwagandha before sleep then take it 30-60 minutes before sleep. You can take it with warm milk, as it boosts the calming effect.

b) In the early evening: taking it early before night gives the body a chance to absorb and fully use its potency.

c) In the morning: consuming early in the day gives you the ability to cope with stress better. This promotes overall well-being and relaxation which helps you fall asleep easily when you lie in bed.

Conclusion: Can Ashwagandha help you improve sleep quality and duration

Sleep is a natural activity and Ashwagandha has been used for over 3,000 years to enhance physical and mental fitness. Withanolides, the active compound in the herb have adaptogenic effects. They put the mind and body into relaxation and help you fall asleep. The root of the herb is much more powerful as it is closer to the soil. Ashwagandha not just improves sleep duration, but also promotes higher sleep quality by improving sleep continuity and efficiency.

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