Some 50 to 70 million Americans have trouble getting a good night’s sleep, and new research has linked numerous health concerns to poor sleep. Brain lymphatics drain three pounds of toxins each year during sleep. The worse you sleep, the less efficiently the brain drains, and the less the brain drains, the less likely you will get a good night’s sleep. (1,2)
It is clear that the many shades of stress can dramatically affect one’s ability to sleep. Stress can alter the circadian clock, throw off blood sugar, flood the body with stress hormones, disturb the production of neurotransmitters, alter the microbiome and deplete the body’s energy reserves — all factors linked to healthy sleep.
Ayurveda suggests that sleep issues are linked to the body lacking energy reserves, rather than having too much energy. The Ayurvedic strategy for sleep is not to sedate an already exhausted body, but to rejuvenate and rebuild its reserves so that the body has the energy it needs to sedate itself and sleep deeply, naturally.
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. In fact, “somnifera” in Latin literally means the “sleep inducer.”
5 Ways Ashwagandha Supports Healthy Sleep
1. Lowers Stress Hormones
One of the most well-understood pathways linked to sleep disturbance is the overproduction of the stress hormone, cortisol. 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. (3)
2. The Worry Effect
When the body is depleted, not only does it not have enough energy to put itself to sleep, it will also not have enough energy to calm the mind during the day, causing unnecessary worry. 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. (4)
3. The Blood Sugar Effect
One of the main reasons people wake up at night is because the blood sugar levels crash during sleep. The body is designed to burn fat at night, breaking the fast with breakfast. If blood sugar levels are unstable and fat burning is compromised, it can be difficult to sleep through the night. Ashwagandha has been shown in a number of studies to support blood sugar and lipid or fat levels already within the normal range. (5)
4. Toxic Brain Effect
With 4 billion pounds of toxins dumped into the American environment each year, it is important that we keep our natural detoxification pathways healthy. As environmental toxins are fat soluble, many of them find their way into the brain where they congest brain lymphatics that drain toxins during sleep. Poor brain lymph drainage is linked to poor sleep, and poor sleep is linked to poor brain lymphatic drainage. One study showed that glycowithanolide, 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. (6)
5. The Fat Burning Effect
Perhaps the most effective way to support healthy sleep is to optimize the body’s ability to burn fat. Fat is a slow burning fuel, which is required to provide the long-lasting fuel reserves to sleep deeply through an entire night. One the best measures of fat metabolism is the ability to lose weight or burn fat naturally. Studies suggest that ashwagandha supports healthy weight while under heavy stress.
In one study, 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. (7)