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If there’s one sleep supplement that’s tied to a better night’s sleep, it’s melatonin. A hormone that’s naturally produced by our own bodies to help us drift off at night, melatonin is easy to take and helpful for many – but it may not be the most effective sleep supplement available. According to recent research, there’s another natural solution that could be even more potent: ashwagandha.
A plant-based adaptogen that’s been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha is perhaps best known for helping with stress. And it turns out that the very same properties that make this herbal remedy so great for stress relief may also benefit sleep.
How ashwagandha can impact sleep
A preliminary study published in Cureus suggests that taking an ashwagandha supplement may help you fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and achieve better overall sleep quality. The study’s participants, who took the adaptogen twice daily for six weeks, reported 72 percent better sleep, on average. Ashwagandha even helped individuals with insomnia drift off to sleep more easily.
And this isn’t the only study that suggests ashwagandha may be beneficial. Other research, like a 2017 study, suggests that taking this supplement may also help you achieve a better night’s sleep indirectly by lowering your stress levels.
However, like any sleep supplement, the research around ashwagandha is still somewhat preliminary. Elizabeth Shaw, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and founder of Shaw Simple Swaps, notes that more research is needed before we start relying heavily on the herb to drift off to sleep: “While general consumption of ashwagandha as shown in this research appears to be fine in the short term, there is a need for more long term studies to identify its safety when used continuously to help with sleep and other conditions.”
What’s the difference between ashwagandha and melatonin?
Ashawagandha kind of sounds a lot like another hot sleep supplement: melatonin. This natural sleep aid is being consumed increasingly more, with the National Institutes of Health noting that melatonin use has quintupled between 1999 and 2018.
But melatonin and ashwagandha are two totally different kinds of sleep-inducing substances. Melatonin works to provide you with extra melatonin, a substance that your body naturally produces to make you sleepy when it’s time for bed. It influences your circadian rhythm, helping you determine when it’s time to get some rest and when it’s time to wake up.
Ashwagandha, however, is an herb and not a hormone. And this herb contains some sleep-promoting compounds, like triethylene glycol (which brings on sleepiness) and other yet-to-be-discovered compounds that have apparent therapeutic effects. Ashwagandha also features a key active ingredient called withanolides, which are thought to relieve and ease stress – a critical player in your sleep quality.
So, while melatonin and ashwagandha may seem similar because they’re both billed as natural sleep aids, they’re quite different. And each impacts your sleep cycle, or ability to sleep, in a different way.
Can anyone take ashwagandha?
While ashwagandha is likely safe for most people, taking it as a supplement can come with side effects. These side effects, which include nasal congestion, nausea, sleepiness, and a decreased appetite, are typically mild.
Beyond side effects, it’s also a good idea to be cautious about how often, and for how long, you’re relying on ashwagandha to get to sleep. Shaw’s recommendation, based on research, is that if you do want to try ashwagandha, plan to use it for the short-term; she explains, “Generally speaking, a 2021 study has shown that 8 weeks seems to be the safe window of usage for both healthy men and women.”
It’s always better to err on the side of caution and ask your doctor if ashwagandha is safe for you before taking it. And individuals with any preexisting health concerns may want to take additional caution.
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