Given the relentless pace and pressures of today’s life, it’s not surprising that conditions like insomnia, majorly triggered by chronic stress, are at near epidemic levels.
Sleep is critical for our health – while we are asleep, our body is hard at work, repairing and rejuvenating. Sleep disorders increase the risk for other conditions such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, depression and cancer.
How Do We Sleep?
Our natural sleep patterns are driven by 2 primary mechanisms:
- Circadian Rhythms (internal body-clock typically aligned with day-night cycle)
- Sleep-wake Homeostasis (increase and decrease in levels of sleep-regulating substances like adenosine in the brain, based on amount of time spent in awake and sleep states)
Under normal circumstances, our body is able to self-regulate our sleep cycles. The longer we stay awake and active, the more our urge to sleep. Similarly, the longer we sleep, more the urge to awaken. This goes on in a continuous cycle.
Insomnia can be triggered by disruption of either circadian rhythms or sleep-wake homeostosis or both; over a period of time, the body loses its ability to increase and decrease sleep-regulating substances at the right time, in the right amounts.
Sedatives offer a temporary fix, by compensating for what the body is having difficulty in producing. However, the underlying causes of disruption in natural sleep patterns remain unaddressed. Regular use of sedatives gradually destroys the body’s ability to regulate sleep on its own; it gets dependent on sedatives for sleep.
While it seems paradoxical at the outset, the best way to tackle insomnia is to make the body more active.
Improving vitality and reducing sluggishness triggers the body’s natural mechanisms to push the body to get proper sleep. When we look at it this way, its quite clear why sedatives might actually be compounding our insomnia problems in the long term, instead of solving them.
Root Causes of Sleep Disruption
Sleep is a function of overall health; healthy people sleep well. Various systems in the body work in concert to regulate and maintain the body in healthy working order. Disruption in any of the core systems and processes invariably throws the entire system off balance. If the imbalances are not addressed immediately, they can build up and trigger vicious cycles of health deterioration very quickly.
Stress is a key contributor to such disruption. The body’s natural mechanisms to counter stress are tuned to handle temporary stress – not chronic stress. For example, stress triggers an increase in cortisol levels – to make the body more active and ready to respond to the perceived stress causing threat. This mechanism is perfect for temporary stress triggers. However, when faced with chronic stress, cortisol levels can remain high all the time, forcing the body to stay “active”, against the body’s natural sleep rhythms. Studies have shown that patients with acute insomnia have elevated cortisol levels even at night.1
Chronic stress lowers immunity, disrupts metabolism and digestion, and increases inflammation. Stress also amplifies any preexisting health issues – infections, high toxin levels, metabolic disorders like diabetes or heart disease, fatigue, depression, anxiety etc.
To get your sleep back on track, all root causes have to be simultaneously addressed. You will need to boost immunity, metabolism and digestion, and reduce inflammation and most importantly, stress. Herbs like Ashwagandha that offer multiple holistic health benefits are a great option.
How Does Ashwagandha Act Against Insomnia?
Ashwagandha is a multipurpose herb that acts on various systems of the human body: the neurological system, the immune system, the energy-production system, the endocrinal system and the reproductive system.
In Ayurveda, Ashwagandha is used as an essential tonic, to improve overall health, strength and vigor, and to counter lethargy and fatigue.
- As an adaptogen, it helps the body handle stress better, primarily by reducing cortisol levels – by as much as 27%, as reported by some studies.2
- It has potent anti-inflammatory and free radical scavenging properties, and helps increase the levels of key antioxidant enzymes in the body.
- It improves thyroid function, and boosts metabolism.
- It has neuro-protective properties, helping reduce and repair damage to brain cells.
- It has antibacterial and immunomodulating properties, helping the body ward off and recover faster from infections.
The above properties (in combination) explain why Ashwagandha is considered to be effective in countering insomnia – it makes the body more robust and active, and thereby helps restore the body’s natural mechanisms to induce sleep!3
Latest research seems to be in agreement. A placebo controlled study was conducted on 64 subjects to assess the impact of consumption of Ashwgandha root extract over a prolonged period (60 days), on stress levels. Subjects were evaluated using the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-28) including insomnia and anxiety parameters, Depression Anxiety Stress Scale (DASS), and serum cortisol levels. The Ashwagandha group showed significant reduction in stress levels across all tests – including 69% reduction in insomnia and anxiety parameter scores.4
How Much Ashwagandha Should You Consume?
300 mg of high-concentration full-spectrum extract from the root of the Ashwagandha plant, twice a day, has been found to be both safe and effective in treating insomnia.5 This amount is pretty much in the same range as the recommended Ayruvedic dosage of Ashwagandha as a daily tonic – 1 – 2 teaspoons (200 – 400 mg) of root extract, twice a day.
Side Effects Of Ashwagandha
No significant side effects have been reported in traditional and modern medical literature, but long term studies are required.
|↑1||Rodenbeck, Andrea, Gerald Huether, Eckart Rüther, and Göran Hajak. “Interactions between evening and nocturnal cortisol secretion and sleep parameters in patients with severe chronic primary insomnia.” Neuroscience Letters 324.2 (2002): 159-163.|
|↑2, ↑4, ↑5||Chandrasekhar, K., Jyoti Kapoor, and Sridhar Anishetty. “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 34, no. 3 (2012): 255.|
|↑3||Shalini, Sachan, H. S. Mishra, and K. N. Yadav. “Ashwagandha: Solution to Stress and Insomnia.” Indian Journal of Ancient Medicine and Yoga 8, no. 3 (2015): 153.|