Ashwagandha is an Ayurvedic herb from the roots of Withania somnifera, a plant in the nightshade family. It has long been prized for its ability to help the body deal with stress. I recommend it as a natural treatment to fight fatigue and boost energy levels. It has also been used traditionally for pain relief and to treat skin diseases, diabetes, gastrointestinal disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and epilepsy.
I do recommend ashwagandha – along with other measures – for treatment of insomnia when stress is a contributing factor (try 500 mg of an extract standardized to 2.5-5% with anolides). If this is your problem, try to stick to a routine at bedtime; for example, go to bed at the same time every day. Avoid caffeine and get plenty of exercise during the day. A dark room free of noise may also help. (Consider buying a “white noise” device if your bedroom is noisy.) If you are having trouble falling asleep, try relaxation techniques like breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga.
The two best natural sleep aids are valerian and melatonin. Valerian is a sedative herb, used for centuries. You can find standardized extracts in health food stores and pharmacies. Take one to two capsules a half hour before bedtime. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the wake/sleep cycle and other daily biorhythms. Try sublingual tablets (to be placed under the tongue and allowed to dissolve); take 2.5 mg at bedtime as an occasional dose, making sure that your bedroom is completely dark. A much lower dose, 0.25 to 0.3 mg, may be more effective for regular use.
To combat stress naturally you can also try chamomile tea; it is mildly relaxing, and you can drink as much of it as you want. Another (stronger) remedy is passionflower, made from Passiflora incarnata, native to the southeastern United States. Passionflower products are available at herb and health food stores. The dose is one dropperful of the tincture in a little water or two capsules of a standardized extract up to four times a day as needed. Passionflower is relaxing and is non-sedating.
Andrew Weil, M.D.