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 address 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.
A number of small studies suggest that ashwagandha may also be beneficial for sleep. For instance, one recent study of 150 people with poor sleep quality found that those who supplemented with 120 mg of standardized ashwagandha extract once daily for six weeks reported a 72 percent improvement in quality of their sleep compared to a 29% improvement in those who didn’t take the herb. Another study of 80 people found that those who took ashwagandha for eight weeks experienced improvements in sleep quality, mental alertness, and other measures, particularly if they had insomnia at the start of the study.
Ashwagandha’s effects may stem from its content of triethylene glycol, a compound shown to induce sleep. It is also rich in withanolides, substances that appear to influence the body’s ability to cope with stress — and stress is known to have negative effects on sleep quality and to increase daytime sleepiness.
For this reason, ashwagandha is worth considering — 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% withanolides). 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 safe 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.
Langade, D., Kanchi, S., Salve, J., Debnath, K., & Ambegaokar, D. (2019). Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) Root Extract in Insomnia and Anxiety: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-controlled Study. Cureus, 11(9), e5797. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.5797
Updated January 2022.