Better Sleep from an Ancient Herb?

With millions of people reporting sleep problems, the Sleep Institute of Japan performed research on alternative herbal remedies that have been known to help with sleep.  They found that there is a specific component in Ashwagandha herb leaves that induces sleep.

What is Ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a heavily researched ancient Indian herb that is central to the field of Ayurvedic medicine.  Ayurveda is a Traditional Indian system of medicine, which has been used for thousands of years.  Its primary focus is on balancing the body’s systems using herbs, diet, and yogic techniques.

As indicated by the Latin name, somnifera, the herb is specifically designed to induce sleep and has been used for centuries to treat insomnia and other sleep disorders.  Several medical studies validate the sleep-inducing effects of Ashwagandha, but the active component that is responsible for this action is widely unknown.

The research team out of the University of Tsukuba’s International Institute for Integrative Sleep Medicine was led by Drs. Mahesh K. Kaushik and Yoshihiro Urade.  The team investigated the properties of the different components in Ashwagandha by recording brain activity and waves during sleep, using electroencephalogram (EEG) and electromyography (EMG) to measure the brain’s activity.

How does Ashwagandha help sleep?

The water component of the leaf contained triethylene glycol (TEG), which changed rapid eye movement sleep, as well as increased the restorative sleep stages, or non-rapid eye movement sleep.  The alcohol extract from the leaves contained withanolides, which did not improve or change sleep in any way.  TEG sleep showed the same patterns as a normal night’s sleep.  The TEG products available for commercial use were shown to increase non-REM sleep and add more restorative time to those stages.  This led researchers to conclude that TEG is the Ashwagandha leaf’s active component responsible for helping with sleep.

sleep research

Other sleep disorders might benefit from this herb

Sleep disorders like restless leg syndrome and insomnia are prevalent in most cultures, especially in the middle-aged population.  An estimated 10-15% of the world’s population suffer from insomnia, with 30-60% of those people being elderly.  Insomnia is directly linked to health problems like heart disease, obesity, diabetes, depression, mania, and anxiety.

Conventional medicine dictates pharmaceuticals will treat insomnia and other sleep disorders; however, those medications are accompanied by sometimes severe side effects and risk of adverse reactions.  Ashwagandha, however, is a crude powder made from a leaf. This herb can be consumed safely every day to help with sleep, and there are no known side effects associated with the herb.  Researchers believe this will revolutionize the field of sleep disorder treatment using natural plant-based therapies.

It is noted in this study, however, that this research is still in its infant stages and not yet mature enough to confidently recommend to patients and providers.  Further research will focus on the clinical application of TEG to assist with sleep disorders.  Primarily, researchers want to determine the safety of TEG and whether there are any possible toxicities to biological processes, as TEG is primarily used for industrial purposes.

Authors of this research are considering the effects of TEG on stress, since Ashwagandha has been used for treatment of anxiety and depression for thousands of years, leading them to believe that this plant may rebalance certain aspects of the nervous system.  Further studies will include identifying the area of the brain most affected by TEG and determining what exactly it is doing to induce sleep.


Rachael Herman is a professional writer with an extensive background in medical writing, research, and language development. Her hobbies include reading, traveling, and cooking.


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