Ashwagandha is a well-known medicinal herb used in holistic medicine. For thousands of years, it has been used to strengthen the human body.
Because it builds resilience against stress, Ashwagandha has built a strong following. Recent scientific studies have focused on 'Withania somnifera', as suggested by its botanical name.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen. This means that it can help with stress management.
Apart from its adaptogenic activity, Ashwagandha also bestows numerous benefits for the body and the nervous system.
For instance, it is capable of boosting brain function, and fighting symptoms of depression and anxiety.
In this article, we will examine the effects of ashwagandha on sleep and the nervous system.
First, We Begin With Its Effect On The Nervous System
The effects of ashwagandha on the nervous system are triple fold. These include:
- Its effect on cortisol levels
- Its effect on stress and anxiety
- Effects on depressive symptoms
- Improvement of memory and brain function
- Let's examine this one after the other.
- Effect on cortisol levels
Effects on cortisol levels
Cortisol is a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands when the body is in stress. It is also released when blood sugar levels are lower than normal.
Sometimes, a person’s cortisol level may get too high, leading to high blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia), and fat buildup in the abdomen.
In a particular study involving chronically stressed adults, the group that supplemented with ashwagandha had more significant reductions in cortisol levels compared with the control. there was a 30 percent reduction in the group that took the highest dose (1).
Effect on stress & anxiety
One of the best-known uses of Ashwagandha is its stress-reducing ability.
Results from research suggest that ashwagandha blocks the stress pathway in the brain via regulation of chemical signaling in the nervous system (4).
In a 2-month study involving 64 chronically-stressed patients, the group that supplemented with ashwagandha experienced a 69% reduction in insomnia and anxiety, compared with the placebo group which experienced only 11% reduction(2).
In a second study that lasted 6 weeks, 88 percent of those who supplemented with ashwagandha had their anxiety level reduced, compared with 50 percent in the placebo group (6).
Effect on depressive symptoms
In a controlled 2-month study involving 64 adults, participants who took up to 600mg of highly concentrated ashwagandha per day experienced a 79% reduction in depression. On the contrary, the placebo group experienced only a 10% increase(2).
Improvement in memory and brain function
Studies have shown that it enhances antioxidant activity which in turn protects the nerves from the deleterious effects of free radicals.
Ashwagandha has been used as a memory booster in Ayurvedic medicine, and its effect has been confirmed by scientific studies. In a controlled study involving healthy men, the administration of 500mg of ashwagandha extract caused significant improvement in their reaction time as well as task performance, compared with those who got a placebo (12).
A 2-month study involving 50 adults showed that 300mg of ashwagandha extract administered twice daily improved task performance, general memory, & attention (13).
How Ashwagandha Affects Sleep
New research has found that a high concentration of ashwagandha root extract is highly effective in inducing sleep. The study was published in Cureus.
Ashwagandha contains a compound known as triethylene glycol. Triethylene glycol promotes the induction of sleep and also improves the quality and quantity of sleep.
A study conducted at Prakruti Hospital, Maharashtra, India, found that the herb can be an effective and safe solution to insomnia and its attendant anxiety. The study involving 60 participants with insomnia found that the administration of 300mg of ashwagandha extract twice daily caused a significant improvement in sleep quality. You can read the full paper here.