Insomnia may respond to treatment with ashwagandhaMight Ayurvedic medicine—traditional medicine practiced in India for 3,000 years—offer an effective treatment for insomnia?

If you’re looking for an alternative treatment vetted by scientists in controlled clinical trials, the answer is no. But an Indian herb called ashwagandha is receiving attention as a substance that might help people with several health conditions, including chronic stress, anxiety, and memory loss. It’s also being studied as a possible sleep aid. Here’s more about it.

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)

Ayurvedic medicine is a holistic healing system. Patients are generally prescribed a combination of herbs, special diets, and daily practices aimed at promoting overall health rather than eliminating a specific problem like insomnia.

But the Latin somnifera means sleep-inducing, and ashwagandha powder, prepared from the root, leaves, or whole plant and taken orally, has been prescribed to improve sleep for centuries. A handful of laboratory studies on rodents have provided evidence for ashwagandha’s sleep-inducing effects. Results of some studies suggest that ashwagandha leaf extract may also protect rats from the consequences of sleep deprivation.

Authors of a recently published paper in PLOS ONE have identified a specific component of the ashwagandha leaf that puts mice to sleep. Following is a summary of their findings.

An Active Component That Promotes Sleep

Biologically active components in ashwagandha include withanolides—naturally occurring steroids—and triethylene glycol, or TEG. TEG is currently used in various manufacturing processes, but how it impacts biological systems is largely unknown. In this study, investigators wanted to find out if one or the other of these substances had sleep-inducing effects.

Via a complicated extraction process, the researchers isolated each of these compounds, mixing them with alcohol and water so they could be administered orally to mice. Here are the results:

  • Compared with the alcoholic medium alone, the alcoholic extract containing a high amount of active withanolides had no effect on the sleep–wake system of the mice.
  • Compared with water alone, the extract containing lots of TEG induced a significantly greater amount of non-REM, or quiet, sleep—without affecting the amount or nature of REM sleep.
  • Commercially available TEG was also administered to the mice in 10, 20, and 30-mg doses. The larger the dose, the more non-REM sleep the mice got over a 12-hour period and the more quickly they fell asleep.

The authors conclude that while low to moderate levels of TEG clearly induce sleep in laboratory animals, possible “toxicological properties of TEG need to be studied in detail before its used is advised in humans.”

Meanwhile, Is Ashwagandha Safe for Humans?

It depends on where you ask the question. Indian practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine have been prescribing it for centuries. A handful of scientific studies also attest to the safety of this herb when used short term in therapeutic doses. (Long-term effects are unknown.)

But an article in Medline Plus lists a number of safety concerns. People who are pregnant and breast feeding, who have diabetes, or who have an auto-immune disorder should steer clear of ashwagandha. The herb can interact with various medications and supplements, too.

For a definitive reading on whether ashwagandha could work as a treatment for insomnia we’ll have to wait and see. But it’s widely available as a dietary supplement in powder, capsule, and tablet forms. Of course, dietary supplements are less well regulated by the FDA than prescription medications. Quality is not assured.

But if you’re looking for better sleep and tempted to try ashwagandha, consult a practitioner of Ayurvedic medicine or a naturopath about whether the herb might have something to offer you.

Posted by Lois Maharg, The Savvy Insomniac

Lois Maharg has worked with language for many years. She taught ESL, coauthored two textbooks, and then became a reporter, writing about health, education, government, Latino affairs, and food. Her lifelong struggle with insomnia and interest in investigative reporting motivated her to write a book, The Savvy Insomniac: A Personal Journey through Science to Better Sleep. She now freelances as an editor and copy writer at On the Mark Editing.


  1. Herbal concoctions are used worldwide for all manner of ailments. I will share this – widely! Thanks Lois!



  2. ashwagandha gave me insomnia. I think it increases dopamine so unlikely to work for sleep in many people



    1. Hi Jane,

      The PLoS One article I cited in this blog post ( doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0172508) makes no mention of any active ingredient in ashwagandha affecting the dopamine system.

      But regardless of its components, ashwagandha, like so many herbs and medications that act on the central nervous system, might have different effects on different people. Thanks for taking time to share your experience.



      1. Jenn Rodriguez July 4, 2018 at 1:11 pm

        Interesting! I take ashwagandha for work stress and usually only for a couple of days in a row because after a few days it increases my insomnia, too. It’s great for stress, though, giving almost immediate relief. I only take it in the morning, because of the insomnia issue. It’s not something I use regularly, but only occasionally, for especially stressful times.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hi Jenn,
        It’s interesting that this herb helps calm you during the daytime but seems to have almost an opposite effect at night. I don’t think you can really predict the effects of herbal medicines—you’ve just got to try them out yourself. Thanks for writing in!


  3. Hi Lios Maharg, it;s a well informed article. I am an Ayurveda doctor in India. The above said study is a single drug study. The effects of ashwangandha in Pregnancy, breast feeding or in auto immune disease are found when used single. In basic principles of Ayurveda there is mentioned drug potency. Also Ayurveda believes in combined effect of drugs. like using Anupaana, or making decoction with other herbs of same potency or drugs working on same system so that it increases the basic drug potency and lowers it’s adverse effect. so I always think that research on single drug is useful for it’s effect on a system but its combinations are more useful in diseases.



    1. Hello,

      Thank you for sharing this information. I can certainly believe that using ashwagandha in combination with other Ayurvedic herbs might increase its potency and reduce some of its side effects. From your practice you may have observed this to be true in many instances. On this blog, though, I try to stick to reviewing remedies that have undergone at least some type of scientific testing. I’ll keep my eyes open for studies of ashwagandha used in combination with other herbs.

      Liked by 1 person


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s