Why Tana Amen Loves Taking Ashwagandha for Better Sleep
You’ve probably heard me talk many times before about my past struggles with sleeping—and just how important quality sleep is for total health. Lack of sleep, or poor-quality sleep, has been associated with a long list of health problems: type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, plus increased risk of car accidents, depression, and substance abuse, to name a few. In addition to long-term effects, too little sleep can throw your daily life into a fog, triggering symptoms like fatigue, forgetfulness, inattentiveness, and irritability.
There are so many factors that can interfere with getting a good night’s sleep. For me, it’s taking thyroid medication, but for you the problem might be sleep apnea, drinking too much caffeine or alcohol, or not practicing good sleep hygiene. Luckily, I’m now armed with so much information about getting better slumber—without the use of habit-forming sleeping pills that make you feel like a zombie the next morning. Instead, I know I can tap into the power of natural solutions to help me achieve a full and restorative night of rest. And one of the top tools in my arsenal is ashwagandha.
While this ingredient has been used for centuries in some parts of the world, perhaps it has only recently arrived on your radar, as ingredients called adaptogens are receiving more attention by the U.S. medical community and consumers. Or maybe you’ve never heard about it at all. Let’s dig into some facts and scientific findings around this amazing ingredient, including the benefits of ashwagandha and how to use it for better sleep.
What Is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha has long been a revered herb within the ancient practice of ayurveda, which has been used in India as a type of medical and healthcare system for more than 4,000 years. Ayurveda translates to “life knowledge” or, as some call it, “the science of life.” Unlike many doctors’ approach in the Western world, this holistic system takes into account a wide range of healthcare aspects, from spiritual practices to diet and exercise—not just medicine. Ultimately, the goal of using ayurvedic principles is to achieve balanced well-being in mind, body, spirit, and environment.
Ashwagandha’s scientific name is Withania somnifera, but it’s also commonly known as Indian ginseng and winter cherry. The word ashwagandha means “smell of the horse,” named after the plant’s pungent natural odor. Its Latin name, somnifera, means “sleep-inducing.” The entire plant—roots, leaves, and stems—has traditionally been utilized for its health benefits, but the root preparations are most common and have been the most extensively researched.
Benefits of Ashwagandha
Within ayurveda, ashwagandha is respected as a rejuvenating, health-promoting plant. This has been backed up by the modern scientific community, with studies pointing to its beneficial chemical constituents, including flavonoids, phenolic acids, alkaloids, saponins, tannins, and withanolides. Researchers have suggested that it could have anti-cancer, immunity-boosting, cardio-protective and neuro-protective properties, as well as anti-aging, anti-stress, and anti-diabetic effects. Therefore, it may be helpful in preventing or treating conditions from arthritis and anxiety to neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases.
It’s also important to note that ashwagandha is an adaptogen. These unique botanicals were explored in the 1940s, when Soviet scientists sought to improve the ability of their athletes, cosmonauts, and soldiers to withstand stress. This category of ingredients is appropriately named, because they help the body adapt to and respond to various stressors. They increase resistance to stress while decreasing the body’s sensitivity to stress. In other words, utilizing an ingredient like ashwagandha actually helps your body perform better naturally, rather than draining your natural reserves or forcing an override of the body’s systems, as is the case with many stimulants or pharmaceutical drugs.
In fact, my husband, Dr. Daniel Amen, routinely recommends ashwagandha to his patients who struggle with feeling anxious or tense. It’s a much safer solution than taking benzodiazepines such as Xanax, which can be addictive or even deadly. Ashwagandha, like other adaptogens, has been noted for its positive effects on lowering stress and contributing to enhanced quality of life. That’s why it’s a key ingredient in BrainMD’s Focus & Energy and Calm My Brain, which helps us cope with life’s everyday challenges. Because ashwagandha supports the body’s response to stressors, it promotes a feeling of calm.
In summary, human clinical trials studying ashwagandha root concentrates have shown the following effects:
- Protection against stress and lowering the stress hormone cortisol
- Reducing anxiety
- Improving memory, mental focus, attention, fatigue, and sleep quality
- Reducing food cravings
- Improving antioxidant defenses
- Improving thyroid, circulatory, bone marrow, and joint function
- Speeding up muscle recovery and strengthening
- Promoting a healthy sex drive
Talk about a superstar ingredient! Now let’s look more closely at its potential for promoting better sleep.
Ashwagandha for Sleep
As noted, clinical trials suggest that ashwagandha extracts may help with sleep, and the National Institutes of Health lists several powerful examples. In one study cited, male and female participants improved their insomnia and lack of restful sleep with a six-week intake of ashwagandha root and leaf extract. The subjects who took ashwagandha extract (versus a placebo) showed improvements in sleep efficiency (time in bed spent sleeping), total sleep time, sleep latency (time taken to fall asleep), and awakening after sleep onset (assessed by a watch monitor on the wrist). They also reported better quality of life. Another trial found similar effects, with ashwagandha intake promoting better sleep quality, sleep latency, mental alertness upon waking, and less perceived anxiety symptoms. Even participants without insomnia who took ashwagandha reported improved sleep.
When it comes to the logistics of consuming ashwagandha, many people don’t know where to start. While its strong scent will be mostly neutralized in its typical powdered form (remember that its name means “smell of the horse”), ashwagandha also has a bitter taste. Thus, even in a powder, it doesn’t always mix seamlessly with food and beverages. But don’t let any of these factors detract you from trying ashwagandha for better sleep. I’ve found that bitter tastes can be made much more palatable by combining them with sweet and/or salty flavors. For example, my go-to pairing with ashwagandha in powder form is chocolate. To help you get started, I’ll share a couple of my favorite easy-to-prepare recipes with ashwagandha. They’re so delicious that you won’t even notice the presence of this typically bitter ingredient.
First, try whipping up my Chocolate Pudding with Ashwagandha for dessert after dinner.
Healthy Chocolate Pudding Dessert with Ashwagandha
½ cup unsweetened almond milk
1 heaping scoop of OMNI Protein Chocolate powder
3 tablespoons (15g) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 medium-size (100g) ripe and frozen banana
(Tip: Make your assembly easier by peeling the bananas before putting them in plastic bags in the freezer—then they’ll be ready to go in an instant.)
Add 1 handful of spinach for some extra greens goodness
½ teaspoon of ashwagandha powder
Blend everything together and enjoy.
If you want a sippable smoothie instead, my Chocolate Shake & Ashwagandha is a great option. Simply combine in a blender 1 heaping scoop of OMNI Protein Chocolate powder, ½ cup frozen raspberries, ½ cup frozen strawberries, 1 cup unsweetened almond milk, and ½ teaspoon of ashwagandha powder. This delicious combo tastes like a decadent dessert—but with way more health benefits.
Add Adaptogens Like Ashwagandha to Your Routine
While ashwagandha is generally a safe ingredient, always consult with your doctor before introducing any new supplement or ingredient to your diet. This is especially important if you may be pregnant or are taking other medications for mental health. Once you have the all-clear, I think you’ll find ashwagandha to be as much of a stress reducer and sleep game-changer as I have.
Relish those Zzzs and dream on!
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