This summer, I could lay down in bed at 11 PM and be completely off the earth at 11.02 PM For some reason the last month it takes longer to fall asleep and I’m tossing and turning a lot at night…Suspected causes:
- Less physical activity
- Not enough sunshine
- More work-related stress in my life.
I’m already working on these things–but it’s also the perfect time for a little sleep experiment:
Ashwagandha (that’s ash-wa-gan-dha) is a herb that’s used for thousands of years for all sorts of physical troubles. One of the main things it’s know for is that it’s an adaptogenic herb, which helps you cope better with stress.
This is what my pure ashwagandha powder looks like.
Less cortisol at night = better sleep, Right? Let’s find out!
Why am I doing this experiment?
Because people say good things about taking ashwagandha before sleep:
- “I’m now in a much better mood when I wake up”
- “I feel physically and mentally relaxed and well-rested, something that hasn’t happened in years”
- “I can think clearer after waking up without needing coffee (although I still drink it)”
- “My stress levels decrease noticeably for the next morning”
- “I haven’t woken up with upper back/neck pain (something that used to happen, even with good posture)”
- “My dreams became extremely vivid and realistic”
- “The good night’s rest seems to help me build muscle faster, although I can’t confirm this”
If I even can get half of these benefits from taking it on a regular basis, sign me up!
Another thing is that ashwagandha is cheap. I got 200 grams for 10 euro 2 years ago. A normal dosage is .5 grams, so that’s 400 dosages for 10 euro) and has virtually no side effects. So there’s nothing to lose.
I’ve taken ashwagandha at night before, but it was irregular and never more than 1 or 2 nights in a row. So I can’t really tell too much about the long-term effects on sleep from ashwagandha.
I suspect that it helps with sleep, but for all I know, other factors just lined up and gave me good sleep.
In the following section you can read what I’m going to do learn the real benefits of ashwagandha for sleep:
What’s the setup?
So here’s the deal: I’m going to take ashwagandha for 21 days to see what the effects are on my sleep.
It’s to keep myself accountable. As I’ve tried doing these experiments countless times before, but never stuck with it for more than a couple of days.
This time, I’ll describe my progress here for you.
Current sleep routine
As I said before, I don’t have any huge sleep problems at the moment. Here’s my sleep routine:
- Avoid screens at least an hour before bed. Unless I’m reading on my non-backlite-reader or watching a movie on a projector.
- Go to bed around 11 PM
- Take zinc
- Read for 5 to 10 minutes
- Wake up around 7.30 through my girlfriend’s alarm
- Sleep till 8.00 and get up
My girlfriend sleeps like a baby, so she’s not waking me up in any way. She does notice whenever I’m stressed so I wake her up when I’m turning all night.
Reason again to solve this!
How do I expect my sleep to improve?
No supplement has miracle effects. Unless you’re deficient in a specific mineral or vitamin. In other cases you shouldn’t expect super effects on your sleep.
So many factors go into sleep. A good night’s sleep is caused by 50+ factors all pointing into the right direction.
Bad sleep is caused by several factors pointing in the wrong direction.
So I’m not expecting ashwagandha to magically make my sleep a blissful wonderland full of good dreams.
I’ve read the literature, countless of other sites and anecdotal experiences from others. And here’s what I roughly suspect will happen after taking ashwagandha for a couple of weeks:
- Less stress
- Easier to wake up in the morning
- Less turning at night
- Clearer skin
- Heightened libido
- More progress in the gym?
- Vivid dreams
- Less dependent on coffee in the morning
There’s one negative though. If I take anything calming (ashwagandha or l-theanine) for several days in a row, my motivation tends to go down a bit.
This was always from taking it in the morning though. So I hope that it won’t affect me if I take it before sleep.
What does the literature say about ashwaghandha?
(skip this section if you want to get to the ashwagandha sleep experiment)
Ashwagandha’s real name is Withania Somnifera. And if you take 300 mg of extract for 60 days, you experience a reduction in all stress related markers and serum cortisol goes down.
Another study found that the active component of ashwagandha, triethylene glycol, induced sleep in mice. It decreased non REM sleep latency and induced physiological sleep. It works by involving GABAergic modulation.
This review study from 2011 listed all the previous ashwagandha studies and their conclusions:
- Ashwagandha was shown to increase swimming performance in rats as judged by increase in swimming time during physical endurance test.The cortisol content of adrenals was reduced significantly in animals subjected to 5 h constant swimming as compared to non-swimmer group.
- Ashwagandha was found to be useful in the prevention of stress-induced ulcers of the gastrointestinal tract.
- There was a significant increase in the body weights of the Ashwagandha treated group as compared to control for a period of 3 months in rats.
- The cognition-promoting effect of ashwagandha is best seen in children with memory deficits, or when memory is compromised following head injury, or a prolonged illness and in old age.
- There are dozens of studies that show that Ashwagandha slows, stops, reverses or removes neuritic atrophy and synaptic loss.
- Ashwagandha induced a calming anxiolytic effect that was comparable to the drug Lorazepam in all three standard Anxiety tests.
- It also exhibited an antidepressant effect, comparable with that induced by imipramine, in two standard tests.
- Ashwagandha is an analgesic that soothes nervous system from pain response.
If you want something more digestible than these studies, check out Examine.com for ashwagandha. I absolutely love the site and they’ve done a great job making the scientific literature for supplements 1000 times more accessible.
Also, here’s what Lorna Driver-Davies, a nutritional therapist has to say about ashwagandha for sleep:
“Ashwagandha enhances GABA receptors in the brain. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, working to reduce neuronal excitability throughout the nervous system. Essentially, this means that ashwagandha is able to help the body and mind feel more relaxed or ‘wound down’ – which is an important state to be in to fall asleep. Our own Ashwagandha has been clinically proven to support anxiety and stress; and works to modulate cortisol production. This is helpful for those who find it hard to switch off before bed when worrying about the day or just feel too stimulated before bed time. Clients of mine typically report finding it quicker to fall asleep and the next day, feeling as though they have experienced a longer, deeper sleep.”
So, there are a lot of studies done on the effects of the herb, and it seems to work for about everything. Now, the majority of the studies was done on mice – so if you’re a student, PhD, or professor doing any sort of health-related research… why not conduct another human trial with ashwagandha!
Ashwaghanda sleep experiment setup
Healthline recommends taking around 500 to 600 mg per day. This is for insomnia and other stress-related sources. So that’s what I’m going to do.
My pot says to take more, but I’ve always had good experience taking less. So I’m not going to take 2 or 4 times more than what’s proven to work.
With supplements I always like to take as less as possible for a working effect 🙂
I’ve got myself a nice little weighing scale,
There’s no recommended time when to take it, but since the main goal is to reduce stress before and at night, I’ll take a fairly liberal approach.
So I’ll take it anywhere ranging from 2 hours before bedtime to right before bed. (as I’m sure I’ll forget on many occasions and have to get up to take some)
My pot says: “Take 1/2 to 1 teaspoon (approximately 1.3 to 2.5 g) and mix with juice or yoghurt. Don’t use if you’re pregnant.”
The only other supplements I’m taking at the moment are cod liver oil (1tbsp), vitamin D (3000IU) and zinc.
Note: as of writing this, my ashwagandha pot is from 2016. I’ve checked and the expiry date was 30-07-2019. That’s why I bought new fresh ashwagandha on the third day of my experiment.
Curious how my little ashwagandha sleep experiment went? Read below what the results were!
Daily sleep log
- Week 1
- Week 2
- Week 3
Took half a tablespoon of ashwagandha last night. Woke up slightly more tired than usual. My girlfriend had the same thing, so maybe it’s something to do with the pressure (we live close to the sea) Slept 8 hours.
The second day was better. I went to bed very early (10.30), and slept completely through the night, only to be waken up by my girlfriend’s alarm at 7.30. It’s now 8.55 and I’m focused and energized. Slept for 9.5 hours.
I went to sleep approximately around 11. So slept for 9 hours.Read for 10 minutes and fell asleep quickly. However, during the night I was half awake and tossing for quite a while. Luckily fell asleep after half an hour maybe and woke up feeling fine.
So far ashwagandha doesn’t feel like it’s helping too much. Maybe it will change after taking it for more days.
Weekend. Slept for 9 hours. I didn’t sleep in and woke up at 8. Still turning a lot in my sleep. Though I woke up feeling good. Maybe it’s because I’m going to Venice for a weekend with my girlfriend. Still keeping up the experiment there!
Slept for 8 hours after 2 bottles of wine (for 2 persons). Remarkably no headache, even though it was red wine. Slightly dehydrated, also because the heating was on all night in our hotel room.
Note: need to check the effects of ashwagandha with alcohol/hangovers. And if there’s an effect with hydration levels.
Second day in Venice. We were only here for a short 2 nights, so we’re waking up early to catch out flight back. We mixed beer, spritz, red and white wine. But again, feeling good in the morning – albeit very dehydrated and slightly tired. Mind is clear though. Got 8.5 hours of sleep.
Back home. I slept very well in one go. Woke up a bit tired, but that might’ve been because my sleep schedule was thrown off a bit in the weekend. Slept for 9.5 hours.
Week 1 thoughts
It’s difficult to measure progress on a day by day basis. However, when you take a further view, things often become clearer.
Here are some of the things I’ve found this first week of taking ashwagandha before sleep:
I feel calmer in the mornings. And in general I’ve got the feeling that I’m a bit more emotionally stable. I was going (and still am) going through a stressful period in my life for my work and business, but taking ashwagandha at night seems to give me that extra edge in emotional resilience.
Also, my muscles (especially around my neck and shoulders), feel less tense. I’m unsure if this is because of ashwagandha, or because I stopped doing bar pull ups – instead doing them on rings.
So far, I haven’t noticed any negative effects. Sometimes I feel a bit too chill, and wasn’t too motivated, (which could happen because of too much GABA). But so far I’m enjoying the experiment and am happy to continue.
Slept for 9 hours. Just woke up with surprisingly much energy. I do remember laying awake for 20 minutes or so in the middle of the night. Dreams were very vivid the last 2 hours of my sleep. Feeling ready to get to work!
Slept throughout the night without breaks. No turning, which is good. Let’s see if this keeps going the next nights. Slept 9 hours.
Slept alright. Approximately 8.5 hours. It was cold, though, so I woke up several times because of that. Feeling more tired than usual.
Went to a party with a friend of mine. Drank approximately 10 beers. Then I slept from 3 to 9. Upon waking up (it was a Saturday), I felt surprisingly normal. A bit tired from the lack of sleep and drinking, but that was it.
My body noticed that I didn’t sleep enough yesterday and I slept in 1 go from 12 to 10. I’m noticing that I’m turning less in my sleep.
Back to the alarm clock. Got a solid 8.5 hours of sleep. Again with minimal turning. So far taking ashwagandha has already become a habit, and I’m not forgetting it before sleep. The taste isn’t too good, but the brand I’ve got now, doesn’t have a too bad taste.
Slept for 9 hours = woke up a bit later because my phone’s alarms didn’t work (was updating). Slept fairly well throughout the night. Great that I haven’t tossed in the last couple of days and my sleep quality seems to be up.
Week 2 thoughts
Ashwagandha has already become a habit. I’m enjoying the calmness before bed – sometimes I take it about an hour before I go to sleep. This makes me chill out a bit more, and virtually every night I fall asleep within 5 minutes (after reading for approximately 5-15 minutes to tire my brain).
I feel more focused in the mornings. Although it’s more of a slight increase in emotional control.
Also, I feel more relaxed and less bored throughout the day. Whenever I have nothing to do, I’m quick to take up a book or go for a walk (even though the temperatures are almost falling below freezing point here.)
Slept for straight 9 hours. No night-time awakenings.
Had a regular night’s sleep. 8.5 hours of uninterrupted sleep. It did take 20 minutes or so to fall asleep.
8.5 hours of quality sleep. Although it was more difficult to fall asleep (took me 10 to 20 minutes), but I took a nap in the afternoon–so that might’ve been the culprit.
Weekend. Had a good 8 hours (including sleeping in on Saturday). Plenty of energy and slept well.
Woke up around 9. Eight hours of sleep again. Had a long day with family meetings and was in a very good mood.
Back to work again. Slept 9 hours. Basically everything was in 1 go without tossing and turning.
Last day of my experiment! Slept very well for about 9 hours. Again, no tossing or turning throughout the night. You might’ve noticed that my descriptions of the night have gotten a bit shorter. This is normal, since after a while not much new things happened. Read on for the results of my experiment!
Thoughts after the experiment
I like ashwagandha. It’s perfect for calming your mind and getting into a chill mode.
It’s one of the few natural supplements (together with L-theanine) that you can take and expect to feel calmer within 20 minutes. (I suspect this is partly due to placebo, since I’m associating taking these supplements with the state they provide. So for you it might be longer until the real effects kick in).
In the beginning I started taking ashwagandha at night because my sleep was interrupted by short stretches (sometimes longer) of tossing and laying awake thinking. Unable to get comfortable or fall asleep again.
I hadn’t experienced this in the last 1-2 years. So I thought it would be a perfect timing to see how ashwagandha helps sleep. And it did.
Now I’m (most of the time) sleeping in 1 go throughout the entire night. I still wake up sometimes (bathroom or my girlfriend waking up early to go to work), but I’m asleep quickly again. So for that part I consider my ashwagandha for sleep experiment a total success.
But how about the other expectations I had?
Here’s a recap of what I was expecting:
- Less stress
- Easier to wake up in the morning
- Less turning at night
- Clearer skin
- Heightened libido
- More progress in the gym?
- Vivid dreams
- Less dependent on coffee in the morning
Did I experience those?
8 Things I learned from taking ashwagandha for 21 days:
I felt calmer throughout the days. It feels as if I have more emotional control now.
I find I’m laughing more than before during the day.
It’s easy to wake up in the mornings. My alarm goes off and I jump out of bed, make coffee, take a shower and go to work. My morning ritual solidified in the 3 weeks I took ashwagandha. before I sometimes used to sleep in a bit, or get distracted with other things. Now, it’s easier to just do what I have to do.
My tossing and turning at night also decreased. It’s nice to sleep without breaks of being awake.
I’m not napping as often anymore. Before I used to take at least 2 to 3 naps of at least 20 minutes per week. Now I’m doing maybe 1 or 2. And it’s only 10 to 20 minutes. I take this as a sign that my sleep quality has increased.
I’ve found that I’m less prone to anxiety or overthinking specific bad things that are happening.
Even though I felt calmer, I also felt less ‘life’ motivation. It was still very easy to get up and do things (no procrastination), but there was simply less desire to. I suspect this was because I’m already a calm person, so it might’ve been a GABA overkill.
I started to like the taste of ashwagandha. There’s a reason why manufacturers put on the bottle to mix it with fruit juice or yoghurt. Because it tastes like sand water mixed with licorice. But after taking it for 3 weeks, the taste became more bearable and actually ‘tasty’ in a weird way.
When we look back on the expectations I had, I’ve got to say that the sure effects all were there.
But how about the ‘maybe’ effects? The truth is honestly don’t know. My skin may have improved. I could’ve made more progress in the gym. And libido? Probably about the same. I feel like I’m less dependent on coffee in the mornings, but since it’s a habit I haven’t actively checked this.
One thing is for sure: all these areas didn’t get worse. So I’d say that there probably were small improvements. But they were not so noticeable that without intense introspection I noticed them.
Am I going to continue taking ashwagandha at night?
Yes and no. My policy on supplements is that you should take them with a purpose. Ask yourself with every pill/powder/capsule that you take:
Why am I taking this exact supplement?”
I take vitamin D in winter when I don’t get any direct sunlight.
I take a spoon of fish oil because virtually everybody is deficient in omega 3. I notably feel better (and sharper) after taking it for a while.
I take melatonin very rarely when I need to fall asleep at a certain point or need to reset my sleep schedule (for jet lag).
Same with ashwagandha. Now that my sleep has improved, I want to take a couple of weeks to see what happens if I don’t take it.
I’m also travelling for a week next couple of days. I’d hate to be the person carrying 12 tubs of supplements through the airport customs.
Also, I think ashwagandha is a good supplement to be taken on an ad hoc base. Whenever you feel like you need that extra bit of calmness–on a rough day– take a teaspoon and relax.
Taking it everyday might be a bit overkill. But several days per week is a fine middle ground in my opinion.
Again, I won’t take it for the next couple of weeks to see if anything in my life changes. See it as the control group of the experiment 😉
Should YOU try this experiment?
Yes! Ashwagandha is not expensive–I got my second tub of 150 grams for $10. Which is enough for a year of daily supplementation. So taking it for 3 weeks will cost you less than 1 dollar.
The studies show that it might have great benefits for your health and mind, so why not try it? You don’t have a lot to lose. And if you’re feeling stressed out, or you’re not sleeping as well as you used to… there’s a lot to gain.