Suffering from insomnia? Try incorporating some adaptogenic herbs in your night-time routine.
Insomnia and sleep problems are very often side-effects of a stressful life. Adaptogens are herbs that help your body better adapt to life’s stresses by helping you recover from both short and long-term physical and emotional stress .
Adaptogen herbs have been used for thousands of years to promote relaxation, relieve stress, and as a natural sleep aid. Used in the correct dosages, adaptogens can be very effective and have no known side effects. The 3 adaptogens most commonly used to improve sleep are:
Adaptogen herbs have been used for centuries in both Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. Modern science is finally catching up to the benefits of adaptogens, which is why they’re experiencing a renaissance today.
Before getting into the specific herbs and how they will help you sleep better, it's important to understand how adaptogens work.
As you know, stress is a very common occurrence, and it's next to impossible to remove every single stressor from your life. Fortunately, the human body can, to a large extent, adapt to and respond to stress. Adaptogens work to improve the body’s natural stress response.
Adaptogens help your body relax and recover from stress
When you face a stressor, your body undergoes a stress response, which is scientifically referred to as the general adaptation syndrome (GAS).
GAS describes the physiological changes the body goes through when it responds to stress. These are:
- Resistance, and
- Exhaustion .
You’ve probably heard of “fight or flight”. The fight or flight response occurs in the alarm phase and is your body’s immediate response to stress. Adaptogens can help how your body responds in this phase.
Additionally, adaptogens help your body prolong the resistance phase and hold off the exhaustion phase. .
In addition, when you’re stressed, your adrenal glands release the stress hormone cortisol. While cortisol can be helpful (for example, keeping you alert when there’s danger nearby), it can be detrimental to your health if your adrenals release too much of it, or if it’s present in your system for prolonged periods . Both of these situations are common in people who have chronic stress.
Cortisol is also deeply intertwined with your circadian rhythm, which tells your body when to sleep and wake up. It is released in the morning and gradually diminishes in quantity as you go through your day. As a result, you should feel calm and drowsy as the night wears on.
Stress interferes with how cortisol is released over the course of the day. That, coupled with the realities of modern life that throw your circadian rhythm off balance -- such as blue light from phones and computer screens -- could be the reasons why you can’t seem to get a good night’s sleep .
Adaptogens regulate the release of cortisol, helping your stay in balance and helping you sleep better.
Let’s look at the three adaptogens that are effective for enhancing high-quality sleep:
Withania somnifera – somnifera meaning sleep-inducing in Latin – is a small evergreen shrub native to India and Southeast Asia. Ashwagandha contains powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-stress, and antioxidant properties that help reduce the effects and symptoms of stress and anxiety.
When used as a sleep aid, Ashwagandha may help you fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and enhance sleep quality. One particular study found that Ashwagandha counters physical and cognitive fatigue, which helped participants improve sleep quality by up to 72 percent.
Taking Ashwagandha before bed may help you relax and induce drowsiness. And the best part is Ashwagandha can help soothe the impact of long-term stress.
If stress and anxiety are ever-present factors in your life, the herb Schisandra Chinensis can help mediate your body’s fight-or-flight responses. Schisandra exhibits both sedating and hypnotic impacts on the body. A hypnotic substance is one that helps you sleep, while a sedative helps to tranquilize your mind and relieve anxiety.
According to research, Schisandra has a calming effect on the body and helps shorten the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. Adding Schisandra to a nighttime tonic or by taking schisandra on a regular basis, may reduce tossing and turning and keep you asleep longer.
3. Panax ginseng
Panax ginseng, often referred to as Asian ginseng, red ginseng, or Chinese ginseng, is an adaptogenic herb that has been proven to increase the body’s resistance to environmental stress. It also reduces fatigue and promotes a general feeling of well-being by lowering cortisol levels in the body.
The herb, native to China, Korea, and Siberia, has been shown to significantly reduce total wake time and improve sleep quality in the non-REM cycle. Over the long-term, Panax ginseng may reduce the long-term impacts of stress and the hormonal imbalances that may result from it.
Ginseng has been scientifically shown to have a relaxing effect on the body, not unlike the sedative effects of the Schisandra berry.
Adaptogen Sleep Remedy (Homemade tonic)
If you're wondering how to incorporate adaptogen herbs in your nighttime routine, here's a simple recipe to help you out.
- 1 cup whole milk or unsweetened nut milk
- ½ tablespoon ashwagandha powder
- ½ tablespoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- Optional: a good pinch of ground cardamom or ginger powder
- Freshly ground pepper to your taste
- 1 tablespoon raw honey
Bring the milk to a slow simmer in a saucepan. Whisk in the Ashwagandha, cinnamon, turmeric, and ginger or cardamom (if using), and season with pepper. Ensure the ingredients are properly mixed up before reducing heat to low. Let the contents simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the honey. Pour the dream tonic into a mug and climb right into bed after drinking it.
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- Cheah, K.L., Norhayati, M.N., Husniati Yaacob, L. and Abdul Rahman, R., 2021. Effect of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract on sleep: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PloS one, 16(9), p.e0257843.
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- Awang, D.V.C., 1998. The anti-stress potential of North American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius L.). Journal of herbs, spices & medicinal plants, 6(2), pp.87-91.