Jo Webber, Head of Herbal Education at Pukka Herbs, gives us the low down on ashwagandha and how it can help us get a better night’s sleep.
Whatsapps, flash sales, an overflowing work inbox - all factors contributing to the increasingly fast pace of modern day life. Staying calm before and winding down after a busy day have never been trickier to master. All of us are beautifully unique and have different ways of managing this busy lifestyle but, fortunately, to supplement these there is a natural remedy out there to help restore calm and balance to our bodies and minds.
Although we've been slow to clock on to the benefits of ashwagandha in the UK, it has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic practice to manage stress-related conditions and also help with chronic fatigue, insomnia and adrenal fatigue.
Ayurveda views ashwagandha as one of the most prized rejuvenating herbs, known as a ‘rasayana’ in Sanskrit. Rasayanas are thought to enhance both the quality and quantity of life, nourish the mind and enhance physical vigour, making them perfect for when we are feeling weak and exhausted. Classed as a modern-day ‘adaptogen’, ashwagandha adapts to the needs of the body, helping to support it and reduce negative changes during times of emotional and physical stress by strengthening the endocrine and nervous systems. A growing body of evidence is now being collated around this powerful herb with an impressive variety of health benefits.
Stress is often at the root of our sleeping problems: When we’re troubled, our sleep is too. Ashwagandha’s botanical name, withania somnifera, gives us further clues as to its properties. The Latin word ‘somnifera’ is translated as ‘sleep-inducing’, reflecting its ability to support deeper sleep. By nourishing and strengthening a weakened and over-anxious nervous system, studies show that Ashwagandha helps us to relax enough to get a better night’s sleep. According to our circadian clock (the body clock that naturally prepares us for sleep and wake), cortisol should naturally decrease in the early evening in preparation for sleep. Stress can overrule these rhythms and cortisol can stay elevated into the night and affect sleep success.
Ashwagandha acts as a depressant to the central nervous system, exchanging feelings of anxiety for feelings of calmness. Stress normally causes a surge in the adrenal hormones - adrenaline and cortisol - that increase alertness. Ashwagandha tackles the problem at the root as it acts directly on the trigger of stress by regulating the imbalanced cortisol level and nourishing the adrenal glands. It acts directly on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, modulating the release of stress hormones, such as cortisol, from the adrenal glands. Chronic stress is a major health concern worldwide and of course impacts our sleeping habits.