Sleep is perhaps one of the biggest casualties of our modern lifestyle, with growing numbers of people suffering from sleep deprivation, sleep impairment, and insomnia. Insomnia affects an estimated 9% of all Indians, with occasional insomnia affecting as much as 30% of the population. If we were to look at the broader spectrum of sleep disorders these figures would be even higher. So what’s keeping us up at night? For most of us, the primary causes include erratic schedules and high stress levels owing to work, poor sleep habits that could include the use of digital devices like smartphones and laptops until shortly before bed time, having late night meals, and so on. In some instances, sleep disorders like insomnia may also develop as a result of some other health condition. While sleep medications can offer some respite, frequent or prolonged usage of such drugs can give rise to other complications. This makes it imperative to identify and address the underlying causes for a lasting solution. You can also try using natural sleep aids to get relief without having to worry about the risk of side effects.
The Best Natural Sleep Aids in Ayurveda
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
One of the best known of all Ayurvedic herbs, Ashwagandha has long been classified as a rasayana or rejuvenative in classical Ayurvedic literature. It is renowned for its revitalizing effects, but also for its effects as a natural adaptogen, nervine tonic, and sedative. So, although it has a wide variety of uses, the herb is also effective as a natural sleep aid and is commonly used to treat insomnia and sleep disturbances, especially when connected to stress or anxiety.
Clinical studies have been unlocking the secrets of this potent herb, helping us understand how and why it works. As a natural insomnia treatment, ashwagandha has been shown to promote relaxation and induce sleep, improving both sleep quality and duration. A study published last year supports the Ayurvedic treatment, identifying Triethylene glycol as the main bioactive component that induces and increases the amount of non-REM sleep.
Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri)
Brahmi is revered among Ayurvedic practitioners for its brain function boosting benefits, which is why it is the most commonly used ingredient in a variety of brain tonics and supplements. There has been growing evidence for its effectiveness in improving brain function and protecting against dementia, but that’s not all.
Ayurvedic recommendations for the use of brahmi as a natural sleep aid seem to be justified because of adaptogenic properties in the herb. As pointed out in a study, the herb most probably helps in the treatment of moderate and even severe insomnia through its modulating influence on brain stress hormones. This promotes deep relaxation, which induces better quality sleep. Brahmi may be ingested, or can be used in massage oils, as in the case of the study.
Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile)
Although not your typical Ayurvedic herb, chamomile has been embraced the world over and is also widely used by Ayurvedic physicians today. Traditionally, the herb has been used as a digestive relaxant to provide relief from gastrointestinal disorders and as a mild sedative that provides relief from anxiety, stress, and insomnia. Chamomile is usually used in aromatherapy oils and in herbal teas, giving you the option of both internal or external use.
A cup of tea with chamomile
A study published in Phytotherapy Research suggests that the sedative action of chamomile could be attributed to the binding action of a chamomile flavonoid with receptors in the brain. In another study on cardiac patients, researchers found that chamomile tea intake induced deep sleep soon after consumption.
Jatamansi (Nardostachys jatamansi)
Jatamansi is another herb that most of us are familiar with. It is basically an indigenous variety of valerian, which has been used in traditional medical systems across the world to treat sleep and stress disorders. Jatamansi has long been used in Ayurveda as well, and is even mentioned in classical texts of Charaka and Sushruta.
Because of its widespread use across the world, the herb has been studied quite rigorously and most experts agree on its efficacy as a natural sleep aid. A clinical study that looked specifically at the effects of jatamansi on primary insomnia found it to be effective at inducing sleep and improving sleep quality.
Shankapushpi (Convolvulus pluricaulis)
Highly regarded in Ayurveda as therapeutic for brain function, with benefits ranging from improvements in cognitive function to the alleviation of depression, shankapushpi has also been the subject of several studies. Research that appeared in the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine, lends credence to the traditional use of the herb with purported adaptogenic effects that help lower stress levels, promote relaxation, and induce sleep.
While you can use these Ayurvedic herbs for insomnia, keep in mind that a lasting solution also requires changes to your lifestyle. Try to follow a disciplined daily routine or dinacharya to better harmonize your sleep schedule. In addition to the use of herbs, you can also use other Ayurvedic practices like Shirodhara or other alternative therapies like acupressure. Of course, if your problem persists despite all your efforts, it would be best to seek help from a medical professional.
- Panda, Samhita, et al. “Sleep-Related Disorders among a Healthy Population in South India.” Neurology India, vol. 60, no. 1, 2012, p. 68., doi:10.4103/0028-3886.93601.
- Kaushik, Mahesh K. et al. “Triethylene Glycol, an Active Component of Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera) Leaves, Is Responsible for Sleep Induction.” Ed. Madepalli K. Lakshmana. PLoS ONE 12.2 (2017): e0172508. PMC. Web. 23 July 2018.
- Calabrese, Carlo et al. “Effects of a Standardized Bacopa Monnieri Extract on Cognitive Performance, Anxiety, and Depression in the Elderly: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial.” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 14.6 (2008): 707–713. PMC. Web. 23 July 2018.
- Vinjamury, Sivarama Prasad et al. “Ayurvedic Therapy (Shirodhara) for Insomnia: A Case Series.” Global Advances in Health and Medicine 3.1 (2014): 75–80. PMC. Web. 23 July 2018.
- Gould, Lawrence, et al. “Cardiac Effects of Chamomile Tea.” The Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and New Drugs, vol. 13, no. 11, Dec. 1973, pp. 475–479., doi:10.1002/j.1552-4604.1973.tb00202.x.
- Toolika, E., Narayana Prakash Bhat, and Suhas Kumar Shetty. “A Comparative Clinical Study on the Effect of Tagara (Valeriana Wallichii DC.) and Jatamansi(Nardostachys Jatamansi DC.) in the Management of Anidra (primary Insomnia).” Ayu 36.1 (2015): 46–49. PMC. Web. 23 July 2018.
- Agarwa, Parul et al. “An Update on Ayurvedic Herb Convolvulus PluricaulisChoisy.” Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine 4.3 (2014): 245–252. PMC. Web. 23 July 2018.