Improve Sleep and Reduce Stress with Ashwagandha
With a name that means “horse smell”, ashwagandha may not seem as appealing as other dietary supplements. However, both the name and the smell are easy for some people to overlook once they’ve experienced the benefits for themselves.
So, what are the benefits of ashwagandha? It’s a shrub that’s been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, and has recently started getting more attention in the Western alternative medicine scene. People use it to improve sleep quality, regulate stress responses, boost sexual health for men, and more. As with any herbal medicine, Ashwagandha is best if you talk with a healthcare provider before giving ashwagandha a try. This isn’t just to confirm that it’s the right choice for you; this powerful herb can potentially have some unpleasant side effects, as well as interact with prescription medications.
Ashwagandha: a 30-second summary
It’s also called “Indian ginseng”; the scientific name is “withania somnifera”. If you’re getting it over the counter, it’ll probably come in pill or powder form. As an adaptogen, one of the primary benefits of ashwagandha is in balancing adrenal function, which in turn is supposed to balance your sleep and stress levels.
Even though “ashwagandha” means “horse smell” in Sanskrit, don’t let that discourage you! Just like fish oil or garlic supplements, it’s possible to get ashwagandha supplements that are pretty close to being smell-free.
What’s the big deal with ashwagandha?
While it’s relatively new to Western consumers, India and other Asian countries have enjoyed ashwagandha’s many benefits for centuries within Ayurvedic traditions. Thanks to the growing interest in alternative medicines in Western countries, ashwagandha has become one of many plant-based remedies to gain popularity in recent years.
There haven’t been that many studies on ashwagandha yet, but initial efforts have been encouraging; there’s certainly plenty of interest in seeing what future observation uncovers.
How ashwagandha is supposed to work
It’s all about the cortisol, also called the “stress hormone”. This hormone is produced by the adrenal glands; you need a baseline amount of cortisol to function, but too much can result in constant feelings of stress or even anxiety. Several thousand years ago, humans needed cortisol to help fend off attacks from predators; these days, you’re more likely to get a cortisol spike when you see that you’re getting a phone call from your demanding boss, or suddenly realize that you’re late to an important appointment.
This isn’t too bad if it only happens once in a while, but if life is hard and your adrenals are constantly in overdrive, you won’t just be stressed; you might also notice that your metabolism, sleep, and other things are impacted as well.
This is where ashwagandha comes in. It seems to have the ability to lower cortisol, which gives your body the signal that it’s finally time to chill out a bit. Some users report that they feel relaxed when using ashwagandha, without the prescription-sedative fogginess that comes with many drugs. You might also experience other benefits, like avoidance of cortisol-related weight gain, lower blood sugar, fewer headaches, less irritability, and reduced anxiety.
Ashwagandha and male sexual health
The exact mechanism isn’t quite understood, but research has suggested that ashwagandha could boost testosterone levels, drive up sperm count, and increase sex drive in men. This could be a direct affect, or it could be a result of reduced cortisol levels; either way, ashwagandha is great news for any guy who’s interested in improving his sexual health.
Other potential health benefits
At this point, it’s hard to say for sure what ashwagandha can do; there just haven’t been enough studies yet. However, there are still both animal and human studies which seem promising as topics for future examination. While there’s a lot to be learned, here’s what studies have indicated about ashwagandha’s benefits so far:
Could have an anti-cancer effect
Improves brain function and cognitive abilities
Gives better energy levels throughout the day
Increases muscle mass
What about the side effects or drug interactions?
The most common side effects are gastro-intestinal, such as nausea or diarrhea; users also report getting headaches. Most of these instances only occur at high doses, but it’s good to be aware of what could happen if you overdo it.
Since ashwagandha is considered to be a “dietary supplement”, it isn’t strictly regulated like prescription medication. It’s pretty much as easy to get as zinc tablets or gummy vitamins, but this doesn’t mean that you should just give it a try without checking with a professional. Since it could potentially interact with a drug or other supplement, it’s best to consult your doctor first. Just to be on the safe side, any woman who’s pregnant or breastfeeding should simply avoid it altogether.
How long before I can experience the effects of ashwagandha?
Don’t expect immediate results. According to most users, it’ll take two weeks at minimum if you’re having it daily – possibly up to a month. Even if you’ve watched an entire TikTok dance trend come and go in the time you’ve been waiting for results, just have patience. The processes that ashwagandha affects are pretty complex, so it’ll take some time to see concrete changes. If you want hard-and-fast info on how you’re progressing, you could track your cortisol, or journal about your energy or stress levels. Sleep apps let you keep an eye on your health even when you’re basically unconscious, and saliva tests can help you monitor important sleep hormones, such as melatonin.
What kind of ashwagandha should I buy?
If you want to avoid the smell, look for capsules. If you’re a smoothie enthusiast, maybe a powder would work best. There are even dietary supplements that combine ashwagandha with other natural remedies. You can buy it from health food stores, retail drug stores, and online, so you shouldn’t have any trouble getting some. In other words, if you’ve decided that ashwagandha could work for you, you’re just a few steps away from seeing if you were right!