Researchers at a sleep research institute in Japan have found that an active component of Ashwagandha leaves (Withania somnifera) an important herb in Ayurveda medicine, significantly induces sleep, alleviating many of the common complaints associated with insomnia.
Sleeplessness and other sleep disorders such as restless leg syndrome are common complaints among the middle-aged population. Insomnia is one of the most common sleep disorders, with an estimated incident of 10-15 percent in general population and 30-60 percent in elderly population. It is closely linked with certain other diseases including obesity, cardiovascular diseases, depression and anxiety.
Ashwagandha is a small shrub with yellow flowers, native to India and North Africa. Extracts or powder from the plant’s root or leaves have traditionally been used to treat a variety of conditions and has been recommended for sound sleep through centuries.
Researchers at the International Institute for Integrative Sleep Medicine (WPI-IIIS), at the University of Tsukuba in Japan, investigated the effect of various components of Ashwagandha on sleep in mice by recording electroencephalogram and electromyography. The study found that the water extract of Ashwagandha leaf, which is rich in triethylene glycol (TEG) promoted non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep significantly and changed rapid eye movement (REM) sleep slightly, while the alcoholic extract containing active withanolides showed no effect on sleep. The sleep induced by TEG was similar to normal sleep. Furthermore, commercially available TEG also increased the amount of NREM sleep. They thus concluded that TEG is the active component that induces physiologically sound sleep.
Currently available synthetic drugs to treat insomnia often show severe side effects. On the other hand, Ashwagandha raw powder that has significant amount of TEG can be consumed for better sleep without any side effects. The findings in this study could revolutionize the natural plant-based therapies for insomnia and sleep related disorders.
However, the clinical application of TEG to treat insomnia is still in the immature status, because the TEG is primarily used for industrial purpose and very little is known about its applicability and toxicity to the biological systems. Further studies will thus be needed to confirm the safety of TEG for human consumption.
According to the authors, they are currently evaluating the effect of TEG administration on stress, because Ashwagandha, in addition to its sleep inducing qualities, is believed to mitigate stress and correct imbalance of various nervous systems. Future studies also include the identification of target brain area of TEG and the mechanism through which TEG induces sleep.