Over the counter sleep aid medicines are the go-to products that people with sleep issues turn to in their quest for a good night’s rest. But the side effects, ranging from drowsiness to dry mouth to blurred vision, may leave many wondering if it’s ultimately worth it.
A study now confirms that there may be healthier and more natural options on the horizon. Researchers in Japan say that an element found within the Indian herb Ashwagandha can significantly promote sleep.
Ayurveda is the traditional home medicine practice of India. It’s from a Sanskrit word that translates to “the wisdom of life” or “the knowledge of longevity.” Ayurvedic medicine centers around the inner workings of the mind, body and spirit to bring about good health.
Ashwagandha, also known by its Latin name, Withania somnifera, is a primary herb in Ayurvedic medicine. The second part of the herb’s name, somnifera, means “sleep inducing” in Latin. While Ashwagandha has been traditionally known to ensure a better night’s sleep for centuries, no one quite understood which active element of the herb actually helps to promote sleepiness until now.
Researchers at both the Yoshihiro Urade of International Institute for Integrative Sleep Medicine and the University of Tsukuba uncovered this data by testing the various aspects of Ashwagandha on sleep in rodents. They did this through electroencephalogram technology, which is a noninvasive way to monitor electrical brain activity, as well as electromyography, the procedure that records the electrical activity of muscles and nerve cells.
They found that the ingredient triethylene glycol, or TEG, in Ashwaganda is the active component that promotes physiologically sound sleep.
They discovered this by examining the water extract of the Ashwagandha leaf that was rich in TEG. The study showed it significantly improved non-rapid eye movement (NREM) in mice. Non-rapid eye movement is the dreamless sleep that accounts for the first four stages of sleep leading to rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
However, TEG only changed REM sleep slightly in mice. REM refers to the jerky eye movements we exhibit during the dreaming phase of sleep. This occurs in cycles, happens about four to five times a night, and accounts for 20 to 25 percent of an adult’s total sleep time.
Researchers found that the sleep produced by TEG most resembled natural sleep patterns and that TEG, in its commercially available form, was also shown to boost the amount of NREM sleep.
Ultimately, researchers concluded that consuming the crude powder form of Ashwagandha, which naturally contains a significant amount of TEG, can help provide better sleep without any noticeable side effects. Based on these findings, Ashwagandha could even one day help create new and innovative ways to incorporate natural plants into therapies for sleep-related problems like insomnia.
TEG is not yet being used to treat insomnia because not enough is known about how suitable it is for human body systems or if long-term use could pose any toxicity risk. Because TEG is primarily used for industrial purposes, further studies will need to be done to confirm that it’s a safe alternative to be used as a commercially available sleep aid.