Sleep disorders are common ailments. In the general population, it is estimated that between 10 and 15% of people suffer from insomnia and between 30 and 60% in the elderly. Sleep disorders are associated with diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, depression and anxiety.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), an important plant in traditional Indian Ayurveda medicine, is known for its soporific and calming properties, but until now the scientific community was unaware of the active ingredients responsible for these effects. Now, Japanese researchers have managed to identify a substance from the leaves that causes the effects on sleep. Scientists believe that ashwagandha could be used successfully for insomnia, especially if future studies show that this plant is not toxic to humans.
A sleeping pill and adaptogen
The soporific effect of ashwagandha, which sometimes also bears the name Indian ginseng, has been known for more than 4,000 years in Ayurvedic medicine, as its species name (somnifera) also indicates. Serious scientific studies published in the past have confirmed its sleeping effect. Ashwagandha, like ginseng (Panax ginseng), also exhibits an adaptogenic effect. This means that the plant helps to “adapt” to different stressful situations. To seek to understand the active principles involved in the mechanism of sleep, a team of Japanese scientists under the direction of Makesh K. Kaushik and Yoshihiro Urade from the University of Tsukaba carried out an experiment on mice by recording data from examinations based on electroencephalograms and electromyographies.
A soporific extract of ashwagandha
An aqueous extract of ashwagandha leaves containing a substance called triethylene glycol (TEG) impacted the brains of mice by increasing non-REM sleep and slightly changing REM (REM) sleep. Drugs already marketed based on TEG increase non-REM sleep. The Japanese scientists concluded that the TEG was responsible for the soporific effect.
Kaushik MK1,2, Kaul SC: Triethylene glycol, an active component of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) leaves, is responsible for sleep induction.PLoS One. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0172508