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Getting a good night’s sleep is essential for maintaining good health and performance. However, many people struggle to get the quality sleep they need. While several medications and supplements are available to improve sleep, adaptogens for sleep offer a natural and effective alternative.
Adaptogens are a group of herbs and plants (many of them are Chinese herbs) that help the body adapt to stress better and restore balance. One of the essential ways adaptogens improve health is by promoting restorative sleep so the body can heal, restore homeostasis, and build resilience.
Let’s explore the best adaptogens for sleep and how they can help you get a restful night’s sleep!
How Do Adaptogens Help You Sleep?
Adaptogens are a group of herbs and plants that have been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and other traditional medical systems to restore balance. While they are best known for helping reduce stress, many people also turn to adaptogens to help them fall asleep easier and get the deep, restorative sleep they need.
So, how do adaptogens help you sleep better? Adaptogens have been shown to improve sleep quality by reducing stress and promoting relaxation.
When we are stressed, the body’s sympathetic nervous system is over-activated. Rather than fall back into parasympathetic (rest and digest) mode, our bodies get stuck in fight-or-flight. This makes us feel agitated, causes racing thoughts, and makes it hard to wind down at night.
Adaptogens help by guiding the brain and body back into a restful state after stress. When taken before bed, these adaptogens for sleep can help us fall asleep faster, prevent tossing and turning, enhance deep sleep, and lead to fewer sleep disturbances.
The result? Waking up feeling rested, restored, and ready to take on the day.
How Do Adaptogens Affect Your Hormones?
When it comes to both stress and sleep quality, so much is controlled by your hormones. And that’s exactly how adaptogens for sleep can help. Adaptogens have a positive impact on your hormone balance, which leads to more regular sleep schedules and better quality sleep.
When the body is under stress, it releases hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which can negatively affect the body if they remain elevated for prolonged periods. In fact, high levels of cortisol are known to negatively impact melatonin levels, the hormone released at night to lull your body into sleep. Adaptogens can help the body cope with stress better, and thus keep cortisol, adrenaline, and melatonin levels in a healthy balance.
Adaptogens can also help regulate other hormones that affect sleep, such as thyroid hormones and sex hormones. For example, the adaptogen ashwagandha has been shown to improve thyroid function in people with hypothyroidism, while maca root has been shown to improve reproductive hormone levels.
Scientists are still researching the exact mechanism by which adaptogens affect hormones – much like we are still learning exactly how other Chinese herbs work. However, research suggests that adaptogens can help restore hormonal balance, reduce stress, improve sleep, and support the body’s natural physiological processes.
Can Adaptogens Make You Sleepy?
Adaptogens do have calming effects, but they don’t make you feel overly sleepy like a sleep medication might. Instead, they help relax your mind and body into a relaxed state so you can drift into relaxation and sleep naturally.
It’s important to know that while some adaptogens are calming, others have energizing effects. These adaptogens are often used to improve concentration, mental clarity, physical performance, and athletic stamina.
That said, how your body responds to adaptogens is unique to you. Because adaptogens help the body adapt, you may feel energized from them when you are fatigued or calmer when you need help relaxing.
5 Best Adaptogens for Sleep
By improving brain function and promoting relaxation, adaptogens can help you get the rest you need to feel your best. Here are the top 5 adaptogens for sleep and how they help:
- American ginseng (Xi Yang Shen)
American ginseng is an adaptogenic herb that is used to improve overall health and well-being. It contains compounds known as ginsenosides, which are thought to have a sedative effect on the body. Some studies show that American ginseng may help improve sleep quality, reduce the time it takes to fall asleep, and increase total sleep time. It also acts as an “anxiolytic,” meaning it helps reduce anxiety and nervousness that may keep you awake at night.
Find it in…
- Ashwagandha (Shui Qie)
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an herb commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine, a traditional system of medicine in India. It has been used for centuries to promote overall health and well-being and is believed to have adaptogenic properties – including stress and insomnia relief. Thanks to its soothing compounds, ashwagandha for sleep can help you fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and wake up feeling refreshed. And as a bonus, ashwagandha can help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety that often make it difficult to clear the mind and drift off to sleep.
Try this Chinese remedy instead…
Ashwagandha has long been used in Ayurveda but is less common in TCM. Instead of using a single herb, TCB formulas often create holistic adaptogenic blends, such as:
- Schisandra (Wu Wei Zi)
Schisandra is a medicinal herb often referred to as the “five-flavored fruit.” This is because it is said to have a unique taste that includes all five basic flavors: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami.
One of the benefits of Schisandra is its ability to promote relaxation and improve sleep quality. It contains various active compounds, including lignans and schisandrin, which have been shown to have relaxing effects on the body.
Studies also suggest that Schisandra may help reduce anxiety and stress, which are common contributors to sleep difficulties. Schisandra helps regulate the body’s cortisol levels, promoting optimal hormone balance.
Find it in…
- Rhodiola Rosea (Hong Jing Tian)
Rhodiola is often considered the “brain root” – a powerful adaptogenic herb that promotes cognitive performance by sharpening the mind, reducing fatigue, and increasing resilience to stress.
Studies also show that Rhodiola may guide you to a better night’s sleep. This is due to its adaptogenic properties, which help the body better cope with stress and anxiety, balance the body’s systems, and promote a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
Try this Chinese remedy instead…
Rhodiola is quickly becoming a popular supplement, but it has limited use in TCM. These complete formulas offer similar effects to Rhodiola, but with more well-rounded benefits:
- Valerian (Xie Cao)
Valerian root is a common natural sleep aid, often included in sleep-inducing teas or supplements. Valerian root works by increasing levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate the nervous system and promotes feelings of calmness and relaxation. By increasing GABA levels, valerian root can help reduce anxiety and stress, making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep so you can get the deep rest you need to thrive.
Try this Chinese remedy instead…
Valerian root isn’t used commonly in Chinese medicine. Instead, these teas offer similar benefits with a blend of adaptogens for sleep:
What is the Most Powerful Adaptogen?
After learning about these 5 impactful sleep adaptogens, you might be wondering…is there an ultimate choice? A most powerful adaptogen, or a best adaptogen combination to sleep well?
There is no single “most powerful” adaptogen. As with Chinese herbal formulas, different adaptogenic herbs may work better for different individuals and conditions.
For example, as we learned above, ashwagandha is often used to improve stress resilience and promote relaxation, while Rhodiola is known for improving physical and mental performance and restoring a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
Ultimately, the most powerful adaptogen for you will depend on your individual needs and health goals.
Sleep Peacefully with Adaptogens for Sleep
Which adaptogenic herb are you most intrigued to try? Shop our collection of TCM adaptogens and adaptogenic sleep formulas here to get the quality rest you deserve!
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