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Adaptogens are plants, herbs, or roots that help the body resist stressors and maintain overall balance and well-being in the body—especially in the central nervous system.
Uniquely, adaptogens get their name because they can adapt to what your body needs—they can help promote relaxation if you’re stressed or increase energy if your body is fatigued.
However, some adaptogens are most effective for increasing energy or stamina, while others are best known for promoting a good night’s sleep and restfulness.
If you’re dealing with insomnia, restless sleep, or having trouble falling asleep—or staying asleep—check out these top eight adaptogenic herbs or roots that can help you drift off to dreamland in no time.
Ashwagandha’s scientific name (Withania somnifera) provides a clue to its snooze-inducing properties, as “somnifera” means “sleep-carrying” in Latin.
Also known as winter cherry or Indian ginseng—not to be confused with Panax, American, or Siberian ginseng—ashwagandha is a plant native to India that has been used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine practices for thousands of years.
In Ayurvedic terms, the word ashwagandha roughly translates to the “smell and strength of a horse”—and if you’ve ever experienced the strong aroma and taste of ashwagandha supplements, you know this can be true.
But, in addition to providing you with the so-called strength of a horse, ashwagandha is also well-known for its calming properties.
The active components in ashwagandha are called withanolides, providing the herb with many of its beneficial properties—including promoting sleep.
In a meta-analysis of five randomized controlled trials with 400 participants, ashwagandha extract significantly improved overall sleep—especially in adults diagnosed with insomnia who used ashwagandha for eight weeks or more.
Aswagandha also reduced anxiety levels and improved mental alertness upon waking, emphasizing its adaptogenic qualities of promoting restful sleep and wakefulness.
Rhodiola rosea—also known as rosenroot—is an herb that has been used in traditional healing for centuries, with saponins being the primary bioactive component.
In a study with animals, those who received a saponin-rich extract of Rhodiola had shortened sleep latency—the time it takes to fall asleep—and prolonged sleep duration, along with increased relaxation-related neurotransmitters like GABA and serotonin.
A common reason for sleepless nights is high levels of anxiety, which Rhodiola may also help to improve.
In a pilot study of 10 people with generalized anxiety disorder, supplementing with 340mg of Rhodiola rosea extract for ten weeks led to significant improvements in scores on the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale, which measures both mental and physical symptoms of anxiety, including tension, insomnia, depressed mood, chest pressure, gastrointestinal symptoms, restlessness, and rapid heart rate.
Valerian root has been a well-known herb for promoting sleep since ancient Greece—which is why brands like Onnit include it in their mood and sleep support supplement, New Mood.
Valerian root may impact sleep by acting directly on the brain, altering brain connectivity in response to stimulation, stress, or anxiety.
This adaptogen also contains small amounts of GABA—a neurotransmitter that slows brain activity to promote relaxation—and affects serotonin receptors, which may cause feelings of calmness to benefit sleep.
In a 2020 meta-analysis combining data from 23 studies, 13 of them found valerian root to be effective as a sleep aid—however, there were vast differences based on what form of the herb was used.
The researchers found that the most effective type of valerian root is the dried root form—also known as the rhizome—as all five studies that used this preparation significantly improved sleep.
The use of Panax ginseng—also known as Korean or red ginseng—was first recorded in traditional Chinese medicine over 2000 years ago, and is now utilized for sleep, immune, and stress support.
As the word Panax comes from the Greek word “panakeia,” meaning “all healing,” the adaptogenic root is thought to have widespread uses throughout the body.
A study of males aged 15 to 37 who took 1500mg of Panax ginseng three times per day for a week saw reductions in total wake times and improvements in sleep efficiency, including increases in non-REM sleep—the stage of sleep that repairs and regenerates tissues and strengthens the immune system.
Keep in mind that you can overdo it on ginseng, as seen by the condition called “ginseng abuse syndrome,” which can cause side effects like high blood pressure, nervousness, sleeplessness, liver toxicity, and diarrhea.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a European and Mediterranean herb commonly used to promote comfort, relaxation, and calmness in the digestive and nervous systems—especially when combined with valerian root, as seen with Onnit’s New Mood supplement.
This adaptogen contains many bioactive compounds that act as antioxidants, including rosmarinic acid, flavonoids, hydroxycinnamates, triterpenes, and hesperidin.
A 15-day pilot study in 20 people with mild to moderate anxiety found that 600mg of supplemental lemon balm per day alleviated many symptoms, including reducing insomnia and anxiety by 42% and 18%, respectively.
Also referred to as the “mushroom of immortality,” reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) exhibits potent anti-inflammatory and stress-relieving properties, which can be beneficial for supporting sleep and relaxation.
One of the primary pharmacological compounds in reishi is lucidone D, a triterpene linked to antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity.
Although we don’t have any studies on how reishi affects sleep in humans yet, some animal studies have found that reishi-extracted lucidone D has sedative and calming effects in mice.
Similar research found that reishi extract shortened sleep latency and prolonged sleeping time in mice.
If you’ve ever drunk a calming or sleepy-time tea at night, it’s likely that chamomile was one of the main ingredients.
Chamomile is a flower that’s been used for thousands of years, beginning with ancient Egyptians and Romans who created tea, salves, and creams with it.
Now, we know that chamomile acts as a sleep aid because it contains the antioxidant apigenin, which induces sedation and relaxation.
In a meta-analysis of 12 clinical trials, chamomile intake was found to significantly improve the quality of sleep, as well as reduce symptoms of anxiety.
Lastly, Schisandra chinensis—also known as five-flavor fruit—is a berry but is most often consumed in supplemental form as a powder, pill, or extract.
Schisandra is thought to alleviate stress and act as a mild sedative, which can help promote better sleep.
In a study with animals, the active component of Schisandra called Schisantherin A led to reduced sleep latency time, increased overall sleep duration, and elevated GABA in the brain.
However, we don’t have studies on the sleep-related effects of Schisandra in humans yet.
Adaptogens help with sleep quality in various ways, including acting on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.
The HPA axis is a complex system of glands, receptors, and hormones that help lower cortisol levels, our primary stress hormone, to modulate the stress response.
Some adaptogens act as mild sedatives by acting on various calming neurotransmitters or brain pathways, while others reduce anxiety to promote better sleep.
Yes, if your intention for taking adaptogens is to promote better sleep, then taking adaptogen supplements at night would work best to induce calmness, relaxation, or drowsiness.
The adaptogens that are most studied for their role in supporting sleep or preventing insomnia include:
– Valerian root—especially when combined with lemon balm
If you take excessive doses of adaptogens, it’s possible that the herb or plant could “backfire” and cause the opposite effect, including insomnia or restlessness, among other symptoms.
Melatonin and ashwagandha are thought to be safe to take together.
However, it’s important not to take too much of either supplement, as it could cause excessive drowsiness.
When taken together, a dose of melatonin could range from 1-3mg, while ashwagandha amounts vary widely but are typically between 150-300mg.
Yes, you can take valerian root with ashwagandha, as many sleep-supporting supplements combine these two adaptogens.
According to The Botanical Institute, valerian root and ashwagandha have no known adverse interactions with one another.
However, consuming valerian root alongside alcohol or other central nervous system depressants is not recommended as the combination may enhance the sedative effects.
As ashwagandha is an adaptogen, it can either energize or calm you depending on what imbalance your body is experiencing at the time.
This is why tired people can take ashwagandha in the morning and gain energy, while others can take it at night when they’re needing rest.
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Cases J, Ibarra A, Feuillère N, Roller M, Sukkar SG. Pilot trial of Melissa officinalis L. leaf extract in the treatment of volunteers suffering from mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances. Med J Nutrition Metab. 2011;4(3):211-218. doi:10.1007/s12349-010-0045-4
Cheah KL, Norhayati MN, Husniati Yaacob L, Abdul Rahman R. Effect of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract on sleep: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2021;16(9):e0257843. Published 2021 Sep 24. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0257843
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Hieu TH, Dibas M, Surya Dila KA, et al. Therapeutic efficacy and safety of chamomile for state anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder, insomnia, and sleep quality: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials and quasi-randomized trials. Phytother Res. 2019;33(6):1604-1615. doi:10.1002/ptr.6349
Shinjyo N, Waddell G, Green J. Valerian Root in Treating Sleep Problems and Associated Disorders-A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Evid Based Integr Med. 2020;25:2515690X20967323. doi:10.1177/2515690X20967323
Wang M, Liu J, Sun W, et al. Schisantherin A Exerts Sedative and Hypnotic Effects Through Regulating GABA and its Receptor in Mice and Rats. Natural Product Communications. June 2019. doi:10.1177/1934578X19858165
Yao C, Wang Z, Jiang H, et al. Ganoderma lucidum promotes sleep through a gut microbiota-dependent and serotonin-involved pathway in mice. Sci Rep. 2021;11(1):13660. Published 2021 Jul 1. doi:10.1038/s41598-021-92913-6
Energy drinks and sugary snacks may be louder, sweeter, and faster-acting than natural sources of sugar, but rarely are those benefits conferred without some form of reckoning down the road.
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