Millions of people struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep every night. Lack of sleep can lead to a wide variety of health issues, and it can take a serious toll on your quality of life. While there are some prescription sleeping aids available, many cause unpleasant side effects or interact with other medications. Therefore, lots of people look for natural remedies.
One of the most popular herbal treatments is kava. Many people consume the herb daily for its relaxing, anti-anxiety effects. But is kava good for sleep? To decide whether or not kava is the right insomnia treatment for you, you should understand what it is, how it works, and how you should use it.
What Exactly Is Kava?
Kava is an herbal extract made from Piper methysticum, a plant from the western Pacific islands. Pacific islanders have used kava for hundreds of years as a natural remedy, a sleep aid, and a social and cultural drink. In the 1990s, the herb started gaining popularity in North America and Europe as a remedy for anxiety and insomnia.
You can purchase kava in a few different forms. Traditionally, kava beverages are made with dried kava root. Another option is instant kava, which is a fine powder that can be mixed directly into water or other drinks. You can also buy capsules that contain liquid or powdered kava extract.
How Can Kava Help With My Sleeping Problem?
Researchers aren’t yet sure exactly how kava works in the body. However, it seems to affect brain receptors for a substance called GABA, which is linked to anxiety. Kava may work similarly to benzodiazepine drugs like Xanax and Valium, but the substance is completely natural.
Many people have trouble falling asleep because they can’t stop thinking about their stress. Kava can help you clear your mind and drift off quickly and easily. Even if you’re not an anxious person, kava can help you relax physically and mentally, which makes it much easier to fall asleep.
Most people don’t become extremely sleepy after using kava. However, they fall asleep faster and stay asleep all night after taking the supplement. It can help you achieve deep sleep, but it doesn’t affect your body’s natural REM cycles.
What Research Supports Kava’s Sleep Benefits?
Several studies have attempted to answer the question, “Is kava good for sleep?” A 2004 study in Germany supports claims that kava can treat insomnia. The study involved 61 participants. For four weeks, some received 200 mg of W 1490, a type of kava extract, and some received a placebo. The participants filled out a sleep questionnaire before and after the study, and those who were given kava extract had significantly better sleep after the study.
A study on sleep-disturbed rats found that kava extract shortened sleep latency, which is the amount of time it takes to transition from being fully awake to asleep. Kava likely has similar effects in humans.
Many studies have also found that kava has powerful anti-anxiety properties. For those who struggle to fall asleep because of stress or anxiety, the supplement could be very helpful. A review of several studies on kava and anxiety found that the supplement was more effective than a placebo in all of the trials.
When Should I Take Kava for Better Sleep?
It’s usually best to take kava a few hours before you plan on going to sleep. It takes some time to feel its full effects, so taking it right before going to bed may not be very helpful.
Keep in mind, too, that taking kava on a full stomach will make it less effective. Try to take it before eating dinner or a couple hours after.
The recommended dosage is generally 100 to 300 mg of oral kava extract. The best dose for most people is 200 to 250 mg per day, but it’s best to start with a lower dose and gradually increase it if needed. Taking more than 300 mg per day could cause side effects or complications.
Kavalactones are the active ingredients in kava that give the supplement its relaxing and sleep-inducing effects. If you buy capsules, the vendor should state the amount of kavalactones in the capsules either in milligrams or as a percentage. For most people, the capsules need to contain at least 70 mg of kavalactones to be effective for sleep.
How to Use Kava for Sleep
You can use kava in its powdered form or capsule form for sleep. If you purchase it as a dried root, place it in a strainer bag and immerse it in warm water. Knead and squeeze the strainer bag for about 10 minutes before removing it from the water and enjoying the drink. If you purchase instant kava, you can simply add the powder directly to water or juice, stir it up, and drink it. You can also take a kava capsule a few hours before going to bed.
There are more than 100 varieties of kava, so you should pick a variety that’s known for its sleeping benefits. All of the varieties can be sorted into three categories: heady, heavy, and balanced. Heady varieties will relax you, but they usually provide a euphoric feeling rather than a sleepy feeling. Heavy varieties are typically the best for physical relaxation and sleepiness. Balanced varieties are good if you want to relax but don’t want to feel too sleepy. Two of the best specific varieties for sleep are Vula Waka from Fiji and Borongoru from Vanuatu.
You shouldn’t drink alcohol when using kava. You also shouldn’t take kava when taking anti-anxiety drugs or tricyclic antidepressants. If you take other prescription medications, talk to your doctor before taking kava. The supplement can slow down your reaction times, so it’s not safe to drive after taking it.
Who May Not Like Kava?
Kava has been linked to a few cases of liver damage, so people with existing liver problems should probably look for a different treatment. The supplement also sometimes causes nausea and digestive issues, so you may not like it if you’re prone to an upset stomach.
You shouldn’t drive after taking kava, but you also should take it a few hours before you go to sleep. If you usually have to drive somewhere shortly before going to bed, it might not be the right option for you.
Are There Any Alternatives?
If kava isn’t the right insomnia treatment for you, there are lots of other natural sleep remedies you can try. These include:
Valerian: Valerian is an herbal extract that is commonly used to treat anxiety and insomnia. It can help you fall asleep quickly and achieve deeper sleep. Most people have to take the supplement for a few weeks before feeling its effects, though.
Melatonin: Melatonin is a hormone that regulates your body’s sleep-wake cycle. You have the highest levels of melatonin in your blood before you go to sleep, so taking melatonin as a supplement can help you fall asleep and stay asleep.
Passion flower: Passion flower has a variety of health benefits, and it’s known to reduce anxiety and promote sleep. You can make a passion flower tea with the dried herb, or you can take a liquid extract.
Lifestyle changes: You may not need to take supplements at all to improve your sleep. Making some changes to your lifestyle and sleeping environment can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep all night. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Stop drinking caffeine in the early afternoon, and avoid computer or phone screens for about an hour before going to bed. Put up curtains in your bedroom that block out daylight, so you won’t wake up when the sun rises.
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Are There Any Risks of Taking Kava for Sleep?
Kava consumption has been linked to liver damage and a few cases of liver failure. The CDC and the FDA have both released warnings about the supplement’s potential dangers. Symptoms of liver damage include fever, nausea, dark urine, and jaundice, which is the yellowing of the skin and eyes. If you experience any of these symptoms after taking kava, stop using it immediately and see your doctor. In most cases, the liver damage can be reversed within a few months of discontinuing use.
Some research suggests that the liver damage was caused by flavokavain B, which is only found in Tudei kava, a specific group of strains that are currently banned from export. Many people have had great success using kava for sleep without experiencing any harmful effects.
The supplement seems to be safe for most people when taken in the correct dosage. However, it’s important to consult your doctor and to have frequent liver tests while using it. If your insomnia is seriously affecting your quality of life, the benefits of kava could outweigh the risks.
There are many different forms of kava for consumption that you can get in Canada, see for yourself here.