Fall is on its way, and even here in Hawaii we are starting to feel just a little bit of a refreshing crispness in the air. The intense amount of harvesting work that has to be done in the summer here at Kona Kava Farm is starting to calm down, and I’m looking forward to having a little bit more time to research and write and, of course, to curl up and read a good book with a hot (!) cup of kava cocoa!
Recently, I have been asked several times about the efficacy of kava for helping to improve sleep, particularly for those individuals who are suffering from insomnia. I have also seen several articles in the news that have mentioned kava as a sleep aid (and which have then gone on to discuss the terrible dangers of kava for the liver. I discussed the fallacy of these particular statements in an earlier blog article, if you’re curious).
Insomnia is a disorder characterized by difficulty falling or staying asleep that can be caused by many things, from muscle pain to anxiety to stress. It is thought that in the United States alone, over 64 million Americans suffer from insomnia, with more women than men struggling with the disorder. Insomnia not only affects one’s ability to sleep, it also affects the person’s abilities while awake due to a lack of proper rest. Insomnia sufferers may experience lower cognitive performance, slowed reaction times, weakened immune system function, high blood pressure, weight gain, and an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes. Studies have shown that severe insomnia, characterized by sleeping less than 4.5 hours a night in men and 3.5 hours a night in women, led to a 15% increase in mortality! (Information from Kava.com)
So, it’s clear that insomnia can be a very serious problem indeed. Many people – 6-13% of the population, in fact, according to an article in USA TODAY use alcohol as a sleep aid, and 15-28% of individuals suffering from acute insomnia use alcohol to help them get to sleep. Obviously, this can lead to very serious health risks and is not an ideal solution for insomnia. And the potential liver damage that can come about as a result of daily alcohol use is MUCH higher than the risk of liver damage that may or may not be associated with kava.
Doctors will sometimes prescribe dangerous and very addictive medications such as Xanax and Ambien to individuals suffering from insomnia. These medications come with quite a few side effects, which include memory loss, seizures, and even death. People can easily become dependent on medications like this, as well, meaning that they never deal with the underlying issues that were causing the insomnia in the first place. So, in the long run, medications like this usually cause much more harm than good!
Fortunately, more and more people are starting to realize that insomnia can be treated using natural, gentle plant remedies such as kava kava! Recently, a study by the Psychopharmacology Research Group tested kava kava, valerian root, and a combination of both to see if they decreased stress and relieved insomnia. The study found that total stress was significantly relieved by both compounds on their own, and there was also an improvement with the combination of both! There was not a significant difference between the effectiveness of the two. Furthermore, insomnia was significantly reduced by both compounds alone and in combination! Even better, very few of the study participants reported side effects, and the most common side effect that was reported was vivid dreams. That’s a far cry from the seizures and memory loss that come along with pharmaceutical sleep aids!
Kava kava does not necessarily make one sleepy, but it does create a great sense of relaxation and relief from stress. Furthermore, it allows for muscle relaxation, which can be very helpful for individuals suffering from insomnia caused by muscle pain. I have never experienced insomnia, but I do find that on the few days I have not gotten around to having my customary cup of kava tea, I don’t sleep quite as well and it is a bit harder to fall asleep. Of course, if you are suffering from insomnia it is important to consult your doctor to make sure that there are no serious conditions being overlooked. However, if you feel that relieving stress and muscle tension will help you to overcome your insomnia, kava may be just what you’re looking for! If you have had any experience using kava to help with insomnia, leave a comment and let me know. I’d love to hear from you!