Does Ginseng Help or Cause Insomnia? (Research Summary)
The herbal remedy ginseng is one of the most popular herbs sold over the counter in North America.
However, its roots are traced back to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), which is why it’s not surprising that most research on ginseng comes from Asia. This is similar to other natural sleep aids like ashwagandha that may help insomnia.
We’re going to go over research on ginseng and sleep quality, but be aware that the scientific community still lacks high quality human studies in this area (1).
Evidence That Ginseng Might Improve Insomnia
So far, the best evidence that ginseng can improve sleep quality comes from a 2013 study, but note that the sample size was 15 men, which limits how much we can conclude (2).
Subjects orally consumed 1500 mg of red ginseng extract 3 times a day for 7 days.
The biggest effects they found were:
- Sleep efficiency went from 0.81 to 0.92 - Sleep efficiency measures how much time in bed is spent awake overall (a score of 1.0 means you’re asleep the entire time in bed).
- Wake after sleep went from 66.4 minutes to 5.4 minutes - Subjects woke up less often and got to sleep faster.
Other Ginseng Sleep Research
Some research has tried to examine why ginseng might improve sleep quality.
Findings suggest that ginseng exerts a central nervous system depressant effect by regulating GABA, which is one of the main neurons involved in sleep regulation (3).
In another small study of 16 human males again, researchers gave subjects fermented ginseng for 2 days to see if it could have an immediate effect (4). They found that it improved total sleep time and efficiency (similar to the other study we looked at above).
Finally, ginseng may have stabilizing effects on sleep.
In a rat study, researchers found (5):
It is speculated that the ginseng extract may exert a stabilizing effect on sleep-waking disturbances which possibly accounts for its outstanding health-improving activities.
I wouldn’t read too much into a study like that, but it does suggest that ginseng may be more effective in people who wake up often while sleeping.
The effect was also quite small:
The filled circles are the placebo group, and didn’t fare much worse when it came to total sleep time or efficiency.
SummarySome studies show that ginseng can have a positive effect on sleep quality, which could be useful in reducing insomnia symptoms. However, there’s a lack of robust research on ginseng consumption in insomnia patients, so we can’t draw any strong conclusions.
The Type of Ginseng Likely Matters
Another aspect that will need to be researched more is that different types of ginseng are known to have different effects.
The label “ginseng” applies to all plants in the genus Panax.
American ginseng (Panax quinquefolis L) is thought to have a cooling effect. In TCM, it would be used to treat symptoms like stress, insomnia, anxiety, palpitations, etc.
Asian (or Korean) ginseng (Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer) is a “hot” variety of ginseng, which is traditionally used to treat conditions like colds.
The studies we looked at before used red ginseng. Other research shows that red ginseng is typically more potent than white ginseng when it comes to relaxation effects (6).
SummaryIt’s possible that one type of ginseng may help insomnia, while another may make it worse. This is an interesting factor that will need to be studied more.
Can Ginseng Cause Insomnia? (Side Effects)
If you look around hard enough you’ll see that some people claim that ginseng actually makes their sleep worse.
There are a few different potential explanations for this:
- Type of ginseng - As we looked above, different ginseng plants and products can have wildly different effects (7).
- Ginseng abuse syndrome (GAS) - If too much ginseng is consumed, or for too long of a time frame, side effects like hypertension, nervousness, sleeplessness, skin eruption, and morning diarrhea are commonly known to occur (8).
- Overdosing - While ginseng is usually relatively safe in large amounts, overdosing is possible. Symptoms include all those in GAS, plus others like bleeding, fatigue, increased blood pressure, and more (9).
- Interactions with medications - Ginseng can interact with prescription drugs and produce negative side effects (9).
SummaryWhile ginseng typically doesn’t make sleep worse, some individuals could experience a decrease in sleep quality depending the type and amount consumed.
Summary: Ginseng and Sleep Quality
We’ve seen that there is some evidence that ginseng may improve sleep quality. It seems more likely to help than hurt at the very least.
However, much more research needs to be conducted in human trials before any wide conclusions can be made.
It’s also possible to overuse ginseng and experience negative side effects. If someone is already taking prescription drugs, they should consult a doctor before trying out ginseng.
- A Comparison of the ancient use of ginseng in traditional Chinese medicine with modern pharmacological experiments and clinical trials
- Effects of red ginseng extract on sleeping behaviors in human volunteers
- Treatment of Insomnia: An Alternative Approach
- Fermented Ginseng Improves the First-Night Effect in Humans
- Chronic intake of Panax ginseng extract stabilizes sleep and wakefulness in food-deprived rats
- Anxiolytic-like effects of ginseng in the elevated plus-maze model: Comparison of red ginseng and sun ginseng
- Effects of Korean red ginseng (Panax Ginseng Meyer) on bisphenol A exposure and gynecologic complaints: single blind, randomized clinical trial of efficacy and safety
- Ginseng Abuse Syndrome
- Panax ginseng in randomised controlled trials: a systematic review
Medical Disclaimer: The information on SnoozeUniversity.com is not intended to be a substitute for physician or other qualified care. We simply aim to inform people struggling with sleep issues about the nature of their condition and/or prescribed treatment.