I Tried Taking Ashwagandha and It Gave Me Crazy Vivid Dreams

I tried it Awashgandha

Verywell / Michela Buttignol

Ashwagandha is having a big moment in the TikTok limelight. Testimonies of its wonders for reducing stress and anxiety flood the app. Beefed-up athletes hail the herb’s athletic performance-boosting capacities, while lovers pop an ashwagandha gummy for aphrodisiac effects on a Saturday night.

All things considered, my life is pretty stress-free these days. Still, my active lifestyle wears me out—I teeter on the edge of exhaustion most nights. Falling asleep isn’t typically a problem for me. But staying asleep in a noisy Brooklyn apartment can be. If adding a plant-based supplement into my diet could help me chill out and sleep more soundly at night, I was all in.   

So I took a daily ashwagandha pill for three weeks to see what the hype is all about.

Ashwagandha belongs to a class of plants and mushrooms called adaptogens. Adaptogens balance the body’s stress response by interacting with the mechanism that regulates metabolism, immune responses, and the nervous system. While this balancing behavior usually has positive effects, in rare cases, ashwagandha can cause insomnia in people who previously slept soundly, and it can induce anxiety in those accustomed to calm.

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is one of the most important herbs in Ayurveda, an ancient system of medicine still practiced today. Alongside herbs like turmeric and licorice root, ashwagandha has long been part of a healthful ayurvedic lifestyle.

Research increasingly validates what Eastern medicine practitioners have long proclaimed: ashwagandha can have anti-cancer, anti-stress, and anti-inflammatory properties. By acting on hormones, ashwagandha can even boost athletic performance and libido.

“If it’s an herb that really resonates with your body and you do really well with it, oftentimes multiple systems will feel better, not just your nervous system or your hormones,” Rosia Parrish, ND, a naturopathic doctor at the Naturopathic Wellness Center of Boulder, told Verywell.

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

Within a week of starting my ashwagandha journey, I found myself knocked out from the moment I closed my eyes to the first blare of my alarm clock. Getting out of bed for my morning gym session has been much less trying.

Researchers are still trying to understand precisely how ashwagandha interacts with the brain to promote sleep. Some propose that a chemical in the herb can induce sleep, while others say it could act on certain neural pathways.

A review of five randomized controlled trials revealed that the sleep benefits of ashwagandha can be most felt in people with insomnia who take the herb for at least eight weeks. The supplement “was also found to improve mental alertness on rising and anxiety level, but no significant effect on quality of life,” the authors wrote.

My improved sleep came with a side of colorful dreams. One Jonestown-inspired saga involving cyanide-laced soup was so consuming I had to scrub my tongue after waking to purge the taste of Campbell’s tomato soup.

Parrish said it’s rare to experience such vivid dreams, but it’s not a permanent or particularly worrisome side effect. For my part, the nightmares subsided after a few days, and my dreams are now as forgettable as before.

“Sometimes [herbs] are just creating different mechanisms for a body to release stress and trauma and allowing our body to be more calm,” Parrish said. “Sometimes we do have to process some things at night that we haven’t necessarily processed in the day.”

How Does Ashwagandha Work?

Some studies find that it takes weeks of ashwagandha use at high dosages to reduce stress and anxiety. But Parrish said that, depending on the dosage, some people may feel the effects within days.

“It’s very tonifying for a nervous system. So if someone’s mentally exhausted, sometimes they feel the effect pretty immediately,” Parrish said.

Some social media users say they experience emotional numbness with ashwagandha use. Some even take it for that reason. But emotionlessness could be a sign that someone is taking an impure supplement or that it is interacting with other , according to Pratibha Shah, BAMS, MD (Ayurveda), MPH, CEO of My Ayurved, a holistic health clinic in Massachusetts.

“A good quality ashwagandha, in fact, improves mental health by lowering cortisol levels, improving sleep, and bettering stress resilience," Shah said

Ashwagandha is an immunomodulating herb. This means the herb can bring the immune response into balance, Shah said. “if there is a hyper-immune response, [ashwagandha] will lower it. if there is a low immune response, it will up it.”

Parrish warns that while ashwagandha can be a powerful therapeutic for combatting autoimmunity, it can also cause autoimmunity if used incorrectly. Because it’s in the nightshade family, it can be harmful to people with weakened immunity.

“It’s actually interesting that it’s a really trendy herb because, unless you truly understand the mechanism of action of it, it actually can be kind of tricky to use,” Parrish said.

What Else Should You Know Before Taking Ashwagandha?

You may not know if ashwagandha is right for you until you try it. Some people say large doses of ashwagandha can cause upset stomach and diarrhea, and it isn’t recommended for pregnant people and some with autoimmune diseases. Otherwise, there are no known downsides to taking the supplement for a trial run.

Wholistic health stores and online marketplaces are awash with ashwagandha options. The herb can be powdered and added to smoothies, brewed as a tea, and concentrated into a pill or gummy.

The supplement industry, Parrish said, “is probably the most unregulated industry in the world.” When choosing an ashwagandha supplement, she said to look for reputable brands that follow good manufacturing practices.

There are multiple factors to consider when finding the optimal dose, but research suggests that 250 milligrams per day is enough to benefit many patients. People looking for more powerful therapeutic effects or who have questions about dosage should seek input from a health provider versed in naturopathy or herbal medicine.

Parrish recommends starting with a low dose, and increasing it if necessary. Each formulation may have a different optimal dose, and you may need to take more if you’re seeking therapeutic effects for a medical condition. Seeking advice from a health provider versed in naturopathy or herbal medicine can help ensure you’re not under- or overdosing.

While ashwagandha can be a great addition to a healthy lifestyle, it’s not a cure-all. Stress, anxiety, insomnia, and other health problems can have multiple causes and solutions. Taking supplements and medications as a quick fix for medical ailments is a “very Western type of approach,” Shah said.

“In Ayurveda, we spend time to identify the root cause of your issues,” Shah said. "Eliminating the primary root cause of the disease is the first step of treatment.”

The Final Verdict

So far, my ashwagandha journey has been lovely. I'm sleeping better and generally feel more chill. Still, this isn't a supplement I plan to take every day—I'll take periodic breaks to check in with my body and ensure it's giving me the health boost I want.

Those who are interested in the therapeutic uses of ashwagandha should check in with a naturopathic doctor or other health provider versed in herbal medicine to find the right dosage for their health needs.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Cheah KL, Norhayati MN, Husniati Yaacob L, et al. Effect of ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract on sleep: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2021;16(9):e0257843. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0257843

  3. Salve J, Pate S, Debnath K, et al. Adaptogenic and Anxiolytic Effects of Ashwagandha Root Extract in Healthy Adults: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-controlled Clinical StudyCureus. 2019;11(12):e6466. doi:10.7759/cureus.6466

By Claire Bugos
Claire Bugos is a health and science reporter and writer and a 2020 National Association of Science Writers travel fellow.