Among the many herbal remedies that are used for sleep, the one that has remained mysterious is kava kava. People have raised questions about its efficacy.
Is kava kava good for sleep? What is the appropriate dosage of kava for sleep and how to use kava to get effective results?
To find the answers to these questions we will look into some research studies, as well as consider the reviews of users from various drug forums and Reddit.
What is Kava Kava?
A herb that has been popular for the last two decades in the West, native to the region of South Pacific with a mysterious history, kava kava first became known to the world as a treatment for insomnia and anxiety.
People started taking it to get rid of the symptoms of anxiety and soon they developed liver disorders.
This is when FDA came into action and released warnings about the toxic side effects of kava kava.
Later onwards, it was discovered that only those in the West had these side effects, but no one suffered from these side effects in the South Pacific where people consumed it on daily basis. This is when the mystery couldn’t be resolved.
Kava has soothing and soporific effects which allow it to be used medicinally to treat insomnia and symptoms of anxiety.
How does Kava kava affect sleep?
There have been a number of theories as to how kava is related to sleep.
Back then in 2011, Dr Michael Breus wrote on WebMD that kava kava produces sleep because of its calming and sedating properties.
However, he asked people to avoid using it due to ‘the so-called toxic side effects’. That was in 2011.
In recent years, studies have found that the toxicities associated with consumption of kava kava occur as a result of flavokavain B which is a non-kavalactone substance and found only in Tudei kava strains that are banned from export now.
Another theory is this that kava kava induces sleep by releasing the stress and reducing anxiety.
This way a person can drift into peaceful sleep because stress is a major cause of sleeplessness.
The less you sleep, the more stressed you get the next day and the vicious cycle continues. Thus kava kava helps you achieve the reset button and allows you to sleep peacefully.
The theory also suggests that kava kava is a mild analgesic and a muscle relaxant thus it relieves pain that can interfere with rest.
What does research say about kava’s relation with sleep?
A study conducted by Saletu et al in 1989 ‘Kava’s effects on brainwaves’, suggests that certain doses of kavain (between 200-600 mg) improves brain activity that helps in achieving restorative sleep.
Electroencephalogram activity showed that the brain waves like alpha 1, theta and delta waves are increased due to the use of kavain and the beta waves are decreased.
Beta waves are responsible for wakefulness. The effects were increased when the dose of kavain was increased.
Another randomized double-blind study conducted to examine the effects and safety of kava on sleep disturbances showed that sleep disturbances can be effectively treated with kava provided they are not associated with psychotic causes.
What neurotransmitters are involved in the induction of sleep by kava?
Kava has been suggested to aid sleep by;
- Stimulating the activity of GABA and
- Decreasing the activity of noradrenaline
Kava acts on GABA receptors to promote relaxation. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that reduces the excitability of neurons resulting in relaxation and calmness.
Kava increases the binding of GABA to GABA-A receptors to induce sedating effects.
Kava decreases the activity of noradrenaline by inhibiting the reuptake of noradrenaline (a neurotransmitter that promotes alertness).
This result in momentary stimulation but then a diminished receptor response is observed and noradrenaline is washed away from the synaptic cleft.
When to take Kava for sleep?
Kava should be prepared and consumed a couple hours before you plan to sleep.
You should consume it preferably before you eat or 2-3 hours after you eat because the digestion and metabolism of kava are diminished on a full stomach.
You can take it in any form depending on your choice and taste. The best part about kava is that you do not develop tolerance to the effects of kava so you don’t need to increase the dosage of kava for sleep to achieve the same desired effects.
Kava is an adaptogen which means that it improves the body’s natural response to emotional and physical stress. Kava isn’t addictive so you won’t develop dependence.
What is the dosage of kava for sleep?
According to studies the most common dosage at which sleep is induced is 100-300mg of oral kava kava extract.
In supplements the most common dosage is 250mg. Kava should be taken on an empty stomach one hour prior to sleeping.
How to use kava for sleep?
Kava can be used in various ways to act as an effective sleep aid. The easiest and common way is to take kava in a kava based drink.
Kava extract or kava powder can be added to drinks or kava tea can be made. Sipping a cup of hot kava tea can be relaxing just before bedtime.
What are user reviews about kava and its effect on sleep?
According to users, kava supplements help them fall asleep and get improved and peaceful sleep.
Users claimed that kava directly helped them with symptoms of anxiety and stress and therefore they could sleep better.
Some users stated that kava caused vivid and lucid dreams that they remembered clearly. For some users, the effects of kava were dose-dependent.
Others stated that if kava is taken only once a day before sleeping it is more effective than taking it many times a day for different purposes and then taking it again at night for sleep.
Some users started that heavier kavalactones take up to 2 hours to fully kick in so if you go to bed 30 minutes after taking such strains you’ll not be able to sleep.
What can other strategies be employed to get effective sleep?
- Exercise daily in the morning to help set your internal circadian rhythm.
- Do not overdo on caffeine during the morning and avoid drinking caffeinated beverage after 2 pm.
- Do not drink alcohol 3 hours prior to sleep time.
- Stick to your routine. Take regular meals and do not get engaged in activities that require attention just before sleeping.
- Create a bedroom that helps you achieve a good sleep. Keep your bed clean and the room should be cool and dark.
- Do not use electronics 2 hours before sleeping.
- Eat 2 -3 hours before sleeping.
What are the risks associated with taking kava for sleep?
Pregnant women should not take kava at all as it may cause a loss in the uterine tone resulting in miscarriage.
Lactating women should also avoid taking kava. Those with preexisting liver disorders shouldn’t take kava as it may aggravate the disorder.
If you are taking supplements for insomnia then you should avoid kava as drug interaction may result in excessive CNS depression.
Final Thoughts on Taking Kava For Sleep
Kava kava can be effectively used for the treatment of sleeplessness. It is a herb that has minimum side effects unlike other medications for sleep.
Benzodiazepines cause excess tolerance and dependence while kava has no such side effects. Kava is relatively safe.
The cases where liver toxicity has been reported, they are related to only one strain and involve the use of kava root as well as other parts of the plant which give toxic effects.
Kava is the best treatment for insomnia but if you face any side effects it is recommended to quit using it and consult a doctor immediately.