KAVA KAVA: studies on healthy sleep
Kava Kava (piper methysticum) is famous not only as a natural way to relax and deeply unwind, but also as a remedy used for sleep problems and sleep disorders. Many people drink Kava Kava as a natural alternative to sleeping aids. So let’s take a look at Kava’s sleep-inducing properties and the research on its effectiveness.
Before we talk about the effects of Kava Kava, it is worth noting why it is nature – not chemistry – that can help with sleep problems.
Sleep aids […] are dangerous drugs. First of all they don’t reproduce natural sleep, all of them suppress dreaming, which is essential component of good sleep, they distort sleep architecture, they are addictive and they interfere with cognitive function. […]
But Kava has none of these ill effects.
— Dr Andrew Weil / Kava for Sleep and Anxiety / The Tim Ferriss [ source ]
Kava – which is a drink made from the roots of the Pacific Kava Kava plant – works naturally. It has a relaxing effect on both the nervous system, as well as the body and tense muscles. These two dimensions of Kava’s action are crucial to the process of falling asleep and the restorative potential of sleep.
How does Kava Kava work?
A compact description is provided by Aviva Romm in Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health
[Kava] has earned a reputation as a useful botanical for the treatment of anxiety, sleep disorders, restlessness, and as a muscle relaxant. Practitioners might consider it for anxiety-related sleep disorders, muscle twitching, and restless legs that interfere with sleep. Short-term studies suggest that kava kava is effective for insomnia, particularly in improving sleep quality and decreasing the amount of time needed to fall asleep, and that the kava-methysticine pyrones act centrally as antispasmodics and anticonvulsants.
The mechanisms of action proposed for kava kava include decreased levels of glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter, activation of dopaminergic neurons, interaction with GABA receptors, direct action on muscles leading to relaxation, elevation of dopamine and serotonin levels via inhibition of monoamine uptake, and cellular actions similar to mood stabilizers. — SOURCE
What does this mean in practice?
Effect of Kava Kava
Kava’s most important properties are:
- Kava reduces stress levels – mainly by acting on the GABA receptor: reducing over-stimulation of the nervous system [more about GABA and Kava Kava – HERE ]
- Kava – as an MAO inhibitor – affects hormonal politics, including dopamine levels
- Kava improves mood – believed to do so by affecting the limbic system, which is responsible for, among other things, feelings of satisfaction, reducing aggression, etc.
- Kava relaxes stress-tensioned muscles – has relaxant, analgesic, anesthetic, anticonvulsant, smooth and skeletal muscle relaxing effects.
- Kava has proven anti-anxiety effects – MORE
And sleep? All of the above can help with sleep problems, but does Kava Kava also have a sleeping effect?
Kava Kava: healthy sleep
Kava’s popularity as a support for sleep problems has prompted researchers to undertake an analysis of its sleep-inducing effects. The state of research is not as in-depth as, for example, the anti-anxiety potential of Kava Kava. However, several important results can be singled out. Let’s take a look at the ones that most strongly shape the scientific world’s opinion toward Kava’s sleep-inducing effects.
KAVA KAVA AND DEEP SLEEP
Deep sleep is the term for slow-wave sleep, the nREM sleep phase. During it, proper rest and regeneration takes place and it’s crucial for the functioning of the brain and body – delta waves promote, for example, the consolidation of memory traces, wounds heal faster, there is a slowing down of physical aging. Does Kava Kava affect the enhancement of deep sleep, and thus better recovery and rest?
As the analysis by ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF RESTORATIVE MEDICINE indicates:
Efficacy of standardized kava extract was evaluated in a placebo-controlled trial of 12 healthy volunteers over 4 days. Placebo was taken for 3 days, followed by three divided doses totaling either 150 mg kava extract (containing 105 mg kavalactones) or 300 mg extract containing 210 mg kavalactones). When kava was given, lability to fall asleep and the light sleep phase were shortened, while the deep sleep phase was lengthened, the duration of REM sleep was not influenced, and the duration of wakeful phases in sleep EEG recordings was decreased. These effects are favorable, particularly in comparison with orthodox sedatives such as benzodiazepines and barbiturates, both of which depress both REM and deep sleep. Kava, like orthodox sedatives, also increased the density of sleep spindles. – SOURCE
This is what also studies conducted on animals confirm: Kava not only speeds up falling asleep, but significantly enhances delta wave activity – the essence of deep sleep.
A significant shortening of the sleep latency in sleep-disturbed rats was observed following the administration of kava-kava extract at a dose of 300 mg/kg, while no effects were observed on the total waking and non-REM sleep time. […] Kava-kava extract showed a significant increase in delta activity during non-REM sleep in sleep-disturbed rats […] Conclusions: Kava-kava extract is an herbal medicine having not only hypnotic effects, but also sleep quality-enhancement effects. – SOURCE
This observation is confirmed by a study conducted a few years later (2009). To clarify: kavain is the main kavalactone – the active ingredient in Kava Kava. For more on the calming effects of kavain – HERE. But back to deep sleep:
Kavain and rilmazafone showed a significant shortening in sleep latency, decreased awake time, and increased non-REM sleep time. […] Moreover, kavain showed a significant increase in delta activity during non-REM sleep in sleep-disturbed rats, whereas a significant decrease in delta power during non-REM sleep was observed with rilmazafone. These results clearly indicate that kavain is a compound with not only hypnotic effects, but also sleep quality-enhancement effects. – SOURCE
Kava Kava and sleep: anxiety disorders
Kava has anti-anxiety effects – more here – but does that mean it also helps with sleep problems associated with anxiety disorders?
The answer in this regard is provided by a study Clinical efficacy of kava extract WS 1490 in sleep disturbances associated with anxiety disorders. Results of a multicenter, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trial. The study’s conclusions state:
We conclude that sleep disturbances associated with non-psychotic anxiety disorders can be effectively and safely treated with kava extract WS 1490. – SOURCE
ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF RESTORATIVE MEDICINE quotes the following data:
In an observational study of 3029 patients, treatment with standardized kava extract (800mg per day containing 240mg kava pyrones) over a minimum of 4 weeks resulted in improvement of primary symptoms such as nervousness, restless and anger. Other symptoms including sleep disturbances, menopausal complaints, muscle tension and sexual disturbances were also improved. After 5 weeks of treatment, symptoms of nervousness, restlessness, and fear were reduced in 1673 patients. – SOURCE
Kava Kava can therefore be a real support for people who suffer from anxiety and therefore also experience sleep disorders. Read more about what sleep disorders threaten HERE.
How long should sleep last?
It is assumed that the length of sleep, which is optimal, is: 7-8 or even 9 hours per night. As we mentioned — what matters here is the sleep architecture, especially the nREM phase and restorative deep sleep. The number of hours slept alone is a relative value.
As psychotherapist David Wheatley notes:
[Kava] does have profound beneficial effects on sleep architecture (augments deep sleep) that may make it particularly suitable for long-term use and for the elderly. – SOURCE
It is worth mentioning that reducing sleep time by one hour over a two-week period has the same effect on thinking and motor skills as two sleepless nights. If 1.5 hours of sleep is subtracted from the recommended 7-9 hours for adults, changes in immune cell DNA, inflammation and the development of chronic diseases can occur.
Studies and discrepancies
It should be noted that research into the properties of Kava Kava is still ongoing. There are also emerging studies questioning the sleep-inducing potential of Methistine Pepper. One such widespread study is comparing the effects of Kava Kava and valerian: An Internet-Based Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial of Kava and Valerian for Anxiety and Insomnia. Its summary concludes: Neither kava nor valerian relieved anxiety or insomnia more than placebo. This trial demonstrates the feasibility of conducting randomized, blinded trials entirely via the Internet. — SOURCE. Well, that’s the thing – the study was conducted entirely online.
In contrast, another analysis: a review of comparative studies of Kava and valerian states:
Valerian and kava have received the most research attention; both have decreased sleep onset time and promoted deeper sleep in small studies, and kava also shows anxiolytic effects. – SOURCE
What is the result of these discrepancies? A lot, a little? As Kavaha, we focus on talking honestly about the properties of Kava Kava. We share knowledge and available research to the fullest extent. We want to build awareness of Kava’s potential in an honest way.
That’s why we are honest: Kava Kava is not a cure for all sleep problems. Kava is not a cure at all. It does not work in a standardized way. Each variety of Kava reacts differently: it has a different composition of kavalactones: active ingredients. However – as Kavaha – we can assure you of the highest quality of our Kava varieties from Fiji and Vanuatu and the high scale of kavalactones.
If you suffer from sleep disorders – don’t underestimate the problem and consult a specialist!