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Adaptogens & Sleep 101

Adaptogens & Sleep 101

Rest easy with these adaptogens

Struggling to fall asleep? As there’s so much to get stressed about these days, it would be weird if you weren’t tossing and turning at least a few nights a week. After all, we’re only human—and with pandemics, wars, inequality, and so much suffering, it’s impossible no to lose sleep. 

But, there’s a difference between insomnia caused by doom scrolling and sleep issues caused by chronic stress. One is fixable. Power down those devices and let the world do its thing. As Mom always said, it’ll all still be there tomorrow morning. 

The other? You may need a little backup — which is where we come in. 

Adaptogens have been shown to help reduce stress and help you fall asleep faster. Read on to learn about adaptogens for sleep, how they work, and one easy place to get all four. 

How do adaptogens work?

These ingredients work to repair the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis), which is also known as the “stress stem”. 

Yes, when we found out there’s an actual “stress stem” in our bodies, we panicked a little, too. 

When we get stressed, our bodies go through a chemical response to help fight or flee from the stressor (a.k.a. danger) that caused the stress in the first place. When we developed these stress responses, our bodies needed an “emergency” setting to help us fight or run from danger. 

These days, we often don’t need such dramatic stress responses. Especially when “danger” is an SUV double-parked in front of our driveway or a parent dawdling in the school pick-up line. 

The hormones released during these situations, adrenaline and cortisol, give our bodies the strength we need to seemingly defy the laws of physics to evade dangerous situations. And while we love to hear a story about the super-human strength of a mom defending her kids from danger, we probably don’t need huge doses of hormones to get through the school pickup line. 

Over time, these hormones may damage the stress stem and cause near-constant feelings of stress and anxiety. Our bodies can’t regulate and return to normal as easy and we may always feel as though we’re in a state of fight, flight, or freeze. 

Adaptogens may help repair the stress stem and allow the brain to more effectively communicate with the adrenal glands. 

How do adaptogens improve sleep?

Adaptogens can help improve sleep in several different ways. Not only can adaptogens help promote a feeling of calm after they’re taken, but they can also help to repair neural pathways that may have been damaged by chronic stress.

Reduce Stress

Anyone who’s ever experienced chronic stress knows that this condition doesn’t mix well with sleep. 

When you’re stressed, your body is in a state of fight, flight, or freeze. And even though an overflowing schedule or conflict with your boss doesn’t pose any real dangerous threat, your body reacts to stressors as if they’re life-or-death situations.  

If your sympathetic nervous system is activated, your parasympathetic nervous system (the system that regulates digestion, sleep, and other basic functions) isn’t. 

This means that sleep will be futile until you’re able to relax a little.

Adaptogens work to reduce both short-term and long-term stress. You may feel a little more relaxed after taking adaptogens, and studies show that participants feel less stressed after taking adaptogens regularly for several weeks.  

Here are how to enhance your sleep quality. 

Enhance GABA Receptors

GABA is a mood-regulating amino acid. 

It helps to calm your nervous system and prevent your brain from stimulating neurons that might overreact to certain messages, and GABA can prevent you from becoming overly anxious. 

As you might guess, GABA can help to reduce stress (both physical and mental). GABA may also help promote sleep and calm feelings

In essence, it can help to combat those pre-bed stressful feelings and help lull you off to dreamland. 

Adaptogens, such as Ashwagandha, can help enhance GABA receptors, inhibiting stress response signals sent by the brain. 

Increase Serotonin

Serotonin is a chemical that can both help to improve your mood and enhance sleep — though it may also serve many other purposes, including increasing memory and cognitive functions. 

Our serotonin levels may dip as the result of several different factors, including poor diet, not enough exercise, too little exposure to natural light, and too much stress.

Yes, you read that right: higher stress levels may lead to lower levels of serotonin. Meaning, increased stress may affect your mood in more ways than one.

Adaptogens may help regulate serotonin levels. And since serotonin has an antidepressant effect on the body, it may help to lower stress and improve mood. 

What are the best adaptogens for sleep?

Any adaptogen may help improve sleep. Since adaptogens all work to repair those stress stems, we can glean some sleep bennies from pretty much any ingredient officially labeled as an adaptogen. 

Yet, there are some adaptogens that pull double-duty when it comes to sliding off to a REM state of bliss. 

Ashwagandha, reishi, cordyceps, and Rhodiola may all help to repair the stress stem — and they may also provide some short-term benefits that lead to better sleep. 


Ashwagandha is sort of the super adaptogen. In clinical trials, participants have reported that ashwagandha decreased stress and improved sleep when taken for at least eight weeks. 

This adaptogen may help enhance GABA receptors, increasing serotonin and preventing the brain from sending stress signals to the wrong receptors. 

Studies have shown that ashwagandha may help you fall asleep faster and may even help you stay asleep throughout the night. 

If you’re someone that lays awake at night, struggling to relax or someone who constantly wakes up and can’t seem to make it to that necessary deep state of sleep, ashwagandha may help you relax and stay relaxed. 

This adaptogen is an ingredient in several of Retreat’s nut butters and is one of the main adaptogens in our Calm hazelnut cacao superfood spread. 


In studies, reishi has been shown to increase the number of restful hours of sleep and promote non-rapid eye movement in sleep. In one study, reishi, “decreased sleep latency, increased sleeping time, non-REM sleep time, and light sleep time in pentobarbital-treated rats,” after only three days of use.

Reishi has also been shown to possibly reduce fatigue and mood disorders. 


Another adaptogen for sleep is cordyceps. This adaptogen may help improve your energy and mood throughout the day, which may then in turn help you to get a better night’s sleep.


Unlike cordyceps and reishi, Rhodiola isn’t a mushroom. This adaptogen is a bright green plant that’s indigenous to Asia and Europe. The root of this plant is used to fight fatigue and stress and (of course) help you get to sleep at night. 

Other Ingredients

Adaptogens aren’t the only “superfoods” that may help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep throughout the night. And even though adaptogens have been shown to help reduce anxiety and promote sleep, they aren’t the only ingredients that do so. 

Of course, there are other ingredients that may also help to calm stress and anxiety, too. Some of the following ingredients may help to encourage sleep — especially when combined with adaptogens. 

Some of the most popular ingredients that may help you get a better night’s sleep include cacao, melatonin, hazelnuts, and cashews. 


Cacao is a little different than its more widely known cousin, cocoa. Cacao is cocoa in its unprocessed form. 

It’s an unsweetened and slightly bitter ingredient that’s used in drinks, snacks, and other food items. You can find also find raw cacao powder. 

Even though cacao isn’t sweet itself, you can add natural sweeteners to make it taste more like cocoa (and even heat it up to taste like hot cocoa). 


The hormone melatonin has become pretty popular in the world of insomniac supplements. It’s both produced by the body and available in supplements and as an ingredient in sleep products for insomnia and jetlag. 

At night, the body releases melatonin in response to darkness, alerting your system that it’s time for bed. Light blocks the release of melatonin, which is why experts suggest turning off your lights and screens before bed.

Researchers believe that melatonin is used by the body for other reasons, too (though, more research is needed to fully understand this). 

While there are many people who swear by melatonin for insomnia, supplements aren’t recommended for long-term use. Side effects may include nausea, anxiety, and depression. Obviously, you wouldn’t want to take melatonin for insomnia — only to suffer from conditions that increase this condition. 

Hazelnuts & Cashews

Both hazelnuts and cashews are tree nuts that contain L-tryptophan — that chemical that’s found in turkey and famously causes all those Thanksgiving Day naps. 

Our bodies cannot make tryptophan on their own, so we need to get this amino acid from outside sources (such as plants or animals) if we want to make the sleepy chemical serotonin. 

While it is possible to get tryptophan through a supplement, there are some side effects and risks associated with these supplements. 

Both hazelnuts and cashews are the main ingredients in Retreat’s Calm nut butter. When combined with ashwagandha and reishi, they may help to calm stress and anxiety and promote more restful sleep. 

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