The Pacific herb kava (or kava-kava) has a long-standing history of use in naturopathic medicine. Traditionally, healers have used kava to treat restlessness, mood problems, insomnia and agitation. In modern naturopathy, kava is most commonly used as a holistic treatment for anxiety. Some people also use kava as a sedative or sleep aid.
Although its use is controversial due to the potential risk of liver damage, kava does appear to be highly effective as a traetment for anxiety. In fact, it may surpass the efficacy of prescription benzodiazepines such as Xanax and Valium. However, the use of kava to help you sleep remains less understood.
Some studies suggest that kava works like benzodiazepines, meaning that it has an overall depressant, sedative effect. Anxiety and insomnia are closely related conditions, and people with anxiety disorders are more prone to chronic insomnia. In theory, by slowing down the central nervous system and treating underlying anxiety, kava may help you sleep.
There’s very good evidence proving that kava can treat anxiety. However, evidence of its efficacy as an insomnia treatment is inconsistent. Although some studies have found a benefit, others have not. Overall, kava appears to be slightly more effective than placebo for helping you sleep. It works best for people with insomnia related to anxiety.
It’s not a good idea to use kava to help you sleep, especially if your sleeping problems are unrelated to underlying psychological disturbances. Kava has been linked to several cases of liver damage, even in healthy individuals. Although this risk is worth the benefits for some people with anxiety, there isn’t enough evidence suggesting that kava’s use as a sleep aid can outweigh its potentially lethal risks.
Before using kava to help you sleep, seek other holistic treatment options. Massage, hydrotherapy, heat therapy, aromatherapy, meditation, and relaxation exercises may help. Other herbal supplements, such as valerian, chamomile and lavender may help you sleep with fewer side effects than kava-kava.
Visit the National Institutes of Health or University of Maryland Medical Center for more information about kava-kava root.