Those of us who struggle to get to sleep face an enduring, persistent foe: insomnia. Insomnia can be crippling, emotionally and physically, and can lead to despair, sickness, and misery. Those of us who have to deal with insomnia are often willing to try just about anything to get a good night’s sleep, even getting prescription drugs like Ambien that can cause a whole host of troubling side-effects.
There are, of course, other methods of combatting insomnia. One solution many have discussed lately is the use of Kava to promote relaxation and sleep. Is kava for sleep a viable option to fight insomnia?
In this article, I’ll take a look at the potential of kava in defeating insomnia, and what concerns users may have in using kava as a sleep aid.
- 1 Where Does Kava Come From?
- 2 Kava For Sleep
- 3 Putting it All Together: Which Kavas Are Good for Sleep and Insomnia?
- 4 Conclusion
Where Does Kava Come From?
Kava is a beverage created by grinding up the roots of the kava plant and steeping them in water. It has been consumed ceremonially and recreationally for thousands of years throughout Polynesia. It is an integral part of the traditional life of many societies, including the indigenous people from Fiji, Hawaii, Tonga, etc. in much the way that alcohol is an integral part of traditional European society throughout history.
It is currently only grown in Polynesia, and it is dried and packaged for export to the rest of the world.
Kava For Sleep
Kava can be a useful sleep aid, but it depends on the type of kava, format, and use. Most kava drinkers find that their body is calmed and soothed, and as their kava mellow continues on, the temptation to crawl into bed and doze off becomes more and more present.
In the end, kava can be effective in encouraging sleep. But like all drugs for sleep, it isn’t really a good long-term solution. If you have occasional insomnia, the right kava may well help get you to conk off. But if you have chronic insomnia, kava is almost certainly not the answer, or at least not the only answer.
To determine if kava might help you with insomnia, you need to first pick the right kava, and then ingest it properly. To do this, you’ll need to consider the following:
- What Type (Chemotype) of Kava you choose
- What method you use to ingest the kava
- What the source of the kava is
Before we consider kava as an insomnia treatment, it’s important to discuss the various types of kava, and their effects on the body. Only certain types of kava will promote sleep.
Varieties of Kava and their Chemotypes
Different Kavas have different kavalactone compositions or chemotypes. If you’re curious to take a deep dive into kava chemotypes, you can view that link, but most of it isn’t super important to this discussion.
For a short summary, there are six major chemotypes that makeup kava. The effects of each kava effects depend on the quantity of each of the six chemotypes are present in a given kava.
The bottom line is that most high-quality kavas available through reputable distributors and on Amazon are highest in either Dihydrokavain (DHK) or Kavain. These are “noble” kavas, and are generally the only ones you should drink.
Those with a chemotype starting with 2 are high in DHK. These tend to be somewhat sedative, and are a good choice to lull you into slumber.
Those that are high in Kavain have a chemotype starting with 4. These are “heady” kavas, and many find these to be sedating. Depending on the interplay of the other kavalactones, some of these can get on the energetic side of things.
Method of Ingestion
When many people consider using kava as a sleep aid, they may be thinking about drinking a pre-packaged Kava Tea or taking a tablet with kava in it, as they might take a sleeping pill. The thought process here is likely that kava is a natural sleep aid, and is a better choice than something like Excedrin PM or Unisom.
Yes and no. Let’s start by discussing grocery store kava teas, and then we’ll look at pills and supplements.
Store-Bought Kava Teas
The problem with grocery store Kava Tea like Yogi Kava Tea is that Yogi Kava Tea contains almost no kava, and there’s no information on what the kava is or where it comes from. There’s a tiny portion of kava in there, and it says so on the box, but it’s not going to do anything that’s not a placebo.
Kava Pills and Supplements
What about supplements and pills? Many of them claim to have sizable amounts of kava in them.
This is true. But many, perhaps even most, of the supplements, tinctures, and the like available on the market are junk as well. There’s generally no information about what types of kava are in these pills, and there’s almost never any testing data as to what is in these kavas. Some pill manufacturers may claim that these pills are “100% noble kava”, but they almost never provide any proof of that.
A good rule of thumb is that if a vendor sells products other than kava, they should be avoided. In other words, if the business is one that trades in multiple supplements, herbs, etc., they are almost certainly purchasing bulk kava off the secondary market, and do not test the kava.
Who knows whats in it.
Why Does This Matter?
There’s very little regulation of Kava in the US, as it is classified as a supplement. The FDA makes no distinction between Noble and Tudei Kava, though users certainly should. About 20 years ago, there were some significant issues with people taking poorly-made kava supplements and tinctures that ultimately lead to liver failure, hepatoxicity, and death.
This led to many countries banning kava for about a generation. However, scientists did a great deal of work investigating this phenomenon, and ultimately most countries reversed their ban on kava.
The conclusions these scientists found are still a little bit ambiguous. However, they noted that:
- Kava has been used safely for millennia among the people of Polynesia in a traditional preparation
- Most of the liver issues involved people taking poor quality kava extracts that involved parts of the plant not normally consumed
- Many of those that had liver issues consumed kava with other drugs, including alcohol
For this reason, it is best to purchase your kava from reputable vendors that specialize in kava. These vendors typically purchase their kava from specific farms and have their kavas tested in independent labs. They also provide this data for each of their kavas.
Traditional Kava Consumption
As mentioned above, high-quality kava is typically available only in a dried format. This dried kava comes in two types: medium-grind and micronized. Medium Grind is the most common format and is the most widely available format for kava. Here are the basics of how you make kava tea using medium-grind kava. This kava needs to be soaked in water, agitated and strained before drinking.
Alternately, you could choose to go with instant kava, which generally doesn’t need to be strained. Typically you just mix instant kava with water or other beverage, stir, and drink.
The bad news is that this stuff tastes… really bad. Try to gulp it down as quickly as possible. Some find that mixing kava with juice or chasing it with soda water is an effective way to drink kava.
Kava Vendors and Brands
There are several high-quality kava vendors and brands that sell their kava online. There are not a whole lot of ways to get good kava locally, and your best bet is to purchase online unless you have a kava bar near you.
A problem right now is that it can be hard to tell the difference between “good” vendors and “bad” vendors. And new vendors pop up all the time.
Putting it All Together: Which Kavas Are Good for Sleep and Insomnia?
Ultimately, what we’re looking for is a good quality Kava that is high in DHK from a reputable brand in Medium Grind or Instant format.
Here are a few great choices for kavas that fit the bill.
Kalm With Kava is certainly one of the best kava vendors around, and this kava is an excellent choice for relaxation and a drift-off to sleep. It is high in Kavain and in DHK, so it may be a bit less sedative than the BHK Borogu mentioned above. However, the instant format means this stuff is very easy to prepare, and the easy shipping from Amazon makes this kava an excellent choice for insomnia.
Last update on 2020-02-16 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Kavafied is another solid kava supplier, and it is the company behind the Aluball kava-making kit. The Aluball radically simplifies the preparation of medium-grind kava, and has revolutionized the process of making kava.
Kavafied’s Kava Supreme is high in DHK and Kavain, and will help you drift off in a calming slumber.
Last update on 2020-02-16 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
This kava, supplied by Bula Kava House in Portland, features a high quantity of DHK. It will relax you into a pleasant sense of blissful calm. It is an outstanding kava for insomnia, and will almost certainly chill you out. It’s currently only available through BHK’s website, and shipping might be a little slow.
Kava can be a significant aid to sleep, and can naturally induce a calm, snoozy state. These can be an excellent choice to help you sleep, especially if you have intermittent insomnia. But as mentioned in the introduction, kava isn’t a long term solution to insomnia and sleep issues.
For a detailed look at sleep, why we need it, and what we can do to improve sleep, be sure to dig into sleep researcher Dr. Michael Walker’s Why We Sleep. It’s the best sleep guide and resource out there.
Additionally, consider trying some meditation for sleep to help calm the body further.
Good luck, and don’t leave that screen on too late!