Korean ginseng remains a favorite herb in traditional Chinese medicine and holistic folk medicine for increasing energy and endurance. This root herb does not improve sleep for most, but may reduce anxiety, which indirectly influences sleep. Keep in mind that Korean Ginseng, or Panax ginseng, is not the same root as American or Siberian ginseng, although they are related. Talk to your medical provider before self-medicating with Korean ginseng.
History of Panax Ginseng
Panax ginseng is native to Korean and China and has been used medicinally for thousands of years. Chinese medical texts from the first century describe ginseng as a superior herb for promoting longevity and vitality. In 1976, a reportedly 400-year old sample was sold for $10,000 per ounce, according to MedlinePlus.
Ginseng is typically used as a cure-all, or a tonic for improving overall health. Chinese herbalists recommend it for the “ill, weak, or elderly,” reports the Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. As an adaptogen, the herb is used to help the body adapt to stress and strengthen the immune system, although this claim has not been sufficiently demonstrated by modern laboratory studies. The most commonly reported effect of Korean ginseng is increased physical, sexual and mental energy. Paradoxically, sometimes ginseng is suggested in traditional Chinese medicine for calming anxiety and stress.
Effects on Sleep
Korean ginseng reportedly can disturb sleep and increase the likelihood for insomnia. However, ginseng may also reduce the time it takes to fall asleep for some people by reducing stress. This anti-stress effect may be due to the effects of ginseng on the brain, specifically by the modifying GABAergic neurotransmitters.
Treatment for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Korean ginseng has some evidence for successfully treating chronic fatigue syndrome, which is characterized by general fatigue as well as sleep-related problems. In a 2004 study published in “Psychological Medicine,” a two-month treatment of Panax ginseng lessened fatigue for those suffering from moderate cases of chronic fatigue.
Use in Sleep Laboratories
Ginseng’s well-known effect on sleep has come in handy for sleep researchers, who have tested the herb as a way to decrease the “first night effect.” In sleep laboratories, the first nights are often marked by strange sleep patterns, as patients are generally uncomfortable sleeping in new locations. In a 2009 study published in “Sleep,” researchers found that fermented ginseng administered to subjects lessened awakenings during the night and lessened the time it takes to fall sleep.
Despite its purported anti-anxiety effects, Korean ginseng may act a stimulant, so do not take it with other stimulants including caffeine. Overdoses of ginseng have been reported. This condition is called “ginseng intoxication,” which may include symptoms of headaches, insomnia, dizziness, seeing spots and gastrointestinal discomfort.
- PubMed.gov: Randomized Controlled Trial of Siberian Ginseng for Chronic Fatigue; 2004 Jan; vol.34, no.1, pp.51-61.
- “Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine:” KoreanGinseng; 2001, Kristine Krapp and Jacqueline Longe, Eds., pp.750-753
- MedlinePlus: Ginseng, Panax
- National Center for Alternative and Complementary Medicine: Asian Ginseng
- “Sleep”; Fermented Ginseng Improves the First-Night Effect in Humans; 2009 March 1; vol.32, no.3, pp. 413–421.