Sweet Dreams from a Precious Spice

A natural and safe replacement for sleeping pills has possibly been found in one of the world’s most precious spices, Saffron. Six weeks of saffron supplementation led to improved sleep duration and quality in a recent study.

Insomnia and sleep disorders are major concerns around the world, principally in western societies. Sleeping pills involve an elevated risk of dependency, morbidity, and even mortality with long-term use. Used in traditional medicine, Saffron, the dried stigmas of the plant Crocus sativus L., and its compounds, safranal, crocins, and crocetin seem to induce beneficial effects on sleep duration and quality.

The results of the study, carried out by the Centre of Investigation in Clinical Nutrition in Belgium, suggest that six weeks of saffron extract supplementation led to an improvement of several parameters related to sleep quality including time in bed, the ease of getting to sleep, sleep quality, and sleep duration.

The saffron supplementation also improved the bodily pain score, the physical global score, and the emotional limitation score, assessed by a questionnaire.

Looking at the effects of the active compounds of saffron, safranal was found to activate the sleep-promoting neurons in subjects and inhibit the wakefulness-promoting neurons. Moreover, saffron extract and its active compounds are well known to modulate the levels of serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, glutamate, and GABA-A neurotransmitters – all of which have a role in anxiety, depression, and insomnia.