Kava For Anxiety & Insomnia

Kava For Anxiety & Insomnia

Nick Dunne

A question – what does a herb grown in the cold, mountainous regions of Siberia (Rhodiola) have in common with a herb grown in the hot, humid islands of the Pacific (Kava)? Although they are grown in completely different climates and conditions, they both help with stress and anxiety. Leading up to the festive season I often write about herbs which may help with stress and anxiety. Unfortunately, as Christmas approaches, many may feel under pressure and there’s often a feeling of being overwhelmed and stressed. This year is no different except in addition to this we have been through a tough year with bushfires and COVID. Often insomnia goes hand in hand with anxiety, and usually when I write about treatment of anxiety as well as insomnia, I often suggest different herbs for each condition. Fortuitously, one herb which has been found to sometimes help both anxiety and insomnia is Kava.

I’m sure most have heard of Kava, the root which has traditionally been used for thousands of years in many Pacific Islands as a ceremonial and social drink. Kava has over time become known for its therapeutic benefits, particularly in relation to reducing stress and anxiety plus assisting with insomnia. It has become known for producing a feeling of relaxation, wellbeing and contentment which is why for quite some time, Kava has piqued the interest of researchers. It has been found Kava influences the neurotransmitters in our brain, and in particular those affecting mood and sleep.

These calming qualities have instigated several studies exploring the effects of Kava extract. An initial study published in 1997 (1) found compared to placebo there was a substantial reduction in the severity of the participants’ anxiety. Following on from this study, other studies found Kava to be beneficial for treatment of anxiety. A review undertaken by the Cochrane Collaboration of 11 of these studies also found Kava extract to be helpful in treating anxiety. (2)

It is also believed Kava may enable a feeling of physical and mental relaxation as well as improve our mood and cognitive performance. When it comes to our moods, it is thought Kava may sometimes assist in the management and symptomatic relief of mood swings which may help to maintain healthy moods. Interestingly, it may also assist in treatment of anxiety and emotional symptoms related to menopause as well as Premenstrual Syndrome.

As often happens, when we are suffering from stress and anxiety, we find we also suffer from insomnia. The great benefit of Kava is it has often been found to help with sleeplessness. It is also believed Kava may enhance the quality of the sleep plus also reduce the amount of time it takes to get to sleep.

It can also be helpful as a muscle relaxant. We know tense muscles once again often go hand in hand with stress and anxiety. Kava can be used to treat both nervous and muscular tension.

The good news is, Kava is available in tablet. It is important to note it is suggested Kava should not be taken for more than 4 weeks without a break of at least 4 months. Kava should not be taken during pregnancy or whilst breastfeeding. It should not be taken if taking central nervous system depressants or L-dopa and antiparkinson drugs.

Because Kava should not be taken long term, there are other herbs which can be helpful if we are needing a long-term supplement. Rhodiola also known as arctic root is a great adaptogen herb which helps our body to adapt to stress. It is believed to help with mild depression and memory and concentration, as well as enhance our energy levels (always something helpful coming into Christmas!). Another herb I have often written about for treatment of stress and anxiety is Withania also known as Indian Ginseng. Withania is also an adaptogen herb which means it can adjust to both psychological as well as physical stress, helping calm the nervous system.

Sometimes we have found it beneficial to take a combination of Kava with Rhodiola and Withania for a short time and then continue with a combination of Rhodiola and Withania long term.

For further information on treatment of stress and anxiety or any other health question call to see Bev and the team at Go Vita, Your Health Shop in 5 North St, Batemans Bay or phone on 024472973. Tune in to Bev on 2EC every Wednesday at 12.30pm for Go Get Healthy.


(1)Pharmacopsychiatry 1997; 30(1):1-5 hp Volz, MKeiser

(2) Kava extract for treating anxiety (Cochrane Database Syst. Rev 2002)