Saffron improves sleep quantity and quality, according to RCT

By Nikki Hancocks contact

- Last updated on GMT

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getty | monkey business images

Related tags: saffron, Sleep, Cognitive health, botanical

Six weeks of saffron supplementation led to improved sleep duration and quality in a recent study involving 66 volunteers, suggesting it could be a natural and safe replacement for sleeping pills.

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. 

Saffron, dried stigmas of the plant Crocus sativus L.,​ is used in traditional medicine, and its compounds, safranal, crocins, and crocetin seem to induce beneficial effects on sleep duration and quality​.

While several have found beneficial effects of saffron on sleep duration and/or quality, most of the data have been acquired based on questionnaires solely and/or isolated purified molecules. Isolated compounds rarely have the same degree of activity as the unrefined extract at comparable concentrations or dose of the active compound. 

The aim of the present study was to evaluate the effect of a standardised saffron extract (15.5 mg per day) on sleep quality of subjects presenting mild to moderate sleep troubles associated to anxiety. The study used both questionnaires and actimeters allowing the measurement of the intensity, the amount, and the duration of physical movement in all directions.

The results suggest that six weeks of saffron extract supplementation led to an improvement of several parameters related to sleep quality: time in bed (TIB) evaluated by actigraphy, the ease of getting to sleep evaluated by the LSEQ (Leeds Sleep Evaluation Questionnaire), the sleep quality, sleep latency, sleep duration, and global scores evaluated by the PSQI questionnaire (Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index).

In addition, saffron supplementation improved the bodily pain score, the physical global score, and the emotional limitation score assessed by the SF-36 questionnaire.The researchers say this is the first study to look at the effects of a saffron extract on sleep related parameters in participants suffering from mild to moderate chronic primary sleep disorder. 

The study

This double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled parallel study enrolled 66 volunteers through the Center of Investigation in Clinical Nutrition, Belgium, between August 2019 and October 2020.

To be included, the subjects had to meet the following criteria: woman or man aged between 25 and 70 years, presenting mild to moderate chronic primary sleep disorder (Insomnia Severity Index), presenting mild to moderate anxiety (Perceived Stress Scale), and for concerned woman use of effective contraception.

The subjects were randomly assigned to the placebo (275 mg of maltodextrin) or the saffron group (stratified by gender). Both groups were instructed to ingest one capsule with a glass of water every day in the evening for six weeks.

For the saffron group, the capsule contained 15.5 mg of a saffron extract (Saffr’activ; 1.6 mg of dry saffron extract, of which 0.9 mg of crocins and 0.7 mg of safranal) plus 259.5 mg of maltodextrin.Sleep quality was assessed using objective (actigraphy) and subjective (questionnaires) approaches. One week before, at the middle, and at the end, of the intervention. 

Research background

These results confirm and complete the study of Lopresti et al.​, which evaluated the effects of a 28-day saffron extract supplementation (2 × 14 mg per day) in subjects with mild to moderate sleep disorders. Compared to placebo, saffron led to a greater reduction of the insomnia severity score (without, however, eliminating the problem of insomnia) and the non-restorative sleep score measured by the Relationship Scales Questionnaire. Based on a sleep diary, saffron increased the rating of sleep quality. 

In the latter study​, the decrease in the ISI severity score was observed rapidly, i.e., after seven days of supplementation. Here, the effects of the saffron extract on sleep related parameters were detectable only after 6 weeks, with a tendency for some parameters to be improved after 3 weeks of intervention.

In both studies, the saffron extract contained crocins and safranal, although in different quantities. Both studies observed a positive effect of a saffron extract on the ISI score, which is eventually an important effect of saffron related to sleep.The mechanisms of action of saffron extract on sleep quality and sleep duration is not totally known.

Looking at the effects of the active compounds of saffron, safranal was found to activate the sleep-promoting neurons from the ventrolateral preoptic nucleus and inhibit the wakefulness-promoting neurons from the tuberomammillary nuclei in vitro​. In mice, crocins were suggested to modulate the histaminergic or cholinergic arousal system to induce non-REM sleep​.

Moreover, saffron extract and its active compounds are well known to modulate the levels of serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, glutamate, and GABA-A neurotransmitters [1,​ 2​, 3​].

Based on their role in anxiety, depression, and insomnia, the authors of the current study suggest regulation of the brain levels of those neurotransmitters by saffron probably largely contribute to the positive effects of saffron on sleep quality.

Source: Nutrients

Pachikian, B.D.; Copine, S.; Suchareau, M.; Deldicque, L. 

"Effects of Saffron Extract on Sleep Quality: A Randomized Double-Blind Controlled Clinical Trial"

https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13051473 (registering DOI)

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