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Does Valerian Root help with Sleep?

Updated on June 11, 2016

What is Valerian Root?

Valerian root comes from a flowering plant that grows in Europe, parts of Asia, and (more recently) North America. Valerian is a medicinal herb with a long history; it was used in ancient Rome and Greece and also in medieval Europe. Even centuries ago, valerian root was used to treat insomnia and for its soothing effects against anxiety, restlessness, and stomach cramps. Medicinal valerian root is made from the plant’s root. It may be made into a powder and put into capsules or pressed into an extract.

The Benefits of Valerian Root

Valerian root can be used to treat anxiety, stress, and sleep disorders. Its most popular use is as a sleep aid for insomnia. Many people prefer it as a natural alternative to medication, and it has a reputation of being gentle but effective. According to its proponents, valerian root can help you to fall asleep more easily and to get longer, higher-quality sleep during the night. The scientific evidence on the effectiveness of valerian root is mixed.

Many studies have found that valerian root is highly effective in improving sleep. Studies such as this 2007 study, however, claim that valerian is not effective as a sleep aid. This comprehensive overview of 16 studies cautiously summarizes that the evidence suggests that valerian does help to improve sleep, but it stresses that more research is necessary. The takeaway should be that scientists aren’t entirely sure whether valerian root truly works. You should be cautious about extreme claims from supplement makers, but it may be worth a try if you’re looking for a natural sleep aid.

How Valerian Root Works

Just as scientists can’t be entirely sure about whether valerian root works for sleeping, they are also not certain about how it works. Valerian root has sedative, antiseptic, analgesic, and anticonvulsant properties. It seems that most of valerian root’s effects come from how it interacts with a kind of neurotransmitter receptor called GABA. GABA lowers neuron activity in the brain, which creates a calming effect. Valerian root appears to raise GABA levels, which is what makes it helpful to treat insomnia, stress, and anxiety.

Health Precautions

Valerian root is generally thought to be a safe natural sleep aid. However, there are a number of possible valerian side effects. Some people report experiencing dizziness, stomach issues, or headaches while taking valerian root. Valerian root has not been approved for young children or for women who are pregnant or nursing, and it may be dangerous if you have a liver disease.

Because valerian is a sedative, it may increase the effects of other sedatives, including narcotics, alcohol, and benzodiazepines (such as Valium). If you are taking any other medications, you may want to talk to your doctor about any possible interactions with valerian root before you start taking it.

How to Use Valerian Root as a Sleep Aid

Valerian root is available in multiple forms. You may take it as a tincture, as an extract, in a capsule, or as tea made from the powdered valerian root. All of these forms can help you to treat sleep disorders. Depending on your needs, you may want to take it once a day, about 1 hour before going to sleep, or about 3 times a day to help you feel relaxed for longer.

A number of studies have found that valerian root takes time to work. Many people do not feel its sleep aid effects until they have been taking it for two or three weeks, so be patient. Once your insomnia has improved, you can continue taking valerian root daily for up to six weeks. If you have any concerns about using valerian root, it’s always a good idea to consult with your doctor.

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    • Lipnancy profile image

      Nancy Yager 

      2 years ago from Hamburg, New York

      Actually when used for sleep, Valerian root should be taken at least 3 hours before sleep. Taking it as you would a sleeping pill an hour before bed just does not work.

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