Table of Contents
- Understanding Valerian Root
- Comparing Valerian Root and Melatonin
- The Best Ways to Take Valerian Root
- Recommended Dosages
- Health Benefits of Valerian Root
If you are one of the millions of Americans who suffer from insomnia, anxiety, or fatigue, valerian root may be able to help.
This natural herb has been used since the second century to help those with nervous disorders and sleeplessness, and it is still in use today as a natural sleep aid.
Our guide shares with you all the amazing health benefits of valerian root, including how it compares with another popular sleep aid, melatonin.
We will share with you why, when, and how to use this amazing herbal treatment at home to decrease blood pressure, promote relaxation, and get a better night’s sleep.
Doctors and pharmacists have recommended this potent and reliable herbal treatment, so why not give it a try?
Let’s learn more about what valerian root is, and how it can help you.
Understanding Valerian Root
The valerian plant is a perennial, flowering shrub that is native to Asia and Europe.
When in bloom, the valerian plant’s scented flowers attract many types of insects.
This plant has been used for its medicinal properties since the time of the ancient Romans and Greeks (1).
In his writing, Hippocrates referenced valerian root’s medicinal uses, as have many since this time.
Valerian was once prescribed to help with sleeplessness and the croup, as a flavoring in food, and to treat coughing, nervousness, and pain.
Today, valerian root is widely used and trusted for its anti-anxiety and sedative properties (2).
The root of the valerian plant contains the active ingredients that make this plant so powerful.
These compounds include volatile oils like valerenic acid, as well as short-chain fatty acids like sesquiterpenes and valepotriates.
These chemicals are likely responsible for valerian root’s calming and restorative properties that make it an excellent choice to treat many conditions.
Many have tried valerian root and not even realized it, as it is often included in formulations of sleep-inducing tea blends along with chamomile and other herbs.
So, if valerian root is good for helping you go to sleep, why would you take it over other sleep aids, such as melatonin?
Let’s find out.
Comparing Valerian Root and Melatonin
Your body naturally produces melatonin in the pineal gland.
This hormone helps regulate your normal sleep-wake cycle, as the setting sun triggers the pineal gland to start producing melatonin, thereby letting you know it is time for sleep.
This release of hormones generally occurs around nine at night, and you quickly begin to feel tired and have a harder time to stay alert.
You start to want to go to bed.
Melatonin levels remain elevated for about 12 hours, returning to nearly undetectable levels about nine the next morning after the sun has risen.
When your body is producing less melatonin than you need to feel sleepy, or when your sleep-wake cycle is interrupted and you are not able to distinguish day from night, you can suffer from insomnia, early waking, or other forms of sleeplessness.
Valerian root induces sleep differently.
Instead of triggering a hormonal reaction, like melatonin, valerian root instead increases the level of gamma-aminobutyric acid, also known as GABA.
GABA’s function in the brain is to calm neural activity, quiet the mind, and allow you to fall asleep.
Many people today experience insomnia because they have so many worries, and a valerian root is an excellent option for you if this is causing your wakefulness.
Both melatonin and valerian root are helpful for those with insomnia and other sleep disorders.
Each of these treatments has been shown to lower blood pressure and improve time asleep.
Do not take melatonin and valerian root together.
Because they both depress the nervous system, taking them together could result in extreme sleepiness.
Valerian root’s benefits also include helping to lower stress and anxiety, as well as to treat muscle cramps and spasms.
Possible side effects of the use of valerian root include digestive problems, uneasiness, excitability, dizziness, and headache.
Do not take valerian root if you are also taking other sleep aids or drugs that induce drowsiness.
Melatonin has been used to treat insomnia, is currently being investigated as a possible treatment for those undergoing cancer therapies, and could help patients with Alzheimer’s disease and ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
The possible side effects of melatonin use include dizziness, stomach cramps, headache, feeling sleepy during the day, irritability, and depressive feelings that last a short time.
Do not take melatonin with medications or supplements that thin the blood or have additional sedative effects.
The Best Ways to Take Valerian Root
In the U.S., valerian root is classified as safe.
You can purchase valerian root in many different forms from health food and vitamin suppliers.
The most common forms include capsules that contain dry powdered root, teas, extracts, and tinctures.
You can also find valerian root essential oil, which can be used externally.
The smell of valerian root may be quite off-putting, but the taste is not as strong as the smell, so do not be surprised if you notice a strong odor coming from your valerian root supplements.
To achieve the best results, try taking valerian root consistently for several weeks.
This will increase its effects on your GABA production, and help you enjoy the full benefit of this herbal treatment.
If you are having trouble sleeping, take valerian root one to two hours before you go to bed.
If you have been experiencing insomnia for one or more nights and need relief, start taking smaller doses of valerian root throughout the day, with the final dose closer to your bedtime.
To treat insomnia, the following doses are a good starting point.
You may need to adjust depending on your size, tolerance, and other factors.
- Dried powdered extract – Take between 250 and 600 milligrams
- Tea – Steep one teaspoon of dried root with one cup of boiling water for five to ten minutes before drinking.
- Tincture – Use one to one and a half teaspoons.
- Fluid extract – Use one-half to one teaspoon.
After your sleep improves, begin taking valerian root regularly for several weeks.
To treat anxiety, it is recommended that you take between 120 and 200 milligrams up to four times per day.
Health Benefits of Valerian Root
From helping you sleep better in treating anxiety, high blood pressure, and much more, valerian root’s powerful medicinal properties make it an excellent, natural option for many people today.
Below, you will learn about the many ways you can use valerian root supplements to help you sleep better, feel more relaxed, and enjoy improved health and well-being.
Natural Sleep Aid
Research confirms that valerian root helps you fall asleep faster and can enhance the overall quality of your sleep.
If you have trouble falling asleep at night, valerian root can be a real help.
The side effects of taking valerian root are much milder than those from prescription sleeping pills, and you are more likely to wake up feeling refreshed and awake than with other forms of sleep aids.
A Swedish research study confirmed that valerian root was effective at improving sleep for nearly all of the study participants, with two out of five reporting perfect sleep after taking this herbal treatment, and nearly nine out of ten reporting improved sleep.
No side effects were reported by study participants, either (3).
Even children can benefit from the mild sedative effects of valerian root.
When combined with other sedating herbs like lemon balm, children with minor sleep disorders have reported better sleep when taking these two herbs together, compared with those who took a placebo (4).
The efficacy of valerian root in assisting sleep is due to a chemical known as linarin, which increases levels of GABA in the brain (5).
GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, is a type of neurotransmitter that inhibits signals in the central nervous system.
By calming nerve activity, valerian root can, therefore, create a sedative effect in many people.
Can Lower Blood Pressure
Valerian root is not only effective at calming the mind so you sleep better, but it also can lower blood pressure.
The release of GABA in the brain also signals other autonomic responses in your body, including the calming of the heart and lowering of blood pressure.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, can cause damage to your heart over time, and if left unchecked can increase your chances of having a stroke or heart attack.
Hypertension is a risk factor for heart disease, so you want to be sure you are keeping your blood pressure at healthy levels as much as possible.
The fact that valerian root can help lower blood pressure means it can both help you sleep well and improve your heart health.
Not only can the release of GABA caused by valerian root help you sleep better, but this important neurotransmitter can help relieve anxiety.
Prescription medications that are used to treat anxiety, such as Valium and Xanax, also work by increasing GABA levels in the brain.
The compounds in valerian root, then, including valerenic acid and valerenol, work in the same way as these drugs to calm anxious feelings and treat symptoms of anxiety (6).
This is good news for those who suffer from anxiety, as valerian root’s herbal properties come with significantly fewer side effects than prescription medications.
You should not take valerian root if you are also taking antidepressants or other anti-anxiety medications.
Can Help Treat ADHD
Those who suffer from ADHD often exhibit behaviors and symptoms such as restlessness, anxiety, and obsessive behavior.
All of these are signs of GABA deficiency.
Since valerian root is effective at triggering the release of GABA, it could help those with ADHD manage some of their symptoms.
In a study on children ages five to 11, researchers noted that participants who took valerian root three times per day for at least two weeks reported improvements in ADHD symptoms, including impulsiveness, hyperactivity, and inattention.
After discontinuing the valerian root treatment, symptoms returned within one week (7).
Additional research on children confirms similar results in those who have difficulty concentrating or controlling their actions, but who have not been diagnosed with ADHD.
Students in this study were given a combination treatment using valerian root and lemon balm (8).
Relieves Symptoms of Menstruation
Because valerian root is able to relax and calm, it may be a helpful treatment for some who experience menstrual cramps.
Valerian root is effective at reducing the severity of and pain associated with menstrual cramps, which is good news for women who have severe or even moderate PMS each month.
In addition to being a natural sedative, valerian root’s properties include antispasmodic agents, which can suppress the spasms that cause menstrual pain.
This natural muscle relaxer works gently and effectively to help relieve this pain and discomfort.
Researchers in Iran studied valerian root’s ability to calm the uterine contractions that cause menstrual cramps in women and found significant improvement in those who used valerian root (9).
In addition, valerian root can help those women who are experiencing sleep disruptions and other symptoms due to menopause.
Valerian root has been shown to be effective at improving sleep quality for at least one-third of women during menopause (10).
In another study, menopausal women taking valerian root also noted improvement in other common symptoms, including hot flashes (11).
Helps Manage Stress
When valerian root’s medicinal properties are able successfully to improve your sleep quality and length, as well as reduce anxiety, valerian root is able to help you cope better with your daily stress.
Because stress, especially chronic stress, can increase feelings of anxiety and restlessness, valerian root can help by reducing these feelings significantly.
The increased GABA levels that result from taking valerian root to relax your body as well as your mind, allowing you to deal with daily pressures and cope with stress more effectively.
Valerian root also helps by regulating your mood via maintaining more consistent levels of serotonin.
Serotonin is another type of neurotransmitter that regulates mood (12).
Valerian Root Has Many Other Health Benefits
The following are additional health benefits from using valerian root that have been noted in the medical literature.
- Valerian root may help relieve symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome or RLS. In an eight-week study, participants found that valerian root significantly decreased RLS symptoms at night, and reduced feelings of daytime sleepiness (13).
- Valerian root may help those who are undergoing cancer treatments. In an eight-week study on patients undergoing cancer treatment, patients noted some reduction in fatigue (14). The additional research noted improvements in insomnia and overall well-being in others undergoing cancer treatment, as well (15).
- Valerian root may also be effective for those with epilepsy at reducing the frequency of seizures. Valerian root was originally used hundreds of years ago to treat seizures, and animal trials today show a significant reduction in seizure frequency, as well (16).
- Taking valerian root may relieve stomach cramps and other digestive problems. Valerian root’s antispasmodic properties may make it effective at treating abdominal cramps caused by a number of gastrointestinal disorders.
- Valerian root may help improve both cognitive functioning and memory. For older adults suffering from cognitive impairment or memory loss after heart surgery, valerian root has been found to reduce the risk of cognitive decline (17).
- Those suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, may experience a reduction in symptoms when taking valerian root, according to an eight-week study (18).
- In animal trials, valerian root has been shown to be successful in reducing kidney damage caused by high levels of cholesterol (19).
Valerian root is regarded as safe and effective by medical professionals.
Some side effects of valerian root, though, include dizziness, headaches, and stomach troubles, but these are generally mild.
Rarely, those taking valerian root experience paradoxical effects, seeing increased symptoms of restlessness and anxiety rather than a reduction in these symptoms.
Studies investigating the impact of valerian root on fertility and fetal development generally show no harmful effects, but more research is needed in this area to confirm these results.
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should talk with their doctor before taking valerian root.
Do not give valerian root to children under the age of 14 without first discussing the supplementation with your doctor, as well.
The majority of people who take valerian root experience no problems with dependency and the root causes no symptoms of withdrawal in most people.
There are rare reports of individuals experiencing withdrawal after taking valerian root for extended periods.
If you have been taking valerian root for a very long time and would like to stop taking it, you will decrease your likelihood of developing withdrawal symptoms if you gradually lower your dosage, rather than stopping the treatment immediately.
Valerian root is known to induce sleepiness, and for this reason, you should not take valerian root before you drive, operate heavy equipment, or need to engage in activities that require you to be alert.
It is not recommended that you combine valerian root with any other sleep aid, whether over-the-counter or prescription, as this can increase the effects of other medicines.
You should not combine valerian root with other types of depressants, including benzodiazepines, narcotics, or alcohol.
Valerian root can greatly increase the effects of these depressants.
If you take prescription medications, talk with your doctor before taking valerian root.
Valerian can also increase the effects of other supplements, including melatonin, kava, and St. John’s wort.
If you have any chronic health issues, you should talk with your doctor before using valerian root.
If you have any kind of liver disease or disorder, you should not use valerian root.
The valerian plant has many medicinal properties that make it a safe and effective treatment for several mental and physical health disorders.
It is most effective at helping you sleep better, and relieve symptoms of insomnia and other sleep disorders.
Valerian root works as well as many prescription and over-the-counter sleep aids, and it often comes with fewer side effects that could affect your overall health.
Not only can valerian root help you sleep better, but it can also relieve anxiety, decrease blood pressure, treat menopausal and menstrual symptoms, and help with ADHD and stress management.