Valerian root for sleeping

Valerian

Topic Overview

What is valerian?

Valerian is an herb that people have used for centuries for anxiety and as a sleep aid. It is also used to ease menstrual and stomach cramps. It comes from the root of the valerian plant, found in areas of North America, Europe, and Asia. Of the more than 200 known species of valerian, the Eurasian variety V. officinalis is the one people use most often as medicine. Valerian root is known for smelling like sweaty socks.

Valerian is sold as a dietary supplement and is available as an extract in powder or liquid form, as a dried herb in tea form, or in pills. As a sleep aid, valerian is most effective if you take it shortly before bedtime. For anxiety, you may take a dose 3 times or more during the day, including before bedtime.

People often use valerian in combination with other herbs, including St. John’s wort, passionflower, lemon balm, kava, and hops.

Valerian does not interfere with sleep cycles or with restful REM sleep.

What is valerian root used for?

People use valerian to relieve anxiety, depression, and poor sleep, and also to ease menstrual and stomach cramps. Valerian has a mild calming effect that does not usually result in sleepiness the next day. As a sleep aid, valerian seems to be most effective for people who have trouble falling asleep and who consider themselves to be poor sleepers. It also has had good results for people who wake up during the night. Some studies show that valerian may provide quick relief for poor sleep. But it may take 2 to 4 weeks of daily use to bring improved sleep for people with serious insomnia.footnote 1 Other studies show that valerian did not help with insomnia.

Is valerian root safe?

Side effects from valerian are rare but can include mild headache or stomach upset, abnormal heartbeats, and insomnia. Because of valerian’s calming effect, you should not take it at the same time as other calming medicines or antidepressants (or do so only under medical supervision). You also should not take valerian if you will be driving or need to be alert.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate dietary supplements in the same way it regulates medicine. A dietary supplement can be sold with limited or no research on how well it works.

Always tell your doctor if you are using a dietary supplement or if you are thinking about combining a dietary supplement with your conventional medical treatment. It may not be safe to forgo your conventional medical treatment and rely only on a dietary supplement. This is especially important for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

When using dietary supplements, keep in mind the following:

  • Like conventional medicines, dietary supplements may cause side effects, trigger allergic reactions, or interact with prescription and nonprescription medicines or other supplements you might be taking. A side effect or interaction with another medicine or supplement may make other health conditions worse.
  • Dietary supplements may not be standardized in their manufacturing. This means that how well they work or any side effects they cause may differ among brands or even within different lots of the same brand. The form you buy in health food or grocery stores may not be the same as the form used in research.
  • The long-term effects of most dietary supplements, other than vitamins and minerals, are not known. Many dietary supplements are not used long-term.

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Bagheri-Nesami M, Gorji MA, Rezaie S, Pouresmail Z, Cherati JY. Effect of acupressure with valerian oil 2.5% on the quality and quantity of sleep in patients with acute coronary syndrome in a cardiac intensive care unit. J Tradit Complement Med. 2015;5(4):241-247.

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Coxeter PD, Schluter PJ, Eastwood HL, Nikles CJ, Glasziou PP. Valerian does not appear to reduce symptoms for patients with chronic insomnia in general practice using a series of randomised n-of-1 trials. Complement Ther Med. 2003;11(4):215-222.

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Gromball J, Beschorner F, Wantzen C, Paulsen U, Burkart M. Hyperactivity, concentration difficulties and impulsiveness improve during seven weeks’ treatment with valerian root and lemon balm extracts in primary school children. Phytomedicine. 2014;21(8-9):1098-1103.

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Taibi DM, Vitiello MV, Barsness S, Elmer GW, Anderson GD, Landis CA. A randomized clinical trial of valerian fails to improve self-reported, polysomnographic, and actigraphic sleep in older women with insomnia. Sleep Med. 2008;10(3):319-328.

Wagner J, Wagner ML, Hening WA. Beyond benzodiazepines: alternative pharmacologic agents for the treatment of insomnia. Ann Pharmacother. 1998;32(6):680-691.

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Ziegler G, Ploch M, Miettinen-Baumann A, Collet W. Efficacy and tolerability of valerian extract LI 156 compared with oxazepam in the treatment of non-organic insomnia–a randomized, double-blind, comparative clinical study. Eur J Med Res. 2002;7(11):480-486.

Valerian is among the top-selling herbs in the United States and has long been used as a remedy for sleep disorders and anxiety . It has been recommended as potentially useful for older adults with sleep difficulties . Valerian is typically used as a sedative for insomnia symptoms but is not commonly used for other sleep disorders, although one study has evaluated its use to reduce sleep-related movements in patients with Parkinson’s disease and one study is currently investigating valerian for RLS .

Valerian is produced from the root of various plants in the Valeriana species, including Valeriana officinalis (the species most commonly used in commercial products in the United States), Valeriana wallichii (Indian valerian), and Valeriana edulis (Mexican valerian). Valerian contains a variety of chemical compounds including valerenic acid, valepotriates, amino acids, and lignans that may act synergistically to exert sedative effects . The diluent used for the extraction process (water alone vs. a water–alcohol mixture) affects the constituents present in the final product , potentially resulting in varying physiological effects. The herbal product is made from the dried whole root or dried root extract and administered medicinally in a capsule or tablet, as a tincture, or made into tea. To demonstrate product quality, commercially formulated valerian capsules, tablets, or tinctures are commonly standardized on 0.08% valerenic acid, a pharmacologically active marker compound.

Based on in vitro and animal studies, valerian affects gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) , adenosine , and serotonin neurotransmitter mechanisms involved in sleep regulation. Several components of valerian, specifically valerenic acids and amino acids, have affinity for GABA receptors, which are involved in the promotion and maintenance of sleep. Valerian constituents also have been shown to promote release and inhibit reuptake of synaptic GABA . Valerian constituents have affinity for adenosine receptors that exert inhibitory effects in the CNS and are thought to induce sleepiness as time awake increases . Adenosine also is involved in the regulation of both rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep stages. Although valerian has been shown to affect specific components of sleep regulation mechanisms, little is known about how the herb gains access to the CNS or what component of herb has active sedation properties. Numerous animal studies have shown general sedative effects of valerian and its constituents .

Few studies have specifically investigated the effects of valerian on sleep in older adults. One double-blind, placebo-controlled randomized crossover clinical trial (RCCT) of older adults with mild sleep complaints tested an ethanolic extract of valerian root V. officinalis (a 300 or 600 mg dose), the type of valerian product similar to those most commonly used in the United States and found no significant differences between valerian and placebo on PSG or self-reported sleep outcomes . This study may be criticized because valerian was administered for only one night, and because it is commonly recommended that valerian requires at least 2 weeks of use to achieve effectiveness. However, two double-blind, placebo-controlled randomized clinical trials (RCTs) and one RCCT of the same valerian product (LI 156, or Sedonium®) in younger adults for 14–28 nights also showed no significant differences between valerian and placebo in self-rated or PSG sleep outcomes . Other studies in older adults tested different types of valerian preparations: aqueous extracts (extracted with water alone) or preparations high in valepotriate content. One double-blind, placebo-controlled RCT tested the effects of an aqueous valerian extract given three times daily for 8 days to 14 older women with insomnia and found no significant differences between the valerian and placebo on self-report or PSG sleep outcomes . A double-blind, placebo-controlled RCT tested an aqueous extract of valerian given three times daily for 30 days to German elder home residents with behavioral disturbance and sleep problems. A greater proportion of those given valerian than those given placebo had reduced sleep disturbance ratings but the significance of this finding was not reported . A non-randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial of elder home residents with sleep disturbance tested 14 days of a high-valepotriate valerian preparation and found that a significantly greater proportionof individuals given valerian than placebo reported reduced sleep latency and improved sleep maintenance . The type of valerian preparation used in this study is not available in the United States because of cytotoxic effects of valepotriates.

Although two studies showed positive effects of valerian in older adults , the studies were not rigorously designed, and findings were based on self-reported and less validated outcomes compared to more recent trials. Two of the trials that measured both self-report and PSG sleep outcomes found no significant effects of valerian on sleep , consistent with the larger body of literature on valerian. A recent comprehensive systematic review of valerian examined 37 clinical trials of valerian and found that the overall evidence on valerian failed to show efficacy for sleep disturbances . Most of the studies were small and underpowered to find significant changes. However, several recent studies with adequate power and rigorous designs have shown no signi-ficant effects of valerian on sleep disturbance , which corroborates the null findings from the broader body of research literature on valerian.

Although valerian is not effective for improving sleep, it is among one of the safest herbs. Several large post-marketing studies have been done on valerian preparations and preparations of valerian in combination with hops, lemon balm, and/or passion flower. The majority of patients (70–90%) in these studies rated the tolerability of the preparations as good or very good, and side effects were rare and mild. Side effects reported with valerian are usually mild and include gastrointestinal effects (e.g., nausea, diarrhea) or cognitive/nervous system effects (dizziness, morning “hangover,” drowsiness) . One case report associated valerian with paradoxical stimulation .

Valerian has only tenuously been linked to cases of transient hepatic dysfunction . In these cases, contribution of other ingested substances, particularly the herbs mistletoe and skullcap, could not be ruled out. In several cases of intentional overdose, effects were serious, but non-life threatening (tremor, stupor, elevated liver function tests) and resolved over several days to weeks . Of particular concern are the valepotriate constituents of valerian. Metabolites of these constituents produced in the stomach and bowel (baldrinals) have been shown to have mutagenic properties. It is suspected that the GI tract and liver are at greatest risk of potential adverse effects of baldrinals . Although toxicity has not been shown in humans, adverse effects would likely be cumulative from long-term use. Therefore, experts generally recommend avoiding preparations containing high levels of valepotriates. Valepotriate content is minimal in the V. officinalis species, but high levels occur in V. edulis and V. wallichii .

Valerian for Sleep

Herbal Remedy for Insomnia

Valerian herbal supplements are widely used to combat sleeplessness, anxiety and stress. This all-natural remedy is derived from the valerian plant root and comes in many forms. How does it fight insomnia? Is it safe and effective to use?

Natural remedies containing valerian plant have been used for centuries—record of valerian’s pharmacologic uses goes back to the Greeks and Romans. It’s been commonly brewed into a medicinal tea. But now valerian is also widely available in a dietary pill or capsule form and manufactured from potent oils available in the plant’s roots.

How Does Valerian Work to Promote Sleep?

Clinical studies conducted on the efficacy of valerian suggest, inconclusively, that it stimulates the brain’s GABA receptor, a neurological gateway for sleep-inducing chemicals. This process is similar to how many benzodiazepines and non-benzodiazepine sleep aids work to fight insomnia. Concrete proof of valerian’s actual neurological effects remains scientifically uncharted, but centuries of use continue to point to its effectiveness as a sleep aid and anti-anxiety remedy.

Using Valerian as a Natural Sleep Aid

Valerian remedies come in a variety of forms including:

  • valerian tea
  • valerian capsules or pills
  • valerian tinctures

Most people opt to take valerian as a tea or as a dietary supplement pill.

Is valerian as an herbal or dietary supplement effective in putting you to sleep?

Inconclusive studies reported by the National Institutes of Health indicate valerian use, either in liquid form or in “commercial” supplements, improved the sleep quality and sleep latency in volunteers with mild insomnia.*

Types of insomnia include sleep onset or trouble falling asleep; middle of the night insomnia or frequent wakefulness in mid-sleep cycle; and late insomnia, waking early in the morning, or late in the sleep cycle unable to return to sleep. Valerian may be beneficial at helping you shorten the amount of time taken to fall asleep (aka sleep latency) and reducing instances of middle of the night wakefulness.

Side Effects of Valerian Use

Part of valerian’s long history of use is its relative freedom from side effects. When taken as directed few people report any noticeable adverse effects. When buying valerian in supplement form you should avoid products manufactured outside the U.S., buy from reputable companies, and use according to package directions. Don’t replace any prescription sleep aids your physician may have prescribed with valerian without first consulting with him or her. Discontinue use at the first sign of adverse side effects.

*NIH

Using valerian root as a sleep aid

Valerian is a natural herb often used as a natural remedy for insomnia and sleeplessness. It has been used for thousands of years to treat a range of conditions including anxiety and sleeplessness.

The active ingredient is found in the root and root branches. You can buy valerian root as a supplement for aiding sleep and relaxation. Valerian root can be taken in many different ways including:

  • capsules
  • tincture
  • as a tea infusion
  • valerian-based sleep aid drinks

Other names for valerian root

While it’s most commonly known as valerian, this natural plant remedy goes by a number of other names including:

  • Indian valerian
  • fragrant valerian
  • vandal root
  • capon’s tail
  • setwall
  • amantilla
  • setewale
  • heliotrope
  • radix valerianae
  • Valeriana officinalis

Valerian dosage

Based on research studies, doctors recommend a dosage of between 300 to 600 mg 300 for sleep and insomnia.

If you’re making valerian root tea, use 2 to 3 g of the dried root soaked for 10-15 minutes.

You should taken valerian root between 1/2 hour and 2 hours before bedtime.

Four to six weeks is the suggested maximum span the herb should be taken. The longer valerian is taken, the more likely it will be that the user will experience a reduction in the effectiveness of the supplement.

Valerian is very helpful for calming feelings of anxiety, restlessness and calming the mind. This is most likely the reason it is so popular as a natural sleep aid. While most people take valerian for sleep, there are many other benefits associated with the use of valerian.

Other uses for valerian root

Valerian can also be taken to alleviate headaches, migraines, irregular heartbeat, trembling and symptoms of mild depression. There are also a number of common experiences and sensations that valerian can reduce the severity of including:

  • nervous asthma
  • stress, excitability
  • hysterical states
  • hypochondria
  • upset stomach.

Valerian can be taken to alleviate conditions experienced only by women including menstrual cramps, symptoms of PMS (including mood swings and irritability) and menopause.

Because of its calming effect on the nervous system, it is important that you do not operate machinery or drive after taking valerian.

Valerian can be added to foods and beverages if desired or even added to baths at nighttime to help relax the mind as well as your muscles and joints.

Valerian side effects

Like almost all other natural supplements and herbs, valerian also has side effects. Some of the valerian side effects that users might experience after use include:

  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • headache
  • feeling of tiredness or sleepiness after waking.

The sleepy feeling after waking will is mostly experienced by people who have this sensation after using other natural, or chemical sleep remedies.

In cases where someone is allergic to valerian, they might experience hives or swelling of the tongue, lips and/or throat.

If taking a medication that already causes drowsiness, you should take valerian with caution and ask your doctor before you begin a course of treatment.

Helpful Resources

Valerian Root as a Sleep Aid

Valerian has been used as a sleep aid for millennia, but studies on its effectiveness for this purpose show mixed results.

Valerian is a flowering plant native to Europe that can be used as an herbal supplement for treating a number of conditions, including anxiety and insomnia. Marina Lohrbach/iStock

Valerian root is an herbal remedy that has been used for centuries to promote sleep and help relieve anxiety. Its documented use stretches back to ancient Greece, and many different cultures have adopted it over time. (1)

In the modern United States, valerian is available in many different formulations, and some of them are marketed specifically as sleep aids. But the regulatory framework for herbal supplements is extremely lax, and few if any specific products have undergone scientific studies to show their effectiveness in promoting sleep.

Some general studies of valerian have shown certain benefits when it comes to falling and staying asleep. But the studies’ designs, and their results, haven’t been consistent.

Here’s an overview of what the evidence says about taking valerian as a sleep aid, and factors you might want to consider before using it for this purpose.

Small Studies, Some Positive Results

Despite its long-standing reputation as a sleep aid, valerian hasn’t undergone serious clinical trials to evaluate its effectiveness in promoting sleep. That’s in part because clinical trials are extremely expensive, and no single company has a monopoly on valerian that could justify such a large — and risky — investment.

Studies on valerian and sleep have been mostly small, with different formulations, doses, and study populations being included. Some have specifically targeted people with insomnia (difficulty falling or staying asleep), while others have simply looked for sleep-related improvements in people who don’t report serious problems.

Because most studies of valerian for sleep have been small, looking at the results of several studies combined — known as a meta-analysis — is potentially more useful than focusing on any one study. There have been a few meta-analyses on valerian over the years.

One such analysis, published in the journal Sleep Medicine, included nine different studies on valerian. The researchers determined that all nine studies had flaws in their design, but in a rating of 1 to 5, three earned the highest rating of 5 for the lowest risk of bias in their design.

In one of these three studies, 128 participants were randomly assigned to take three different items on three different nights each, separated by nights when they took nothing: either 400 milligrams (mg) of a liquid valerian extract, a commercial supplement containing 60 mg of valerian and 30 mg of hops, or a placebo (inactive pill). Nobody knew which treatment was which, and each filled out a sleep questionnaire the next morning.

Compared with the placebo, the valerian extract significantly improved participants’ perceived ease of falling asleep, ease of staying asleep, and overall sleep quality. This result was even stronger among the 61 participants who identified as “poor sleepers” in a questionnaire at the beginning of the study. The commercial supplement, though, didn’t show any significant improvement over the placebo.

In the second highly rated study from the analysis, 8 participants with insomnia were randomly assigned to take either 450 mg of valerian extract, 900 mg of the extract, or a placebo for four nights in a row during one week, repeated for a total of three weeks. They wore nighttime motion sensors on their wrists and filled out a questionnaire each morning.

Compared with the placebo, the 450 mg dose of valerian extract reduced the average time to fall asleep from 16 minutes to 9 minutes, and the questionnaires showed a perceived improvement in sleep quality. No improvement in sleep time was seen with the 900 mg dose, though, and it caused increased sleepiness the next morning.

In the third highly rated study, 121 participants with insomnia received either 600 mg of a commercial valerian supplement or a placebo for 28 nights in a row. Using questionnaires and other assessment tools, the researchers found that participants who took valerian saw improvements in falling asleep and sleep quality — especially during the second half of the study, after having taken the supplement for two weeks already. (2)

Limited Evidence of Effectiveness

Despite the encouraging results from the top-rated studies in the 2000 meta-analysis, the researchers’ overall conclusion, based on all nine studies, was that “the findings of the studies were contradictory” and “the evidence for valerian as a treatment for insomnia is inconclusive.” (2)

Other meta-analyses of studies on valerian since then haven’t been any more encouraging. One, published in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews, looked at 29 studies and found that “most studies found no significant differences between valerian and placebo either in healthy individuals or in persons with general sleep disturbance or insomnia.” (3)

Another analysis, published in June 2010 in the journal Sleep Medicine, found that based on 18 different studies, the average reduction in time spent falling asleep from taking valerian, compared with placebo, was less than 1 minute. (4)

And an analysis of 14 studies on four different herbal supplements — valerian, chamomile, kava, and wu ling — for insomnia, published in December 2015 in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews, found “no statistically significant difference between any herbal medicine and placebo” in 13 different measures of efficacy. It also found that valerian was associated with more reported side effects than the other herbs or placebo. (5)

Low Risk, Possible Benefit

The good news on valerian as a sleep aid is that it appears to be safe to take regularly. While some people in studies have reported side effects such as drowsiness the next day, overall, “valerian is a safe herb associated with only rare adverse events,” as one analysis notes. (3)

So even though most studies haven’t found valerian to be an effective sleep aid, there’s little harm in trying it to see if it helps. But the different results seen in various studies offer an important lesson to anyone taking it: You may need to try a few different formulations, brands, or doses before you find one that’s effective.

Ultimately, what works for one person may not work for another — and trying it is the only way to know if valerian works for you as a sleep aid.

Does valerian root treat anxiety and insomnia?

Share on PinterestValerian root can potentially improve sleep quality and provide relief from anxiety.

Some possible benefits of valerian that have been reported by users include:

  • falling asleep faster
  • better sleep quality
  • relief from restlessness and other anxiety disorder symptoms
  • no “hangover effect” in the morning

However, stronger evidence is needed to be confident that valerian, and not some other factor, is responsible for these effects.

It is also necessary to determine whether a person’s insomnia and anxiety improvements are statistically significant.

Weaknesses in the studies

While there have been many studies exploring valerian’s effects, many of them have weaknesses that make their data unreliable.

Even with carefully controlled studies, it is still difficult to compare and combine data across studies. Some of the reasons for these problems include:

  • a small number of study participants
  • high rates of study participant withdrawal
  • wide variation across studies in methods of measuring sleep quality and anxiety relief
  • wide variation across studies in dosage and duration of valerian treatment
  • the severity of a person’s anxiety or insomnia is not well defined
  • flawed statistical analyses

Many of these issues are revealed in a review paper published in the American Journal of Medicine, which carefully analyzed the methods and data of 16 different valerian studies.

The paper produced conflicting results about the soundness of these studies. For example, one issue was that only six of the studies used similar methods to measure sleep quality, which meant that sleep quality improvement could not be compared across all studies.

Combined data shows improvements in sleep

Share on PinterestA combination of studies showed that valerian root may improve sleep quality significantly.

On the other hand, the combined data of these six studies did show a statistically significant improvement in sleep quality for the group of participants using valerian.

These studies also happened to have the largest sample sizes, perhaps giving them more strength than the others.

Still, the authors of this review warn that the results should be taken with caution, as there were many flaws in their statistical analyses.

Studies look at a combination of herbs

A separate issue is that many studies do not explore the use of valerian alone, but instead analyze the effects of valerian combined with other medicinal herbs, such as passionflower or kava.

For example, another literature review analyzed 24 studies about the effectiveness of herbal supplements for anxiety. An individual study explored the impact of herbal supplements on insomnia in 120 participants.

Both found robust evidence for the effectiveness of supplements. However, it was hard to tell how responsible valerian was for these effects.

Larger, more statistically sound valerian-specific studies are needed to understand how well the supplement actually works in terms of treating insomnia and anxiety.

Are you thinking about trying valerian to help you sleep or to reduce anxiety?

As an insomniac myself, I’ve tested and written about several over the counter sleep aids that have valerian as an ingredient.

Readers regularly ask questions about the specific sleep aids in the comments. But some of those questions are perhaps better answered by talking about valerian itself, rather than the particular brand.

So in this article, I’ll be taking a look at what the experts currently say about using valerian as a sleep aid.

And there’s been a lot of research into its effectiveness, with mixed results. So I’ll also be discussing some of the research done over the years.

What is valerian root?

Valerian (Valeriana Officinalis) is a tall, flowering plant that’s native to Europe and parts of Asia. It was also naturalized to North America.

It’s the root of the plant that’s used as a herbal remedy. As a sleep aid, the root is available in many forms – as a whole piece of root, dried powder, pill or capsule, liquid extract, tincture, and in tea.

It has a strong taste that can be a little off-putting, so some people prefer it in capsule form or disguised in tea with other ingredients. In my experience, sometimes even store-bought pills taste strange though!

Valerian is one of the most popular herbal remedies for sleep and anxiety problems. In a large survey in the United States, approximately 2 million adults said they had used valerian in the previous week.

What’s the correct dosage for sleep?

The question of the right valerian root dosage is a tricky one as there isn’t a standard answer. It’s classed as a herbal remedy or food supplement, and therefore not regulated to the same level as pharmaceutical sleep aids.

Even medical websites offer different advice about the range of dosages you can take.

According to drugs.com, the dosage used in some clinical trials was 400 to 600 mg per day for 2 to 4 weeks .

Healthline has similar advice:

Take 300 to 600 milligrams (mg) of valerian root 30 minutes to 2 hours before bedtime. This is best for insomnia or sleep trouble. For tea, soak 2 to 3 grams of dried herbal valerian root in 1 cup of hot water for 10 to 15 minutes.

WebMD suggests a higher maximum dosage, recommending 400 to 900 mg of valerian extract before bedtime.

My advice would be to stick to the instructions on the information leaflet if you buy valerian. And to consult your doctor if you’re not sure if it’s right for you, or what dosage to take.

When to take it to help with sleep

For anxiety, valerian can be taken during the daytime or before bed, as per the manufacturer’s instructions.

For sleep, the general advice is to take valerian between 30 minutes and two hours before bedtime.

How long can you take valerian for?

It’s usually advised that valerian can be taken for up to 28 days. A principal reason is that the majority of research studies (see below) only go up to 28 days. And those studies show that valerian is usually well tolerated for this length of time.

The long-term safety of valerian still isn’t known though. So if your sleep problems continue after 28 days, again, it’s best to speak to your doctor about it.

Some medical sites, such as the Mayoclinic, suggest that valerian has an accumulative effect, working best after 2 weeks of daily use.

Dr. Dick Middleton, chairman of the British Herbal Medical Association, also recommends that valerian is taken for 2 to 4 weeks to reap the benefits.

So that might only leave you a 2 week window to fully benefit from a sedative effect. Unless, of course, the placebo effect also plays a part.

Safety and possible side effects

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers valerian root as ‘generally recognized as safe’.

And researchers in Poland, who analysed the data of trials spanning 10 years, concluded:

Valerian root is well tolerated and safe, with infrequent and benign side effects

But despite being infrequent, some people do experience side effects. According to the National Institutes of Health and drugs.com, possible side effects include:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Itchy skin
  • Dry mouth
  • Upset stomach / diarrhea
  • The opposite effect – restlessness, excitement, insomnia
  • Daytime sleepiness (more common with larger doses)

Can you overdose on valerian root?

There’s very little information available about what might happen if you take more than the recommended dosage. A case report suggests that even a large dose has a low toxicity:

The patient presented with mild symptoms, all of which resolved within 24 h. Valerian overdose, at approximately 20 times the recommended therapeutic dose, appears to be benign.

Still, another important point to keep in mind is the potential to be intolerant or allergic to valerian. You should seek medical assistance if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Hives (swollen, red bumps or blisters on the skin)
  • Swelling in the face, lips, tongue, or throat.
  • Difficulty in breathing or chest pain.

Who shouldn’t take valerian

If you’re not sure about taking valerian, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor first. That said, there are some situations in which it’s generally advised not to take valerian:

  • Women who are pregnant or nursing (it’s not known if it’s safe for baby, so it’s better to be cautious).
  • Children under 3 years old shouldn’t be given valerian.
  • If you have liver disease.

Drug interactions

There’s a risk of an additive effect if you take other medications or substances that can cause sedation at the same time as valerian.

If you’re taking any of the following medications, it’s better to get your doctor’s approval before taking valerian:

  • Benzodiazepines, such as Ativan, Halcion, Valium and Xanax.
  • Barbiturates or central nervous system depressants, such as Luminal, morphine, and Diprivan.
  • Drugs changed and broken down by the liver, such as Mevacor, Nizoral, Sporanox, Allegra, and Halcion.
  • Other sedatives, analgesics or sleeping pills.
  • Alcohol
  • Recreational drugs.

Can I take valerian and melatonin at the same time?

Melatonin can also cause drowsiness, so it’s a good idea to consult your doctor before taking both at the same time.

Research evidence that valerian helps with sleep problems

During the last few decades, there have been various research studies looking at the sedative effects of valerian.

I’ve read many of the published studies, discovering some that prove it works, others that say it doesn’t, and some that found it worked, but so did a placebo!

The current situation appears to be that the evidence is inconclusive, and more research is both warranted and needed. As the National Institutes of Health valerian fact sheet states:

Evidence from clinical studies of the efficacy of valerian in treating sleep disorders such as insomnia is inconclusive.

So what is that evidence exactly? There are 3 particularly useful studies in which researchers analyzed the available data from individual clinical trials.

I think their conclusions are especially helpful, as they only included studies they assessed as being of higher quality.

1. Research in Korea

In 2018, researchers in Korea reviewed 79 studies investigating plant-derived extracts. They found a total of 21 plants had been tested, and valerian was the most common. However, they found conflicting results, and summarized:

There was limited evidence with inconclusive results regarding the effects of single plant-derived natural products on sleep, warranting further studies.

2. Research in Portugal

In 2011, researchers in Poland looked at valerian studies published in English, Spanish, French or Portuguese spanning 10 years. They found:

The evidence is insufficient regarding the efficacy of valerian in the treatment of anxiety disorders…The evidence in insomnia is limited by the contradictory results of studies reviewed and their methodological problems, although it seems to have some effect in mild to moderate insomnia.

3. Research in the United States

In 2006, researchers at the University of California looked at 16 studies involving a total of 1093 patients. They found 6 studies with evidence of improvements to sleep, and concluded:

This systematic review suggests that valerian may improve sleep quality, but methodologic problems of the included studies limit the ability to draw firm conclusions.

They also suspected that more studies have been done that didn’t show a positive effect for valerian, and were simply never published.

If you’re interested in reading more about the individual studies, each of the 3 above do reference the clinical trials they discuss.

It’s interesting, and a shame, that the study authors all found significant flaws in the research. Hopefully, in the future, scientists will take note of their criticisms and design experiments which satisfy the high standards expected to demonstrate that a sleep aid really works.

How do scientists think valerian works?

The exact mechanism of action isn’t fully understood. Research suggests that valerian root extract might contain gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is also found in the brain.

GABA is thought to act as a natural nerve calming agent. Some drugs, such as Valium and Xanax, also work by increasing GABA activity in the brain.

However, the National Institute of Health suggests that it could in fact be the result of multiple constituents, rather than just one compound.

My personal experience

A lot of the evidence that valerian can help with insomnia is anecdotal. It’s been used since medieval times in Europe, and has an extensive history in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine too.

My personal experience has been that it might have a mild sedative effect. I’ve tried several over the counter sleep aids containing valerian (Kalms, Sominex and Nytol). I’ve also prepared my own, and drunk it in tea form.

But I’ve never been quite sure if it’s the valerian, another ingredient in some cases, or a placebo effect. Personally, I would like to think it works, as I’d prefer to take a natural remedy than a pharmaceutical sleep aid.

Your experience

Have you taken valerian to help you sleep better? What form did you take it in, and do you think it helped? Let me know in the comments below!

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