Can Valerian Root Help You Sleep?
Tell me if this sounds like you. You’re sleepy – exhausted maybe – and cannot wait to get a great night’s sleep to set yourself up for a wonderful day tomorrow.
But when you get into bed, you either cannot fall asleep or cannot stay asleep (or maybe a terrible mixture of both).
Whether you have the occasional sleep disturbance or full-on chronic insomnia, there are some helpful things you can take. And before you dive into prescription sleep aids, which can be addictive and full of side effects, why not try some incredibly effective natural options?
I’m here to introduce you to valerian root, one of those all-natural sleep aids that can help you go from sleepy and yet still awake to sleepy and…. Blissfully asleep!
What Is Valerian Root?
Valerian is a sedative herb. It comes from a European plant that can grow up to 5 feet. In summer, it flowers. But the health benefits are found in the roots.
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Valerian is used primarily for sleep troubles or insomnia. But the sedative quality of valerian can also help calm your worries, stresses, and anxiety. Some people find that the daily stress relief it brings is actually enough help to get better sleep.
But do not confuse this sedative herb with a prescription sleeping medication. Valerian will not knock you out. It will not make you wake up in a groggy state the next morning. Instead, it naturally helps you relax and fall into sleep more easily.
Does Valerian Root Actually Help You Sleep?
Traditionally, valerian has been used to aid sleep for thousands of years. But what do modern scientists think about it?
Let’s start with two studies from the 1980s.
One study had 128 people take nine pills. Three were placebo, three were 400mg of valerian extract, and the final three had a “propriety over-the-counter valerian preparation.” They were marked by coded number for the researchers and given in random order on non-consecutive nights to the participants.
Those who took the valerian had an easier time falling asleep, and they had a “significant improvement” in the quality of their sleep. Those who said they often had poor or irregular sleep had the most noted sleep improvement.
Next we have a double blind study where some participants took a placebo and the others valerian. Of those who took the Valerian, 44% said they had “perfect sleep” and 89% said they had improved sleep. Nobody had any side effects.
Now we move into a more modern study on sleeplessness in children.
918 children who had some form of restlessness or sleeping problem were given a valerian and lemon balm blend. Most of the kids went from moderate or severe symptoms to “mild” or “absent.” Nearly 81% of the patients received some sleep improvement.
Important note: Make sure to consult your child’s pediatrician before ever offering a sleep aid – prescription or natural.
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Another study done in 2000 showed there were no differences in the effectiveness of valerian compared to oxazepam, a prescription sedative. Since valerian is the all-natural option with a very short list of possible negative side effects, the study concluded it might be a more favorable option.
So How Does It Work Exactly?
Truth is, nobody is entirely sure why valerian is so helpful. Though Valerian comes from one plant, it is actually made up of many different compounds.
Scientists are not exactly sure which of these compounds are the most significant in creating the feelings of calm or sleepiness – perhaps it could just be the combination. One influencing factor could be GABA, an amino acid. GABA has a very important function when it comes to sleep at stress: it calms nervous activity.
You can actually buy GABA to help with sleep, but some research has shown taking valerian root extract can actually increase your GABA.
Are There Any Side Effects With Valerian?
Many people feel no problematic side effects when taking valerian root, but there are some possibilities, including:
- Digestive issues
- Pruritus (the desire to scratch)
Some people list sleepiness as a side effect of taking Valerian, but most would agree it’s the best side effect they could ask for!
How To Take Valerian Root
There are many ways to enjoy the benefits of the Valerian plant:
- Tea: You can make a pure valerian tea, but you may find that many brands include valerian in a blend for sleep and like the taste better
- Essential Oil: You can diffuse valerian in your home for calming effects before bed (But keep in mind, some people say they do not care for the scent. Make sure to smell the oil before purchasing. A smell you can’t stand is not going to help you fall asleep.)
- Supplement: One of the easiest and most effective ways to take valerian is simply in supplement form. You can take it on its own or combined with other natural sleep aids.
Choosing the supplement route can be the most potent and effective. Take it an hour or two before bed.
And also keep this in mind – some research shows that valerian works best after some dedicated use. Don’t expect to take it one night and have your entire sleep cycle improve. Some studies have shown valerian is most successful after 28 days of use.
Who Shouldn’t Take Valerian Root
If you take any sort of anti-anxiety drug, antidepressant, or sedatives, you should absolutely check with your doctor before taking valerian root.
This includes: benzodiazepines, barbiturates, CNS depressants, and even some dietary supplements like St. John’s Wort.
Your doctor may still give you the go ahead, but he or she also may tell you to find a different natural sleep aid, perhaps magnesium.
Also, women who are pregnant or nursing should get off of the valerian unless their doctor tells them otherwise.
Is Valerian Root Right For You?
Since there are certain medications that should not be combined with valerian, make sure to double check with your doctor or naturopath before starting valerian. But once you get the go ahead, you can start aiding your sleep and calming your anxiety with this incredible herb.
Take it consistently for a few weeks, so you can see the full effects of this natural sedative.