If you have a difficult time getting restful sleep every night, you know how much this impacts every area of your life. There are drugs that can help, but the potential for scary side effects is significant. One option that people have been using since ancient times is valerian root. This is a natural herb known for its anti-anxiety and sedative properties. However, before using valerian for sleep, it is important to learn the facts and how to use it properly.
Should You Consider Using Valerian to Aid Your Sleep?
In the United States, sleep disorders affect approximately 50 to 70 million adults. About 10 percent of adults report chronic insomnia and 30 percent report short-term insomnia.
When someone has insomnia, they may have difficulty staying asleep, falling asleep or both. They may wake up frequently throughout the course of the night and before their alarm goes off in the morning. During waking hours, it is common to have varying levels of fatigue. The following can occur as a result of poor sleep:
- Daytime sleepiness
- Dozing off during the day
- Increased accidents or errors
- Depression or anxiety
- Cognitive impairments
- Frequently worrying about sleep
Valerian root comes from a type of perennial flowering plant. It grows in North America, but it is native to Asia and Europe. It contains volatile oils, including valerenic acid. It also contains valepotriates and sesquiterpenes which are less volatile oils. Scientists believe that these all play a role in this plant’s ability to calm the central nervous system.
Hippocrates was the first person to recognize valerian. Galen is the first to have used it for insomnia. In ancient times, it was also utilized as a remedy to reduce blood pressure.
Exactly what causes the sleep-promoting effects is still being studied. While scientists have not pointed to one specific factor, they have identified multiple chemical constituents that may play a role. It is believed that several constituents in valerian are responsible for acting either synergistically or independently.
There are two constituent categories that are believed to be the primary source of this plant’s sedative effects. The first involves the major constituents of valerenic acid, its volatile oil, and its derivatives. Both have demonstrated sedative properties in research.
Iridoids is the second category. This includes valepotriates. These and their derivatives work as sedatives in in vivo studies. However, it is not easy to assess their activity since they are unstable and break down in an aqueous environment or in storage.
There are also several mechanisms being explored regarding how valerian might work to promote sedation. One involves looking at valerian’s ability to increase gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the synaptic cleft. GABA is a type of neurotransmitter that is inhibitory. GABA essentially helps to calm the brain.
Some studies suggest that valerian might possibly trigger the nerve endings to release GABA only to block it before it can get back into the nerve cells. The enzyme responsible for destroying GABA is also inhibited by valerenic acid. Valerian has been shown to contain GABA, and in amounts large enough to produce a sedative effect. However, it is still unclear if GABA has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. It would need to be able to in order to cause the sedation.
To sum it up, scientists have proven that valerian does have sedative properties. They have proven that it can be beneficial for alleviating insomnia and promoting better sleep. However, they are not completely sure why it is effective despite multiple plausible theories.
This herb comes in various forms, including dry powder, extract, tea form, capsules or tablets and tinctures (alcohol-free and in alcohol). After using a capsule or tablet, consume a full drink of water. If you experience an stomach upset, you can take each dose with food.
It is typically recommended that valerian for sleep be taken about one to two hours prior to going to bed. Be aware that it might be a few weeks before you notice the full effects. The following are the general recommended doses per form:
- Capsules and tablets: These come in varying doses. It is important to carefully follow the instructions on the bottle regarding proper dosing.
- Fluid extract: These are generally a 1:1 ratio. The general recommendation is one to two milliliters per dose.
- Tea: Boil one cup of water. Pour this over one teaspoon of the herb. Allow five to 10 minutes for it to steep thoroughly.
- Dry powder: These are generally a 4:1 ratio. The general recommendation is 250 to 600 milligrams per day.
- Tincture: These are generally a 1:5 ratio. The general recommendation is four to six milliliters per dose.
Multiple parts of the plant might be used in the different forms of valerian supplements. These parts include the roots, stolons and rhizomes. The dried root is what is used to comprise the various forms.
Valerian for sleep is relatively safe for most people. Just make sure to take it under a doctor’s supervision. Side effects are not common and when they do happen, they tend to be mild. With continued use, most people find that they dissipate. Possible side effects include:
- Stomach upset
It is important to not take this herb with other herbs or medicines that cause sedation. This could result in severe tiredness.
Does Valerian Aid Your Sleep?
Valerian for sleep can be effective. In addition, it may also aid with other health issues that can contribute to insomnia. By working to calm the brain, and aid with the issues that might make it hard to sleep, valerian provides an option for those wanting to get proper rest without taking strong medications.
With the significant impact that sleep issues have on your life, it becomes incredibly frustrating. Sleeping medications can work, but the tend to cause an array of side effects that can be just as bothersome, if not more so, than the actual insomnia itself. Because of this valerian, is often recommended as a viable natural option.
Sleep is the primary use for valerian. This herb can help to improve sleep quality and decrease how long it takes you to fall asleep. One study took a double-blind approach to determine the efficacy of this plant. For those who took actual valerian, 89 percent of the participants said that their sleep was overall improved, and 44 percent said they slept perfectly.
Another study combined valerian and lemon balm. Lemon balm is an herb that has also been studied to aid with insomnia. It is often combined with valerian to create a sleeping brew. When used with valerian, both are typically combined in a tea because this makes it relatively easy to control the dosage.
This study looked at children who reported experiencing minor issues with sleep. Compared to the placebo group, 81 percent of the kids who took the combination of lemon balm and valerian said their sleep improved considerably.
One of the primary reasons people have insomnia is due to anxiety. Anxiety causes people to experience extreme worry or fear. It is estimated that in the United States, about 40 million adults experience this disorder. Like with insomnia, there are several effective medications. However, anti-anxiety and antidepressant drugs can cause significant side effects. Examples include headache, nausea, drowsiness, insomnia and dizziness.
Valerian’s impact on GABA has been shown to calm anxiety via the regulation of nerve cells. This works the same way as popular anti-anxiety drugs referred to as benzodiazepines. The valerenol and valerenic acid in this plant have been shown to be effective anti-anxiety agents.
It is important to note that valerian should never be combined with anti-anxiety or antidepressant drugs. You should also never abruptly stop these.
Reduces Blood Pressure
It is very common for both high blood pressure and insomnia to be present at the same time. Both can feed into each other, resulting in a worsening of your insomnia and your hypertension. Blood pressure medications are typically the first treatment doctors offer when your numbers are high. However, numerous blood pressure medications have insomnia as a side effect. Because of this, looking for a remedy that can help both issues simultaneously is a good choice, and valerian fits the bill.
Valerian’s anti-anxiety effects are what are believed to contribute to a reduction in blood pressure. One study compared propranolol, a common hypertension drug, to valerian. A combination of both was also administered as part of the study. This study concluded that those who received valerian reported experiencing fewer physical anxiety symptoms. One of the physical manifestations of anxiety is increased blood pressure.
Another study looked at valerian, kava (another type of herb) and a placebo. It sought out to look at the patient’s heart rates and blood pressure numbers. By the end of the study, researchers concluded that heart rate, systolic blood pressure and self-reported stress all improved significantly among those taking valerian.
One of the biggest factors involved with insomnia is stress. Stress can contribute to sleep issues, anxiety, high blood pressure, cognitive impairment and fatigue. If insomnia is already negatively impacting you, the effects can essentially double in severity. This can become a vicious cycle that is difficult to get out of once it is happening. There are many ways to alleviate stress and keep it under control. Valerian is one of your options.
Both the body and mind need to relax to sufficiently alleviate stress. Valerian relaxes the central nervous system to aid with this. It also acts as an antispasmodic. This ability can aid in alleviating muscle spasms and tension, both of which are very common with stress.
One study concluded that this plant has the ability to maintain serotonin levels. Serotonin is a type of neurotransmitter that is crucial for regulating the mood. When serotonin levels get too low, it is far easier to experience stress and its negative effects.
Valerian for sleep has been proven effective via research. Before using this remedy, talk to your doctor. They can help you to determine the right dosage and ensure that it will not negatively interact with any other medicines or natural remedies you might be taking.