Insomnia doesn’t just ruin your night, it ruins your next day. It causes you to drag through the day just waiting for the next moment that your head will hit the pillow. One in three Americans doesn’t get enough sleep often due to sleep disorders like insomnia. Still, the idea of taking over-the-counter medications or prescription drugs to solve the problem isn’t appealing either, especially if they leave you groggy and lethargic the next day. Thankfully, a natural remedy called valerian root, which has been used for millennia, may be effective at treating insomnia. Here’s what you need to know:
What is Valerian?
Valerian is a perenial plant grown in Asia, Europe, and North America. The plants are known for their tiny white blooms that blanket the grasslands and a less attractive scent that has been described as “sweaty gym socks”.
The plant has been used for therapeutic purposes since ancient Greek and Roman times. In fact, Hippocrates himself used the herb in the second century. It was also used in the 16th century to treat nervousness, trembling, headaches, and heart palpitations. In World War II, it was used by England to treat anxiety caused by air raids.
What You Need to Know About Valerian Root
Valerian root has consistently shown that it helps people get to sleep faster and stay asleep longer. Some studies have shown conflicting information, but most show that taking valerian supplements of between 300-900 mg up to two hours before bed works to improve sleep quality. Taking it for a few weeks has been shown to be the most beneficial. There is insufficient evidence to prove that taking valerian root reduces anxiety or depression. Though valerian root has been shown to be safe, it shouldn’t be taken if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. Children younger than 3 years old should not take valerian root.
It has been shown to have some side effects like headache, upset stomach, and mental dullness. In rare cases, it has been shown to have the opposite effect, causing people to wake up in the middle of the night.
What the Research Says
"Yes, in randomized clinical studies taking valerian together with hops [another herb] has been shown to improve the quality of sleep if taken nightly over a few weeks," says Dr. Joseph Feuerstein, associate professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University and director of integrative medicine at Stamford hospital. "[However, some people can have a paradoxical reaction to valerian with agitation so many clinical tested products like Alluna sleep have hops also to add to the calmative effect."
According to the Mayo Clinic, the results from a number of studies show that valerian root helps people to fall asleep. A systematic review of a number of studies published in the December 2006 edition of the American Journal of Medicine found research has shown that valerian root may improve sleep quality but that the quality of some of the studies is in question and that larger, higher quality studies should be done. Another study from the 2010 journal Menopause found that valerian root improved sleep quality for post-menopausal women. A study published in the December 2002 edition of the Journal of the Norwegian Medical Association found that valerian root seemed to improve sleep but that long-term studies on safety and effectiveness were lacking.
Taking Valerian Root
The roots and rhizomes (underground stems) of the plant are most often ground into capsule form and sold as supplements. Sometimes the ground roots and stems are used to make tea or tinctures. A tincture is a liquid made by soaking an herb in a solution of alcohol and water. It can also be turned into an essential oil which is diluted in water and taken orally. Sometimes valerian is combined with other herbs like passion flower and lemon balm to make a natural rest supplement.
Valerian is considered a very safe herb and is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and it has been approved for use in food. But it's still important to look for high-quality supplements. When you’re shopping for valerian root, check for testing from independent organizations like ConsumerLab.com, NSF International, and U.S. Pharmacopeia to see if the ingredients on the label are in the container and the product is up to their standards. When it comes to choosing high-quality brands Mountain Rose Herbs is a good brand which sells valerian root in bulk (great for tea) or in the capsule form. Eden's Garden sells a pure essential oil that's tested using a method called Gas Chromatography to check its purity.
Be careful not to combine valerian with other strong sleep supplements like melatonin because they haven’t been studied together. They might also cause excessive drowsiness when combined.
Talk to a Medical Doctor
Valerian root is generally safe but consult a medical doctor. While more research needs to be done, an M.D. with knowledge in functional medicine can provide guidance on which natural remedies to try depending on your individual circumstances.
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