Most of us don’t get enough quality sleep to truly support our physical, mental and emotional health. It’s unsurprising. With the world in turmoil, constant social media and news media broadcasts, busy lives and more, we’re more stressed and burned out than ever. Getting enough sleep might seem like a distant dream.
If you have sleep issues, you’ve no doubt tried ways to solve the issue: physical activity, sunlight exposure and light therapy, melatonin and more. Maybe you’ve even tried prescription sleep aids, which can have unpleasant side effects.
When all else has failed, it might be time to try valerian root. This herb has been used since the Middle Ages to promote deep, restful sleep. To this day, it’s commonly used in sleep aid supplements, teas and more.
Here’s why valerian root might just be the solution to your sleep problems.
How valerian promotes better sleep
Valerian contains GABA, valerenic acid and valernol. These compounds work on the GABA receptors in your nervous system. GABA helps send messages throughout the nervous system and regulates nervous impulses, particularly for sleep regulation.
Increasing the GABA in your nervous system produces a sedative effect. Meanwhile, valerenic acid and valernol protect GABA from enzymes which might destroy it, and help increase the amount of GABA available in your body.
The compounds may also interact with your body’s serotonin receptors. Certain other compounds may have effects on anxiety and depression.
Is it safe?
Valerian is safe when used in recommended doses for your age, weight and other health conditions. The vast majority of people will never experience any adverse side effects. However, minor side effects may include dizziness, headaches, weakness, diarrhea, stomachache, fatigue, metallic taste in the mouth and vivid dreams. In rare cases, liver damage is possible—but those cases occurred when valerian was used in conjunction with other herbs.
It is not recommended for breastfeeding parents, and children or teens. Valerian may interact with certain medications, so you should always double check with your doctor before starting a new supplement.
Typically, doses range from 450 to 1,410mg of whole valerian root. They are usually taken once per day for four to eight weeks. Doses of 400-600 mg can relieve tension; 530-765 mg may help reduce anxiety and OCD and higher doses could help relieve hot flashes associated with menopause. Again, it is important to discuss this with your doctor before you begin the supplement.
How valerian can help you achieve a blissful night of sleep
Valerian works as a sedative for your nervous system, but it can also have effects on anxiety, OCD, tension and hot flashes. In one study, children who took valerian and lemon balm for seven weeks measured lower in hyperactivity and impulsiveness, while experiencing improved focus. (Never dose your children without clearing it with their pediatricians, even if they’re singing the latest Pixar tunes on hyperdrive for the thousandth time.)
Meanwhile, anxiety and OCD-related symptoms declined in adults who regularly took valerian. Anyone who’s suffered from anxiety can tell you that racing thoughts can make it very difficult to sleep well. Similarly, valerian seems to have a positive effect on depression.
However, better sleep is the most common result of regular valerian usage. While not every study supports this finding, it is generally accepted that valerian has a sedative effect on the nervous system, leading to better and longer sleep.
If you suffer from insomnia, anxiety, depression, OCD and even hot flashes, valerian could go a long way toward helping you feel better.
But don’t forget…
Remember that good sleep demands a holistic approach. You can’t chug a gallon of coffee two hours before bedtime and expect to sink into a deep, restful sleep. Nor can you expect your circadian rhythms to stay regulated if you stay indoors all the time.
Good sleep depends on everything from your diet and exercise habits to your overall physical and mental health. Please do not take valerian as a substitute for therapy and medication, when you need them. While valerian offers some very promising effects on sleep, mood and mental health, it’s not a miracle drug. You’ll experience better sleep when you practice good sleep hygiene, maintain a healthy diet, expose yourself to sunlight at least once a day and get plenty of exercise. All of these things can work in conjunction with valerian to deliver the restful night of sleep you deserve.