The secret is out. Valerian root can reduce anxiety and treat your insomnia as well as some prescription medications. Studies show that valerian root is a gentler and safer alternative to synthetic drugs because they have fewer side effects and less dependency.
Valerian root has also been shown to make you feel less stressed, which is one of the main reasons most people can’t get to sleep in the first place. But like any nutritional supplement, it’s important to know how much to take and if any interactions can occur with other drugs. Here’s the correct valerian root dose for insomnia.
Valerian root is a perennial plant that can grow up to two feet tall. It is native to Europe and grows in damp grasslands. It can also be grown in personal gardens. The valerian plant has a hollow and straight stem with a flowering head that umbrellas outward. It has dark green leaves with pointed tips and is hairy underneath. The root has a light gray or brown color and gives off a slightly sweet aroma when it is fresh. Its small flowers bloom in June and can either be light purple, pink or white. The root of the plant is freeze dried and used to calm the central nervous system (1).
Valerian root has many health benefits. It is commonly used as a natural sleep aid or anti-anxiety agent. Unlike many prescription sleep aids, valerian root is less likely to cause dependency, drowsiness, and other unwanted side effects. One study found that 44 percent of test participants who used valerian root for their insomnia reported experiencing a perfect sleep. Another 89 percent said that they had improved sleep. Additionally, the study found that there were no side effects associated with taking valerian root (2).
A systematic review of 370 articles and 16 studies that examined a total of 1093 patients with insomnia found that valerian root was an effective natural sleep aid. Results showed that valerian root improved sleep quality without side effects. Most importantly, the studies found that valerian root did not cause drowsiness the next morning, so it was safe to use when operating a vehicle. Study authors concluded that “valerian had a statistically significant effect on the relative risk of improved sleep” (3).
Further research shows that valerian root may reduce the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep. It also works well when combined with other herbs. One study determined that 81 percent of children with minor sleep problems who took a combination of valerian root and lemon balm slept much better than children who received a placebo. Approximately 96.7 percent of the parents and researchers associated with the study determined that the efficiency of the herbal remedy was “very good.” Furthermore, no adverse side effects were reported in the children. The treatment was very well tolerated and also helped improve restlessness and dyssomnia (4).
Although valerian root is gentler than prescription sleep aids, the two work similarly. Valerian causes mild sedation by binding to brain receptors and increasing levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA, which is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that prevents excitability. Many synthetic drugs do the same thing, but they also cause many adverse side effects. Research shows that valerian extract activates brain nerve endings to release GABA. It also prevents GABA from being reabsorbed into the nerve to keep your levels up. Finally, valerian root blocks an enzyme that destroys GABA so that nothing gets in the way of your rest (5).
Women are more at risk for developing sleep problems than men. Healthcare professionals believe this might be due to the many ways a woman’s body changes throughout the years. For example, during a female’s lifetime, she will have gone through puberty, pregnancy, postpartum hormonal changes, menopause, and postmenopause. A 2011 study found that 30 percent of postmenopausal women improved their sleep after taking 530 mg of valerian root twice a day for four weeks (14).
Another study found that people who are kept awake by work stress or relationship problems benefited from taking valerian root (15). Researchers of the study utilized individuals who had been suffering from stress related insomnia for 15 years. Participants received 120 mg of kava for six weeks and then were administered 600 mg of valerian root for six weeks. Results found that both herbs provided significant relief from insomnia symptoms. Approximately 58 percent stated that no side effects were observed. Vivid dreams were reported in 15 percent of the test subjects, and 12 percent had dizziness with kava only (15).
Valerian root can be used to reduce worrisome thoughts naturally. A 2009 study found that valerian root’s ability to increase GABA levels in the brain may also keep you calm. The study found that valerian root soothes anxiety similarly to the anti-anxiety drugs Valium and Xanax, but with fewer side effects (6).
When you’re stressed, your blood pressure increases. Valerian root can help keep your blood pressure lower, which helps reduce the body’s stress response. It can also help keep your heart healthy. One study found that valerian root reduced heart palpitations by calming down the cardiovascular system and stimulating a normal metabolic rate (7).
Valerian root works at a cellular level to reduce your stress response and any adverse side effects associated with it. A 2014 study found that valerian root suppresses the mental and physical response to stress, which helps reduce anxiety and allows you to sleep better (8).
If sore or achy muscles keep you awake at night, valerian root can help. A 2011 study determined that valerian root contains antispasmodic properties to reduce muscle spasms and naturally relax your muscles. It can be used to recover after a tough workout or during a woman’s menstrual cycle to reduce cramps (9).
Valerian root is sometimes referred to as nature’s Valium. It has been used to treat insomnia and anxiety for thousands of years (13).
Valerian root makes you feel relaxed and content by boosting serotonin levels in the brain, which helps stabilize your mood. Research shows that when combined with other herbs, valerian root can be used to treat acute and chronic stress alike (13). Further research indicates that valerian root’s sedative properties might be helpful for controlling hyperactivity disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and generalized anxiety disorders.
Health experts indicate that taking valerian root for insomnia is safe (1), but you’ll still need to know how much to take. Research shows that it may take a few weeks before valerian root starts to kick in. You should take it one to two hours before bedtime, or up to three times over the course of a day with your last dose at night before bed.
WebMD stated that there is no standard recommended dose for valerian root, but clinical trials have used between 400 and 900 mg for insomnia (11). Luckily, valerian root is safe enough to experiment with. To determine the right amount for you, keep track of how you feel after you take it. Valerian root should not make you overly drowsy. If you feel tired when you wake up the morning, you may have taken too much. Try to decrease the amount you take gradually. Your goal should be to sleep through the night peacefully without waking up. You should feel refreshed upon waking up. Avoid doubling up on the amount you take if the current amount you’re taking doesn’t work. Instead, gradually increase your dose until you find the amount that works best for your needs.
Everyone reacts differently to nutritional supplements. Although valerian root is considered safe by health experts with limited reports of side effects, it’s important to be aware of any possible interactions or side effects before taking it.
According to WebMD, valerian root is "likely safe" for the general population when used responsibly (12). Clinical trials support using valerian root for up to 28 days. If you wish to take valerian root for longer, it’s a good idea to cycle your dosage. For example, you can take valerian root three times a week or take it for three days on and two days off, etc. While there are no studies to indicate that taking valerian root for longer than 28 days is unsafe, WebMD states that the safety of its long-term use is unknown (12). Clinical trials have safely used valerian root in children for up to eight weeks (12). Talk to your child’s pediatrician if you are considering extending your child’s dosage.
Possible side effects may include excitability, uneasiness, and headaches. In rare cases, valerian root may cause you to feel sluggish the next morning. If this occurs, adjust the amount you are taking. Some reports state that it’s best not to operate machinery or drive after taking large doses of valerian root. WebMD recommends gradually reducing your dose over one or two weeks instead of stopping altogether (12).
Valerian root should be avoided by pregnant or breastfeeding women as it is unclear how it will affect fetal development. You should also avoid taking valerian root if you are taking other medications that slow the central nervous system as this may cause excessive drowsiness. WebMD stated that you should not take valerian root before surgery as it may interact with anesthesia (12). To be on the safe side, stop taking valerian root two weeks before any scheduled surgeries.
Taking valerian root with any medication processed by the liver may cause a moderate interaction. These drugs include Mevacor, Sporanox, and Allegra. Valerian root is commonly used in combination with other natural ingredients to treat insomnia, such as hops, melatonin, or l-tryptophan. According to Doctor Whitaker, taking valerian root and melatonin together is one of the best natural remedies available for insomniacs. Some experts warn against taking too much of both ingredients together as they are both mild sedatives.