Valerian (also known as Valeriana officinalis) is a perennial plant native to Europe and Asia. It has a long history of providing therapeutic benefits dating as far back as ancient Greece and Rome, and has been used traditionally to support relaxation and restful sleep.
This article uncovers everything you need to know about valerian root, what conditions it may treat, and how to consume it safely.
As mentioned, valerian grew originally in parts of Europe and Asia, before migrating to the United States. Valerian has tall, thick stems, pointed leaves and white or pale pink flowers. It holds a strong, distinct, and somewhat unpleasant odor.
The roots and stems are typically dried or extracted into a tea, tincture, or capsule form for supplementation.
Valerian root is thought to have a calming effect. It may cause a release of neurotransmitters, such as GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid).
GABA plays a role in regulating the central nervous system. It slows down the brain by blocking particular brain signals, thus reducing activity in the nervous system. GABA is known to produce calming effects.
This animal study found valerian’s effects were mediated through the GABA receptors.
Certain compounds in valerian root may increase the amount of GABA in the nervous system and promote relaxation or calming effects.
Furthermore, valerian root contains iridoids, which can have neuroprotective and hepatoprotective properties. Irioids are used in traditional Chinese medicine to promote health and well-being.
Valerian root has been around for thousands of years. It has been used to treat a range of health concerns, though of those do not have strong scientific evidence, at least for the time being. The research does suggest, however, that valerian root may improve sleep patterns and manage stress levels.
Sleep disturbances are a challenge for many adults in the United States. Inadequate sleep can have a significant effect on our health. There are a variety of tips and tricks to get better sleep, and valerian root may be an alternative to consider.
One of valerian root’s most common health benefits is its ability to improve sleep. It has been used in Europe to promote restful sleep for many years.
This four-week study saw a significant difference in sleep quality for women ages 50-60 years old when taking 530mg of concentrated valerian extract daily.
A 2017 study also concluded that taking valerian root 30 minutes before bed reduced the onset of nighttime awakenings and increased total time slept. It found that these sleep improvements benefitted daytime activities, too. Participants reported improvements in energy levels and concentration.
There are other natural remedies to consider for good sleep hygiene.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) encourages establishing a nighttime routine and being consistent with it. A nighttime routine can include going to bed at the same time each night, reducing screentime, avoiding caffeine later in the day, creating a dark and cool environment, and listening to calming music. Obtaining morning sun exposure and incorporating physical activity during the daytime can also promote good sleep.
Research suggests valerian root may help manage stress. Valerian root extract (VRE) appeared to help reduce physical and psychological stress in an eight-week study.
Furthermore, a 2019 study utilized electroencephalography (EEG) to investigate whether VRE affects functional brain connectivity. Functional brain connectivity measures how different parts of the brain interact. Participants consuming 100mg of VRE three times per day saw an impact on brain connectivity.
There is less significant research on valerian root for other health goals. However, some studies suggest valerian root may benefit:
Most research studies use a dose ranging from 300mg and 600mg per day. Still, dosage can depend on the purpose of supplementation, and may not be appropriate or effective for everyone. It’s important to speak with a healthcare professional to determine the safest amount for your body.
Although most valerian supplements are taken shortly before bed, be sure, as always, to follow the supplement’s instructions for proper use.
Studies have found valerian root to be a natural sleep aid. With this, most studies have only been conducted up to a six week period, so the safety of long-term use is unknown.
Valerian root appears to promote the fast onset of sleep. The effects may occur differently for each individual. With any supplement, consistency is important to experience results.
In most studies, valerian root appears to be well-tolerated by most adults. It comes with little to no side effects compared to other sleep aid medications. However, every person responds differently. It is also important to remember that sleep supplements and sleep medications are two different categories and you should work with a qualified healthcare provider to determine the right routine for you.
Possible side effects of this supplement include:
It’s encouraged to find products that are third-party tested in order to confirm their safety and quality.
Those who are pregnant or lactating should not take this supplement. You should always consult your doctor before taking new supplements to avoid negative side effects or drug interactions.
If you are experiencing chronic sleep problems, speak with your doctor to see if there are underlying health concerns.