Sedative effects of valerian root extract may modestly improve quality of sleep.
Valerian is a sweetly-scented perennial plant native to Europe that has long been treasured as a natural wellness herb. Its root extracts are especially favored as a way to facilitate sleep with such potential uses as:
- Aids sleep latency and quality. Valerian is frequently taken in the evening to assist the process of falling asleep while promoting more restful slumber.
- Reducing insomnia. The root is used to help establish healthy sleep patterns.
- Promoting sedative effects. The herb may instill nighttime feelings of tranquility via gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) signaling.
The beautiful valerian plant, Valeriana officinalis, graces its primarily European adorers with its sweetly-scented pink and white blooms, with the herb flowering every summer.
Beyond its aesthetic value, valerian was commonly used throughout ancient Rome and Greece as a multipurpose health remedy even before Hippocrates described its therapeutic usefulness. Valerian has a wide-range of effects on the human body, and is generally considered to be a reliable nootropic. Its moniker, “all-heal,” highlights its seeming versatility when it comes to ameliorating illnesses.
In today’s day and age, valerian is routinely taken to challenge heart irregularities, headaches, depression, and all sorts of anxiety-related symptoms. Certain factions have more rigorously narrowed valerian usage down to managing sleep disorders, which has spurned on its recent use as a sleep aid for those looking to withdraw from more potent sleeping pills.
For extra oomph, valerian is often combined with similar calming herbs, including lemon balm, passion flower, and hops.2 Extracts of the root and rhizome are routinely brewed as soothing drinks, like tea, or even eaten raw for purposes of relaxation.
How Valerian May Help With Sleep
Enhancing Sleep Quality
Valerian has a promising capacity to improve sleep quality while also extending sleep duration. Linarin, one of several valerian flavonoids, appears to be a paramount protagonist in this story. Both on its own and when combined with valerenic acid, linarin has demonstrated its knack for enhancing total sleep time.3
Reducing Sleep Latency
For the most part, users of valerian appear to be able to fall asleep faster than normal. The extract seems to be particularly efficacious in reducing sleep latency and improving sleep quality.4 The catch, however, is that the difference between valerian and placebo effects has not been all that significant on adults and children facing various medical conditions, such as insomnia, arthritis, and intellectual complications.5
A definitive statement concerning the relationship between valerian and insomnia has yet to be finalized, but current studies generally favor valerian as a probable therapy for insomnia. The placebo-controlled investigative meta-analysis resolved that while the quantitative effectiveness of valerian in helping insomnia needs to be verified, valerian has proven successful at least in the subjective improvement of insomnia.6
Valerian trends toward positive results when used in cases of anxiety, but its effects are often indistinguishable compared to those of placebos. Its use for anxiety is warranted but it may not necessarily be the most effective option.7
Valerian Benefits & Uses for Sleep
Valerian’s merit in sleep enhancement seems to stem from its ability to reduce sleep latency and increase sleep duration. Sleep onset latency (SOL) refers to the length of time it takes to transition from states of being awake to falling asleep. Overall sleep quality may be improved through valerian’s capacity to bind to glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors.9
Sleep profundity may be tied to valerian’s affinity for melatonin (ML2) receptors, although the interaction is weak.
Another possible reason why valerian assists in sleep processes may be due to its impact on stress. Preliminary research suggests that taking valerian extract at 600 mg prior to participating in a mental stress session significantly attenuates blood pressure, heart rate, and sense of pressure.12 Challenging physiological reactivity during stressful situations, including as one gets ready for bed, may facilitate the relaxation process essential for sleeping.
Valerian is also valued for its natural origin, preferred by some users for sleep because it does not come with synthetic sleep drug side effects.
Valerian may be a beneficial sleep enhancer as determined by its ability to:
- Shorten sleep latency. Valerian extract ingestion led to significant reduction in sleep latency in rats, which highlights its potential usefulness as a sleep-inducer.13
- Prolong sleep time. A significant prolongation of sleep time in rats was observed after valerian inhalation. The subsequent increase in GABA activity suggests overall enhanced sleep.14
Clinical research positively trends towards valerian’s efficacy as a sleep aid with some variations in non-standard conditions. The majority of studies demonstrate improvements in sleep latency and quality for adults taking valerian, although there are cases in which placebos appear to produce a similar outcome. The debate concerning valerian’s value in alleviating sleep-related disorders, especially insomnia, is ongoing.
In this placebo-controlled investigation, 128 adults given a 400 mg valerian extract had a significant decrease in sleep latency as well as a significant enhancement in sleep quality. Sleep quality especially seemed enriched in those who claimed to be normally poor or irregular sleepers.
- The study concluded that “valerian produced a significant decrease in subjectively evaluated sleep latency scores and a significant improvement in sleep quality.”15
In this double-blind, placebo-controlled investigation, 15 adults with arthritis and mild sleep complications were given either 600 mg of valerian extract or placebo for five nights. The study did not identify any significant improvements in sleep quality according to its wrist actinography measurements.
- The study concluded that “nonsignificant differences between the groups were found on all sleep outcomes…may guide the testing of other sedative herbs for persons with arthritis.”16
In this randomized, triple-blind, placebo-controlled investigation, 100 postmenopausal women were given 530 mg of valerian extract twice a day over a 4-week period. PSQI demonstrated a significant 30% improvement in sleep quality.
- The study concluded that “Valerian improves the quality of sleep in women with menopause who are experiencing insomnia.”17
In this double-blind, placebo-controlled investigation, 202 adults were given 450 mg of valerian extract for 8 weeks 1 hour before bedtime. The Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) was used to determine sleep quality. While valerian seemed to improve sleep quality, the change was not significantly greater than that of placebo.
- The study concluded that while participants had “less drowsiness and less trouble with sleep…this study failed to provide data to support the hypothesis that 450 mg, at bedtime could improve sleep as measured by the PSQI. However, exploratory analyses revealed improvement in some secondary outcomes.”18
In this double-blind, placebo-controlled investigation, 37 adults with restless leg syndrome (RLS) were given either valerian extract at 800 mg or a placebo over a period of 8 weeks. Both the valerian and placebo groups demonstrated improvements in RLS and sleep.
- The study concluded that “the use of 800 mg of valerian for 8 weeks improves symptoms of RLS and decreases daytime sleepiness in patients that report an Epworth Sleepiness Scale (ESS) score of 10 or greater.”19
Dosage for Sleep
Valerian may be taken in a variety of different products and forms, including as:
- A root extract, 400 mg – 900 mg, 0.8% – 1% valerenic acid, 1 hour before bed
- A daytime supplement, 300 mg, with meals
- Tea, drinks, tinctures, and various other liquid extracts
The recommended valerian dosage is 187 mg when combined other herbal sleep-aid supplements.
Supplements in Review Says
- Valerian root extract, 450 mg
Valerian may moderately enhance sleep quality. We recommend taking valerian at 450 mg roughly one hour before going to sleep. Studies indicate valerian’s capacity as a relaxant not just in cases of insomnia, but in otherwise healthy people as well. Valerian may additionally help reduce stress, anxiety, and various sleep-related conditions, positioning it as an herb for overall health, as well.
Try taking valerian at 187 mg in conjunction with hops or lemon balm. Although valerian has proven mildly capable of improving sleep quality, research also suggests its effects may be more fully realized when appropriately integrated with comparable herbs, especially hops and lemon balm. Use a reduced quantity of 187 mg valerian in such scenarios.
- Mathela CS, et al. Valeriana wallichii DC, a new chemotype from northwestern Himalaya . J Essent Oil Res. 2005;17(6). ↩
- Salter S, Brownie S. Treating primary insomnia – the efficacy of valerian and hops. Aust Fam Physician. 2010 Jun;39(6):433-7. ↩
- Fernandez S, et al. Sedative and sleep-enhancing properties of linarin, a flavonoid-isolated from Valeriana officinalis. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2004 Feb;77(2):399-404. ↩
- Leathwood PD, Chauffard F. Aqueous extract of valerian reduces latency to fall asleep in man. Planta Med. 1985 Apr;(2):144-8. ↩
- Francis AJ, Dempster RJ. Effect of valerian, Valeriana edulis, on sleep difficulties in children with intellectual deficits: randomised trial. Phytomedicine. 2002 May;9(4):273-9. ↩
- Fernandez-San-Martin MI, et al. Effectiveness of Valerian on insomnia: a meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials. Sleep Med. 2010 Jun;11(6):505-11. ↩
- Andreatini R, et al. Effect of valepotriates (valerian extract) in generalized anxiety disorder: a randomized placebo-controlled pilot study. Phytother Res. 2002 Nov;16(7):650-4. ↩
- Abourashed EA, et al. In vitro binding experiments with a Valerian, hops and their fixed combination extract (Ze91019) to selected central nervous system receptors. Phytomedicine. 2004 Nov; 11(7-8):633-8. ↩
- Swanson CJ, et al. Metabotropic glutamate receptors as novel targets for anxiety and stress disorders. Nat Rev Drug Discov. 2005 Feb;4(2):131-44. ↩
- Yuan CS, et al. The gamma-aminobutyric acidergic effects of valerian and valerenic acid on rat brainstem neuronal activity. Anesth Analg. 2004 Feb;98(2):353-8. ↩
- Gottesmann C. GABA mechanisms and sleep. Neuroscience. 2002;111(2):231-9. ↩
- Cropley M, et al. Effect of kava and valerian on human physiological and psychological responses to mental stress assessed under laboratory conditions. Phytother Res. 2002 Feb;16(1):23-7. ↩
- Tokunaga S, et al. Effect of valerian extract preparation (BIM) on the sleep-wake cycle in rats. Biol Pharm Bull. 2007 Feb;30(2):363-6. ↩
- Komori T, et al. The sleep-enhancing effect of valerian inhalation and sleep-shortening effect of lemon inhalation. Chem Senses. 2006 Oct;31(8):731-7. ↩
- Leathwood PD, et al. Aqueous extract of valerian root (Valeriana officinalis L.) improves sleep quality in man. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 1982 Jul;17(1):65-71. ↩
- Taibi DM, et al. A feasibility study of valerian extract for sleep disturbance in person with arthritis. Biol Res Nurs. 2009 Apr;10(4):409-17. ↩
- Taavoni S, et al. Effect of valerian on sleep quality in postmenopausal women: a randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial. Menopause. 2011 Sep;18(9):951-5. ↩
- Barton DL, et al. The use of Valeriana officinalis (Valerian) in improving sleep in patients who are undergoing treatment for cancer: a phase III randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study (NCCTG Trial, N01C5). J Support Oncol. 2011 Jan-Feb;9(1):24-31. ↩
- Cuellar NG, Ratcliffe SJ. Does valerian improve sleepiness and symptom severity in people with restless legs syndrome? Altern Ther Health Med. 2009 Mar-Apr;15(2):22-8. ↩
- Wheatley D. Kava and valerian in the treatment of stress-induced insomnia. Phytother Res. 2001 Sep;15(6):549-51. ↩