Historical evidence for the use of valerian root (Valeriana officinalis), also called setwell, as a sleep aid and anxiolytic goes as far back as ancient Greece and Rome. Currently valerian root is marketed as a sedative in the US and recommended for anxiety and other nervous system disorders in Europe and South America. Dried valerian root is commonly used in teas or tinctures and standardized extracts are often made into pills or capsules. Standardized preparations are often easier for people to take as valerian root has a strong odor that many people find unpleasant.
Valerian root extract appears to affect the nervous system by increasing gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) availability. It improves release of GABA from nerve endings in the brain and then inhibits GABA from reuptake into neurons; valerian root extract also inhibits enzymes that destroy GABA. Clinical trials of people with nonorganic insomnia show that valerian root extract increases amplitudes in theta waves and moderately increases long-wave delta waves resulting in increased duration of deep sleep and decreased sleep latency, time it takes to fall asleep. In clinical trials comparing valerian root extracts to common benzodiazepines, valerian root extracts were as effective as the prescription medications at reducing anxious behaviors, reducing sleep latency, and improving sleep quality. In people with cancer treatment related sleep disorders, valerian root extract improved sleep and reduced overall fatigue.
Side-effects may include gastrointestinal issues, headaches, mental fatigue, insomnia, uneasiness, excitability, and heart arrhythmias. Dry mouth, vivid dreams, and morning drowsiness have also been reported. Withdrawal symptoms are possible after long term use; dosages should be tapered slowly before discontinuation. There is a moderate chance of interactions if valerian root is taken with or near acetaminophen, alcohol, benzodiazepines, contraceptive drugs, estrogens, fexofenadine, lovastatin, opiates, phenobarbital, propofol, triazolam, Xanax, and other medications. Other contraindications include children under 4 years old, pregnancy, and lactation. Sedative effects and adverse events may be enhanced if taken with other botanicals or supplements with similar sedating properties including California poppy, catnip, hops, L-tryptophan, melatonin, SAMe, St. John’s Wort, and others.
Standard dosing for insomnia and sleep disorders is 400-600mg 30-120 minutes prior to bedtime. Standard dosing for anxiety and other nervous system dysfunctions is 50-200mg three times daily. Full benefit of valerian root for sleep disorders appears to take 2-4 weeks of daily use. Valerian root and lemon balm are commonly combined as a sleep aid in both supplements and teas.
Disclaimer: The content herein is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is not meant to diagnosis, cure, or treat any medical condition. Always consult a physician or other qualified healthcare provider with questions regarding a medical condition and before starting new diets and dietary supplements. Not all diets or supplements are appropriate for all people or all health conditions.