If you are one of those who fight every single night to fall asleep and get the deserved rest, you will be delighted to find out that there is a herb that is a potent natural sleep aid, and it can help you treat anxiety, insomnia, and nervous restlessness.
Apparently, valerian root is the herb that has helped people to fight insomnia for centuries! It has powerful sedative, and anti-anxiety properties, and helps you regulate blood pressure.
Valerian root is derived from valerian (Valeriana officinalis), which is a perennial flowering plant, a member of the Valerianaceae family, and is native to Europe, some parts of Asia, and is also grown in North America. It has scented pink or white flowers that bloom in the summer.
It is rich in volatile oils, like valerenic acids, less volatile sesquiterpenes and valepotriates (esters of short-chain fatty acids), which provide its calming effects.
It has been used since at least the time of ancient Rome and Greece as a natural medicine. Hippocrates spoke about its medicinal properties, and Galen suggested it as an insomnia remedy.
In medieval Sweden, grooms put valerian root in the wedding clothes to protect them against the “envy” of the elves.
These are the benefits of the use of this herb:
- Helps Sleep
Scientists have found that valerian root shortens the time needed to fall asleep and improves the quality of sleep, Therefore, you can use it instead of sleeping pills, as it provides great effects and causes no side-effects.
The findings of one double-blind study conducted by the Foellinge Health Center in Sweden showed that it significantly improved sleep.
Namely, 44 percent of the participants reported perfect sleep while 89 percent reported improved sleep after the use of this herb, and none of them experienced any side-effects.
To treat insomnia, you can combine it with other sedating herbs, like hops (Humulus lupulus)and lemon balm (Melissa Officinalis).
Another study which involved children with minor sleep problems published in Phytomedicine, showed that 81 percent of those who took an herbal combination of valerian and lemon balm slept much better.
This herb has a sedative action due to the increase of the brain’s GABA levels, or the gamma-aminobutyric acid, which is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, and has sedative properties when in large quantities.
In vitro studies have confirmed that valerian extract stimulates the release of GABA from brain nerve endings and blocks its return into nerve cells. Also, it contains valerenic acid which inhibits an enzyme that destroys GABA.
- Calms Anxiety
Valerian root raises the levels of GABA in the brain, which calms anxiety and regulates nerve cells. Valerian root contains valerenic acid and valerenol which also soothe anxiety.
- Manages Stress
Since it treats anxiety and improves the quality of sleep, this herb dramatically reduces stress. It helps the mind and body to relax and improves mood.
Moreover, research at the BMC Complementary and Alternative medicine showed that valerian root suppresses both, physical and psychological stress.
- Lowers Blood Pressure
Since it calms the body and mind, this beneficial herb also lowers blood pressure, and thus supports the function of the heart. High blood pressure leads to heart attacks and stroke, so this plant will help you lower the risk of these health issues.
- Eases Menstrual Cramps
Valerian root effectively lowers the intensity of menstrual cramps, which are common in the period of PMS. It has strong sedative and antispasmodic properties which soothe muscle spasms and relax the muscles.
This herb is also beneficial as it calms the severe uterine muscle contractions that lead to terrible pain during menstruation.
Melatonin and valerian root
Melatonin is a hormone released by the pineal gland and is closely linked to the sleep-wake cycle. Namely, when the sun goes down, the SCN activates this gland and it starts releasing melatonin into the blood.
This is usually around 9 a.m. and then, the levels of this hormone are dramatically increased in the blood, leading to sleepiness. These levels remain high for about 12 hours, and during the daytime, the amounts of melatonin in the body are barely detectable.
Therefore, insomnia is a condition of very low levels of melatonin in the blood. Since valerian root increases GABA levels in the brain, it lowers brain activity and helps you to easily fall asleep.
These are the benefits of melatonin and valerian root:
- Both of them treat sleep disorders and insomnia, and lower high blood pressure
- Melatonin has been shown to be useful in the case of Alzheimer’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and is being investigated as a cancer care remedy. However, its possible side-effects include irritability, stomach cramps, headaches, daytime sleepiness, short-time depression feelings
- Valerian manages stress, treats anxiety, muscular spasms, and cramps. Its possible side effects include stomach issues, dizziness, and headaches
- Valerian and melatonin — Avoid taking them together as their sedative effect might be too strong.
- Also, do not combine them with over-the-counter or prescription sleep aids, or any products containing alcohol.
- Valerian — If combined with sleep-inducing supplements, it might cause severe tiredness
- Melatonin — You should avoid combining it with supplements that slow blood clotting or have sedative properties.
How to Use Valerian Root
This herb is classified as safe in the U.S. and you can buy supplements in all local health stores. You can apply it topically as an essential oil, or use it as a dry powdered extract in capsule form, a tea, tincture or fluid extract.
It provides noticeable effects after two weeks of use. Therefore, take it one to two hours before bed or up to three times daily.
These are the recommended dosages for the treatment of insomnia:
- Tea: Pour 1 cup boiling water over 1 teaspoonful (2 to 3 grams) of dried root, and leave it to steep 5 to 10 minutes.
- Fluid extract (1:1): 1/2 to 1 teaspoon (1 to 2 mL)
- Dry powdered extract (4:1): 250 to 600 milligrams
- Tincture (1:5): 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoon (4 to 6 mL)
After your sleep improves, you should still take valerian root for 2-6 weeks.
For the treatment of anxiety, take 120 to 200 milligrams, three to four times daily.
Possible Side Effects of Valerian Root
This herb is regarded as safe, but it has some possible side-effects, like stomach issues, headaches, and dizziness. Most studies found no dangerous effects on fertility or fetal development, but there is a need for further research. Moreover, consult your doctor before giving it to your children.
It does not cause dependency to most people, but it might cause withdrawal symptoms after prolonged use.
Do not take valerian root before driving, operating heavy machinery or doing any activities that require alertness, due to its sedative effects. Also, do not take it if you suffer from a liver disease.
Avoid combining it with other sleep aids, and depressants, like alcohol, benzodiazepines, and narcotics. Moreover, it can also interfere with some prescription medications, and natural supplements like St. John’s wort, kava, and melatonin.
Yet, note that valerian root is a safe and natural way to treat poor sleep, tension, anxiety, stress, high blood pressure, menstrual cramps, and nervousness.
Do not forget that it needs two weeks to experience its effects, but the improvements it causes are significant.