Valerian root extract is considered to be a safer and gentler alternative to prescription drugs for the treatment of anxiety and insomnia. It works by calming the nervous system and providing a mild sedative effect so you can relax and get to sleep quicker. Studies show that valerian root may also relieve restlessness.
Valerian root works by increasing the amount of GABA in your brain. Unlike many synthetic drugs, several reports have found that valerian root has no major side effects and is safe to take with other herbs or nutritional supplements. It is one of the most effective natural sleep enhancers on the market. Here’s what you need to know about supplementing with valerian root extract.
Valerian root is one of the most effective natural sleep aids and anti-anxiety herbs. One study investigated the effects of valerian root on people with insomnia by giving 128 test subjects either 400 mg of valerian root, a combination of 30 mg hops and 60 mg of valerian root, or a placebo. Subjects were given their designated combination three times a day for nine nights in a row. Results showed that test subjects who took the valerian root extract had substantially significant improvements over the group that received the placebo. Participants reported waking up fewer times in the night, falling asleep faster, and having a better quality of sleep (8).
Another study evaluated how long it took eight people with mild insomnia who were given valerian root to fall asleep. The subjects were given motion monitors to wear on their wrists and then asked to fill out a questionnaire the next day about their sleep. Subjects were either given 450 or 900 mg of valerian root for 12 nights total. Results showed that the group that took the 450 mg dosage reduced the amount of time it took them to fall asleep by seven minutes, which was reported to be the same amount as those who take benzodiazepine prescription medications or other sedative drugs (8). This study suggests that taking 450 mg of valerian root improves sleep equally as well as taking a synthetic drug, minus the side effects.
A third study evaluated 121 subjects who took either 600 mg of dried valerian root or a placebo for 28 days. Results showed that the group that took the valerian root decreased their insomnia symptoms considerably more than the placebo group, especially on days 14 and 28 (8).
Another study tested the efficiency of valerian root compared to prescription drugs by giving 75 subjects with insomnia a dose of either 600 mg of valerian root or 10 mg of a benzodiazepine medication called oxazepam for 28 days. Results showed that both groups had improvements in their sleep habits, but the group that took valerian root had fewer side effects (8). Lastly, a study involving 16 subjects with insomnia were randomly given 600 mg of valerian root or a placebo for 14 days. When subjects took the valerian root, they moved into slow-wave sleep 13.5 minutes faster than with the placebo. The group that took the valerian root also reported having fewer side effects than the placebo (8).
Valerian root is also effective at treating anxiety. One study found that valerian root decreases stress by boosting GABA levels in the brain. The study found that the anti-anxiety drugs Xanax and Valium work in the same fashion, which suggests that valerian root may be a natural alternative to synthetic drugs (10).
Valerian root works by increasing the production of an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain called gamma aminobutyric acid or GABA. It prevents other excitable neurotransmitters from binding to receptors in the brain that make you feel anxious. GABA has been shown to calm the nervous system and increase REM sleep. Supplementing with herbs that enhance GABA production are often safer than synthetic drugs that perform the same mechanism (9).
Studies show that taking a valerian root extract causes brain nerve endings to release GABA and then prevents the brain cells from taking it back in. Additionally, valerian root inhibits the production of an enzyme that destroys GABA in the brain to help keep your levels up (8).
When taking valerian root, always follow the directions on your nutritional supplement’s label. If you are taking valerian root for insomnia, take the recommended dose an hour or so before bed to help you sleep through the night. To treat anxiety, valerian root can be taken in minimal doses three times a day. Avoid driving if you have taken large amounts of valerian root.
There is no recommended daily value for valerian root. According to Drugs.com, clinical studies have used 150 mg of valerian root divided into three doses a day for four weeks to treat anxiety. Other studies have used 0.5 to 2 grams of the dried herb for anxiety. Valerian root extract has been used in the amount of 0.5 to 2 ml and a valerian tincture of 2 to 4 ml for anxiety (1).
To treat insomnia, clinical studies have used valerian root in the amount of 400 to 600 mg a day one hour before bed for up to four weeks (1). WebMD recommends taking 400 to 900 mg of valerian root 30 minutes to two hours before bed to treat insomnia (2). Remember that everyone responds differently to herbal supplements. To find the proper dosage for you, pay attention to how valerian root makes you feel. If a low dosage doesn’t improve your sleep or anxiety, gradually increase the amount. Avoid taking more than 900 mg of valerian root in capsule form at once.
Valerian root generally works well when taken with other herbs and natural supplements. Melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland of the brain that makes you feel sleepy. Taking valerian root with melatonin may improve your sleep. According to Doctor Julian Whitaker, taking melatonin and valerian root together is one of the best natural sleep aid combinations available. Furthermore, a report by Drugs.com found that no interactions between valerian root and melatonin existed (5).
Because valerian root has a mild sedative effect on the brain, some experts warn against taking it with other products that make you feel sleepy. To determine whether taking melatonin and valerian root together is right for you, give yourself a trial run. Take a small amount of each together and keep track of how you feel. If you become overly drowsy the next day, try reducing the amount you take until you find the right dose that allows you to sleep through the night without waking up tired.
WebMD stated that you should never drink alcohol while taking valerian root as it may cause excessive drowsiness or sleepiness. Valerian root may increase the effects of Xanax to make you feel overly tired; therefore, the two should not be taken together (2).
Valerian root should not be taken with prescription antidepressants as the combination of the two may cause severe drowsiness (2).
Valerian root may slow down the rate in which some medications are broken down in the liver, which can increase their side effects. Talk to your doctor before taking valerian root with the following medications as they may become changed in the liver: Nizoral, Allegra, Mevacor, and Sporanox (2).
According to WebMD, valerian root is “likely safe” for most people when used as directed. Clinical trials involving over 12,000 individuals who have taken valerian root for up to 28 days have determined that the herb is safe to use. Side effects are rare and may include excitability, uneasiness, and headaches (2).
When taken at higher doses, valerian root may cause you to feel sluggish the next morning. WebMD suggests gradually reducing the amount of valerian root you take over a week or two instead of stopping cold turkey to avoid side effects (2).
Although research shows that valerian root is not harmful to fetal development or fertility, pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid taking it. For the rest of the general population, valerian root is regarded as safe (6). Consult with a doctor before taking valerian root if you are taking a sedative medication, an antidepressant, or a drug that breaks down in the liver. Avoid taking valerian root before surgery as it may enhance the effects of anesthesia (6).
Research shows that valerian root does not appear to cause addiction. There are very few cases of withdrawal effects in people who have been using it for a long time. To avoid any side effects, gradually decrease your dose rather than stopping altogether (6).
Research supports the use of valerian root for children. WebMD stated that some studies suggest valerian root is safe for children to take up to eight weeks (2).
A 2014 study found that children under the age of 12 with insomnia and restlessness had improved symptoms when given valerian root and lemon balm. The study evaluated 169 school aged children who were suffering from concentration problems and hyperactivity but did not meet the qualifications for attention deficit disorder. The children were given 640 mg of valerian root daily along with 320 mg lemon balm for seven weeks. Results found that the percentage of children who had been unable to focus decreased from 75 percent to 14 percent after taking the valerian root combination. Hyperactivity dropped from 61 to 13 percent, and impulsiveness dropped from 59 to 22 percent (3).
Another study on children under the age of 12 with difficulty falling asleep found that nearly 81 percent had improved sleep when given valerian root and lemon balm. Additionally, about 70 percent of the children reported having decreased restlessness. The study found that there were no side effects associated with the valerian root and lemon balm combination (4).
While valerian root appears to be safe for older children, the Office of Dietary Supplements recommended that children under the age of three should not take it. According to the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders, dosages that are found on supplement bottles are recommended for adults that weigh around 150 pounds. Keep this in mind when adjusting dosages for children. A 75-pound child would take half the dose as a 150-pound adult. For example, if the directions on your supplement call for 400 mg of valerian root, a child should take around 200 mg.