What to know about valerian root and its potential benefits for sleep – Share Sunshine Life

If you’ve ever struggled to fall asleep, you know how much you crave answers – especially if it happens several nights in a row. While melatonin seems to be the reigning champion of sleep supplements, it may not be the best choice if you’re waking up in the middle of the night, breastfeeding, or taking birth control pills. These are just a few of the reasons why some people choose valerian root.

“Valerian is a flowering plant native to Europe and Asia, and its root is widely used as a sleep aid,” says JoAnn Yánez, executive director of the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges. Read on to learn more about this potential sleep supplement.

What is valerian root and how can it benefit your sleep?
Valerian has been used as a medicinal herb as far back as ancient Greece and Rome. “Its root has traditionally been used as a relaxant due to its calming effect on the nervous system and as an antispasmodic due to its muscle relaxing properties,” explains Leena Pandya, a board member of the California Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

According to Dr. Pandya, valerian root increases levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. “Valerian root contains valerianic acid that binds to GABA receptors,” explains Dr. Pandya. This binding increases the body’s production of GABA, which then reduces excitability by inhibiting neuronal transmission. This ultimately leads to relaxation and reduced anxiety, which may help you fall asleep faster. In a systematic evaluation of valerian root studies, six studies were found to show statistically significant benefits for sleep, but researchers warned that there may be publication bias.

However, valerian root may also have other benefits that could put it ahead of other sleep supplements. “Depending on the dose, valerian root helps with insomnia, anxiety, ADHD, muscle spasms (menstrual and gastrointestinal cramps), pain (especially tension-related pain, such as migraines) and certain cardiovascular diseases,” Dr. Pandya said.

How does valerian root compare to melatonin?
Both melatonin and valerian root work in different parts of the central nervous system, and both may help improve sleep, according to Artie Grover, MD, chief of the Department of Medicine at Tufts Medical Center Sleep Medicine. Dr. Grover explains that melatonin is produced nightly by the pineal gland in the brain, usually peaks a few hours before bedtime and works in sync with the body’s circadian rhythms.

“Part of the reason I might use melatonin on valerian root is that physiologically it makes sense,” Dr. Grover told POPSUGAR. “Over time, some people’s melatonin may be suppressed as they age, or if they are near their melatonin hormone peaks at the time they receive a lot of light. I would primarily prescribe melatonin to improve sleep by fixing circadian rhythms.”

One problem with melatonin, however, is that although it is a natural hormone produced by the body, it is not the best supplement to take if you are already tossing and turning in bed. Experts recommend taking melatonin about an hour before bedtime. When you take it in the middle of the night waking up can actually interfere with your circadian rhythm, so it’s also not the best choice for 3 a.m. insomnia.

“While melatonin will definitely help you fall asleep faster, it won’t necessarily put you to sleep if you wake up frequently during the night,” says Dr. Pandya. “GABA may not only help you fall asleep faster, but it may also help you increase deep sleep and rapid eye movement sleep.”

While both melatonin and valerian root can help with sleep, melatonin is more directly related to your circadian rhythm, which has both advantages and disadvantages. On the other hand, if you just need an easy way to soothe yourself back to sleep, valerian root may be helpful.

Does valerian root have side effects?
One of the benefits of taking valerian root for sleep is that, according to Dr. Grover, it usually has fewer side effects than prescription sleeping pills such as Ambien. However, that’s not to say it’s without consequences.

“Valerian is usually considered safe. However, some people may experience side effects, including headache, dizziness, taste changes and drowsiness,” explains Dr. Yánez. Dr. Pandya adds that while some people may experience gastrointestinal distress, oral supplements are usually well tolerated. According to Dr. Pandya, abruptly stopping valerian root supplements can also lead to withdrawal symptoms, so it’s best to cut back slowly.

In addition, Dr. Grover emphasized that, like other supplements, valerian root is sold over the counter and is not regulated by the FDA. It is important to be careful and read labels when choosing supplements. This includes checking the dosage. While Dr. Pandya says 300 to 600 mg. capsules have been used safely in clinical studies to treat insomnia, it’s best to discuss the dose with your doctor and start with the lowest dose possible.

Should you take Valerian to sleep?
Experts who spoke with POPSUGAR generally supported trying valerian root for sleep. However, Dr. Yánez added that it should be combined with other natural remedies, lifestyle and nutritional changes, and good sleep hygiene. You should also work with your physician to address the underlying causes of your sleep problems.

“As a sleep physician, I try to prescribe as few sleep aids as possible because we can often address insomnia in other ways, such as behavioral interventions. The goal is to improve your sleep habits and sleep hygiene,” says Dr. Grover. “There’s enough data to suggest that valerian root may have some benefit. If I were to make a recommendation, I would be willing to do a short-term trial at a low dose to see if it helps with sleep. However, with over-the-counter supplements, I’m always wary of what’s in that bottle.”

The bottom line: there is promising evidence that valerian root may help with sleep, as long as you read the label carefully when you decide to buy. But as always, talk to your doctor and consider your medical history before starting a new supplement.


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