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Valerian Root: Dosages and Its Impact on Your Sleep

Good sleep. It’s a clean countertop. It's the candle you light when you’ve finished cleaning. It’s an empty mailbox. It’s a totally checked off to-do list. It’s a green, freshly cut lawn. It’s a sharp knife slicing through your vegetables like they’re warm butter.

It is refreshing. It’s your body and mind purposefully restoring itself, your cells rejuvenating, mental fog fading away and your emotional well-being getting another chance to get better.

But it’s not always quite like that .. is it?

There are the nights we toss and turn and toss and turn. The nights we stare into the white light of a phone, wondering when we’ll fall asleep, panicking about the oncoming day. Those nights are not about rejuvenation, they’re about surviving.

So how can we do less surviving and more thriving? A good start is understanding how your body works and the role natural herbs like valerian root can play in the relaxation and sleep process playing out in your body at night.

Several neurotransmitters and hormones play crucial roles in regulating sleep. Here are some of the key ones:

  • Melatonin: Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain. It plays a vital role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle and is commonly referred to as the "sleep hormone." Melatonin levels rise in the evening, signaling to the body that it's time to sleep. We’ll come back to melatonin later on.
  • Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA): GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. We often refer to it as “the brakes of the brain” around here. It has calming effects and helps reduce neural activity, promoting relaxation and sleep.

  • Adenosine: Adenosine is a neuromodulator that accumulates in the brain throughout the day. It promotes sleepiness and plays a role in sleep regulation. Adenosine levels increase during wakefulness and gradually decrease during sleep, contributing to the sleep-wake cycle. Adenosine is what caffeine targets and limits production of to help you feel more alert and active.
  • Serotonin: Serotonin is a neurotransmitter involved in regulating mood, appetite, and sleep. And it’s a precursor to melatonin. Serotonin’s conversion to melatonin is an essential step in the production of melatonin.
  • Histamine: Histamine is a neurotransmitter that promotes wakefulness and alertness. It helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle by promoting wakefulness during the day. Antihistamine medications, which block histamine receptors, can have sedating effects and are sometimes used as sleep aids. Hello, Benadryl! You’ll also find an antihistamine called “diphenhydramine HCl” in many over the counter sleeping pills. Hello groggy mornings!
  • Orexin (Hypocretin): Orexin is a neuropeptide that helps stabilize the sleep-wake cycle and promotes alertness. A deficiency of orexin is associated with narcolepsy, a sleep disorder characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness and disruptions in REM sleep.

On top of all this, your cortisol levels play a big role in regulating your body’s sleep-wake cycle. Often referred to as the stress hormone, cortisol is released by the adrenal glands in response to stress … and is often released upon the consumption of caffeine. Cortisol levels typically follow a pattern with higher levels in the morning to promote wakefulness and lower levels in the evening to facilitate sleep.

But chronic stress or disruption in the sleep-wake cycle with something like too many cups of coffee throughout the day or too late in the evening can lead to dysregulation of cortisol levels and contribute to difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep.

So all these hormones and neurotransmitters, among others, play a role in your body’s transition from waking up in the morning, to being awake during the day to falling back asleep at night. 

And, just like a stimulant like caffeine plays a role in giving you energy and focus throughout the day, there are a ton of supplements and herbs that can help you relax and get into a deep sleep at night.

What Are the Benefits of Valerian Root?

Valerian root is a herbal supplement derived from the roots of the Valeriana officinalis plant, which is native to Europe and parts of Asia. It has been used for centuries as a natural remedy for various health concerns, particularly in promoting sleep and reducing anxiety.

Valerian root broadly has similarities to adaptogens, but plays a bit of a different role. It’s main focus is not calming you while you’re undergoing stress, rather it helps you relax enough that you can fall asleep. But, like an adaptogen, the effects of valerian root may be cumulative, meaning that regular use over time can lead to more noticeable benefits.

Valerian root contains a number of active compounds, including valerenic acid, valepotriates, and various volatile oils. These compounds are believed to have sedative and anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) effects on the body. Specifically, valerian root impacts your GABA levels. Valerenic acid, in particular, is thought to increase the amount of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. 

What Dosage of Valerian Root is Needed for Sleep?

The onset of effects and the time it takes for valerian root to start working can vary from person to person. Some individuals may experience its effects within a short period of time, while others may require more time for the supplement to take effect.

The largest study conducted on valerian root found that valerian root extract significantly decreased sleep latency (the time it takes you to fall asleep) with the poorest of sleepers finding results with 400 mg of valerian root extract as compared to a placebo:

“Valerian produced a significant decrease in subjectively evaluated sleep latency scores and a significant improvement in sleep quality: the latter was most notable among people who considered themselves poor or irregular sleepers, smokers, and people who thought they normally had long sleep latencies.”

A common dosage range for valerian root in capsule or tablet form is 300-600 mg, taken an hour or so before bedtime. And, like caffeine, regular breaks or cycling off valerian may help increase the impact when you start taking it again. The body learns, folks. You can only do one thing to get results for so long. 

Unless that one thing is living a stress free, healthy life with plenty of exercise and ample time carved out for sleeping. 

One can hope.

Valerian Root Impact on Melatonin

While valerian root does not directly stimulate the production of melatonin in the body, it may indirectly support the natural production and release of melatonin - and that should really be what we’re striving for, folks.

Adding too much additional melatonin into the mix can impact your body’s ability to produce it. And if your body ceases to produce melatonin, get ready to struggle with your sleep, mood and more. I mean, who can possibly be in a good mood without good sleep?

So while valerian doesn’t specifically create melatonin, it can have a calming effect on the nervous system, which can promote relaxation and improve sleep quality. By creating a more relaxed state, valerian root may help create an environment conducive to the body's natural production of melatonin.

Valerian root's impact on the inner workings of your body is a great example of the functionality of the food and beverages you consume every day. 

And ultimately, leveraging an awareness of how your body works, the way your neurotransmitters and hormones cycle throughout the day and how the food and beverages you consume impact those cycles can set yourself up for better rest every night.