Valerian Root for Sleep: Does It Help?

“Valerian root as a sleep aid” is one of the most common searches on Google around the idea of sleep relief. Tens of thousands of people search for information on valerian root and its relationship to sleep every month.

It’s no surprise a natural sleep alternative would hold such appeal, as more people struggle with sleep every year. Searches around terms like “insomnia” and “sleeping disorders” have spiked over 50% in the past five years.

Sleep is necessary for survival - it gives us the mental and physical rehabilitation we need nightly. And good sleep is necessary to thrive - there is no “good life” without quality rest. The constant pinging of texts from friends, comments on new posts and work threads has people looking for assistance to shut down their minds when they shut down their machines at the end of the night.

The “I can’t sleep” anxiety that keeps many people awake has cyclical effect on itself. Thinking about what messages are piling for the morning keeps many people up. Stressing that sleep isn’t coming easily builds on top of that anxiety. Sleeping poorly after staying up late affects the next morning. The anxiety of a bad day leads into the night and so on.

And often this vicious cycle is not helped when the side effects of prescription sleep medications come into play. The side effects often outweigh the benefits: dizziness, headache, nausea, prolonged drowsiness, morning grogginess, nightmares, addiction, and the list goes on.

So search engines are the recipient of more users every day looking for anything that can help. Why aren’t I sleeping well? What’s insomnia? Which sleep aids can help me wind down, fall asleep, and stay asleep, but without the hangover effect that makes waking up hard.

And many times search engines serve up valerian root in sleep aid queries … so what is it?

What is Valerian Root?

Valerian is a flowering plant native to Europe and Asia whose medicinal properties have been used for centuries. During the peak of summer, the plant blossoms with sweetly scented pink or white flowers. However, it’s the roots of the plant have a long history of being used for sleep, stress, and anxiety relief.

In the 1500s, it was used to treat maladies varying from nervousness to heart-palpitations. But by the 19th century, valerian lost steam as a medicinal herb as some cultures weren’t sure what to do with it.

But during World War II in England, it was found useful to relieve the stress of air raids.

If a plant is strong enough to help citizens get over the idea of bombs being dropped over their heads, it’s worth considering as an aid to help people today get over a passive aggressive comment on an Instagram post.

Fortunately, scientific studies have come a long way since the 19th century and help illustrate the best uses for valerian.

Valerian Root Sleep Aid Studies

Valerian root as a sleep aid has been put to the test many times. There have been underlying threads throughout the studies:

  • All showed no difference between the valerian and placebo groups in terms of sleepiness the next morning.

  • Most often, the studies were designed to measure “sleep quality” and valerian was found to almost double the chance of sleeping better when compared with placebo.

  • There is a precise range of effective doses.

One of the key aspects of sleep measured in the most wide-ranging valerian study is called sleep latency. Simply put: how long it takes someone to fall asleep. A decrease in sleep latency means that it takes less time to fall asleep. An increase means the opposite.

The largest study conducted on valerian root found that valerian root extract significantly decreased sleep latency:

“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.”

The poorest of sleepers found results with 400mg of valerian root extract as compared to a placebo. Additionally, evidence from that same study showed that waking up in the middle of the night, recalling dreams, and drowsiness the next morning was unaffected by valerian.

How Does Valerian Root Work to Improve Sleep?

Understanding how something works – otherwise known as it’s “mechanism of action” – helps researchers continue to test their hypothesis’ to verify it’s effectiveness.

According to a large scale analysis of all valerian root studies, components of valerian prevent the breakdown of GABA in the brain. As we’ve noted throughout our site, GABA is an essential amino acid in the body that functions as “the brakes of the brain” because it slows the activity of neurons and the central nervous system (CNS), which can help calm the mind - a crucial requirement for sleep.

Bottom Line on Valerian as a Sleep Aid

There’s often an appeal to natural remedies used in ancient metropolises and cultures like those in Greece and Rome. If it worked then, why can’t it work now? And it’s all the better when the remedies stand up to today’s rigorous testing protocols and prove their efficacy.

Valerian passes the modern tests as smoothly as it passed the ancient tests. Thanks to its ability to cut sleep latency and lack of hangover effect there is reason to believe valerian root can be a sleep supplement that aids insomnia while not delivering the side effects many prescription and over the counter medicines bring.

The ability to fall asleep and stay asleep, and your sleep quality can be greatly improved with valerian root. You can rest easy knowing it is a natural remedy that has been tested to modern standards.