Valerian is an herb. It is native to Europe and parts of Asia but also grows in North America. Medicine is made from the root.
Valerian is most commonly used for sleep disorders, especially the inability to sleep (insomnia). Valerian is also used orally for anxiety and psychological stress, but there is limited scientific research to support these uses.
In manufacturing, the extracts and oil made from valerian are used as flavoring in foods and beverages.
How Valerian Root Helps You Relax and Sleep Better
Valerian root is often referred to as “nature’s Valium.” In fact, this herb has been used since ancient times to promote tranquility and improve sleep.
Although it has received a lot of positive attention, questions have also been raised about its effectiveness and safety.
This article outlines the benefits of valerian, explores concerns about its safety and provides guidance on how to take it to get the best results.
What Is Valerian Root?
Valeriana officinalis, commonly known as valerian, is an herb native to Asia and Europe. It is now also grown in the US, China and other countries.
Flowers from the valerian plant were used to make perfume centuries ago, and the root portion has been used in traditional medicine for at least 2,000 years.
Unlike its delicately scented flowers, valerian root has a very strong, earthy odor due to the volatile oils and other compounds responsible for its sedative effects.
Interestingly, the name “valerian” is derived from the Latin verb valere, which means “to be strong” or “to be healthy.” Valerian root extract is available as a supplement in capsule or liquid form. It can also be consumed as a tea.
How Does It Work?
Valerian root contains a number of compounds that may promote sleep and reduce anxiety.
These include valerenic acid, isovaleric acid and a variety of antioxidants.
Valerian has received attention for its interaction with gamma-amicability acid (GABA), a chemical messenger that helps regulate nerve impulses in your brain and nervous system.
Researchers have shown that low GABA levels related to acute and chronic stress are linked to anxiety and low-quality sleep (1Trusted Source, 2Trusted Source, 3Trusted Source).
Valerenic acid has been found to inhibit the breakdown of GABA in the brain, resulting in feelings of calmness and tranquility. This is the same way anti-anxiety medications like Valium and Xanax work (4Trusted Source, 5Trusted Source, 6Trusted Source).
Valerian root also contains the antioxidants hesperidin and linarin, which appear to have sedative and sleep-enhancing properties
Many of these compounds may inhibit excessive activity in the amygdala, a part of the brain that processes fear and strong emotional responses to stress (5Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source).
One study found that treating mice with valerian improved their response to physical and psychological stress by maintaining levels of serotonin, a brain chemical involved in mood regulation (9Trusted Source).
Moreover, researchers have shown that isovaleric acid may prevent sudden or involuntary muscle contractions similar to valproic acid, a medication used to treat epilepsy (10Trusted Source, 11Trusted Source).
Valerian Root Can Help You Relax
Staying calm while under stress can be difficult.
Research suggests that valerian root may help ease anxious feelings that occur in response to stressful situations
In one study, rats treated with valerian root prior to a maze experiment displayed significantly less anxious behavior than rats given alcohol or no treatment
A study in healthy adults given challenging mental tests found that a combination of valerian and lemon balm reduced anxiety ratings. However, an extremely high dose of the supplement actually increased anxiety ratings
In addition to decreasing anxiety in response to acute stress, valerian root may also help with chronic conditions characterized by anxious behaviors, such as generalized anxiety disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
In an eight-week controlled study of adults with OCD, the group who took valerian extract on a daily basis showed a significant reduction in obsessive and compulsive behaviors when compared to the control group
What’s more, unlike many of the medications commonly used to treat OCD, valerian didn’t cause any significant side effects.
Another study suggests that children who have trouble maintaining focus or experience hyperactive behaviors may benefit from valerian.
In this controlled study of 169 elementary school children, a combination of valerian and lemon balm improved focus, hyperactivity and impulsiveness by more than 50% among children with the most severe symptoms
Valerian Root May Help You Sleep Better
It’s estimated that about 30% of people experience insomnia, meaning they have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or achieving high-quality, restorative sleep
Research suggests that taking valerian root may reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, as well as improve sleep quality and quantity
In a controlled study of 27 young and middle-aged adults with sleep difficulties, 24 people reported improved sleep and 12 of those reported “perfect sleep” after taking 400 mg of valerian root (24Trusted Source).
Slow-wave sleep, also known as deep sleep, is important for repairing and recharging your body so you wake up feeling well-rested and energetic.
One study in adults with insomnia found that a single dose of valerian allowed them to achieve deep sleep 36% faster. Additionally, the time they spent in deep sleep increased during 14 days of taking valerian (25Trusted Source).
Valerian may also help people who have insomnia after they stop taking benzodiazepines, sedative medications that may lead to dependence over time (26Trusted Source).
In a study of people who had withdrawal symptoms related to stopping benzodiazepines after long-term use, significant improvements in sleep quality were reported after two weeks of valerian treatment (27Trusted Source).
Although most research looking at valerian effects on sleep has been conducted in adults, there are a few studies suggesting children who have trouble sleeping may also benefit from it (28Trusted Source, 29Trusted Source).
In a small eight-week study of developmentally delayed children with sleeping disorders, valerian reduced the time it took to fall asleep, increased total sleep time and led to better quality sleep (29Trusted Source).
However, although systematic reviews of several studies have concluded that valerian is safe, some researchers feel there isn’t enough evidence to confirm that it is more effective for sleep disorders than a placebo (30Trusted Source, 31Trusted Source, 32Trusted Source, 33Trusted Source).
Other Benefits of Valerian Root
There is less published research on the effects on other conditions. However, some studies suggest that valerian root can provide benefits for:
- Menopause: One study in menopausal women found significant reductions in hot flash severity and modest reductions in hot flash frequency during eight weeks of treatment with 765 mg of valerian daily (34Trusted Source).
- Menstrual problems: Women who suffer from premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or painful menstruation may benefit from valerian. One study found it improved physical, emotional and behavioral symptoms of PMS (35Trusted Source, 36Trusted Source, 37Trusted Source).
- Restless legs syndrome: An eight-week study in people with restless legs syndrome showed that taking 800 mg per day improved symptoms and decreased daytime sleepiness (38Trusted Source).
- Parkinson’s disease: A study found that treating mice with Parkinson’s disease with valerian extract led to better behavior, a decrease in inflammation and an increase in antioxidant levels (39Trusted Source).
Are There Any Adverse Effects?
Valerian has been shown to be remarkably safe for most people.
Studies have found that it does not cause adverse changes in DNA, nor does it interfere with cancer therapy in patients who take it to relieve anxiety and promote sleep (40Trusted Source, 41Trusted Source).
Furthermore, it does not appear to affect mental or physical performance when used as directed.
One study found no difference in morning reaction time, alertness or concentration in people who took valerian the evening before (42Trusted Source).
Unlike many anti-anxiety or sleep medications, valerian doesn’t seem to cause problems with dependency from regular use or withdrawal symptoms if it is discontinued.
Although side effects are uncommon, valerian has been reported to cause headaches, stomach pain and dizziness in a few cases. Ironically, even insomnia has been reported, although this is rare.
If you have liver disease or another serious medical condition, it’s important to speak with your doctor about whether it is safe for you to take valerian.
It is also advised that pregnant women and children under three years of age not take valerian without medical supervision because potential risks for these groups have not been evaluated.
How to Take Valerian Root to Maximize Benefits
Valerian will provide the best results when taken as directed for the desired effect.
Most studies in people with sleeping difficulty used 400–900 mg of valerian extract, which has been shown to be a safe and effective dosage. For the best results, take it 30 minutes to two hours before bedtime (43Trusted Source).
One study found that taking either 450 mg or 900 mg of valerian root at night helped people fall asleep faster and improved sleep quality. However, the 900-mg dose was linked to drowsiness the following morning (21Trusted Source).
An alternative to capsules is to make a tea using 2–3 grams of dried valerian root steeped in hot water for 10–15 minutes.
Research suggests that valerian is most effective once you’ve taken it regularly for at least two weeks and then continue taking it for another two to four weeks.
Since valerian can cause drowsiness, it’s important not to take it if you plan to drive, operate heavy machinery or perform work or other activities that require alertness.
For anxiety, take a smaller dosage of 120–200 mg three times per day at mealtimes, with the last dose just before bedtime. Taking larger doses during the day could result in sleepiness.
It is important to note that alcohol, sedative or anti-anxiety medications, herbs and other supplements should never be taken with valerian because it can increase their depressant effects.
Valerian is an herb that may help improve sleep, promote relaxation and reduce anxiety.
It appears to be safe and non-habit forming when taken at the recommended dosage. In some cases, it may be able to replace benzodiazepines and similar drugs.
Nevertheless, it’s important to speak with your doctor before taking valerian, especially if you’re taking other medications or have a serious health condition.
While studies suggest that many people experience great results with valerian, others may not see the same improvements.
However, given its safety and potential benefits, you may want to give valerian a try if you have problems with sleep or anxiety.
Valerian Root Dosage for Anxiety and Sleep
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If you’ve experienced anxiety or have trouble sleeping, you’ve probably thought about trying an herbal remedy for relief.
Valerian root is a common ingredient sold in dietary supplements. Proponents claim it cures insomnia and nervous tension caused by anxiety. Valerian has been used for centuries as an herbal remedy.
It may be just what you need to finally get a good night’s sleep. There are several valerian root products on the market today. But the amount of valerian root contained in each capsule varies widely.
Here’s more information about the recommended dosage of valerian root and its potential health benefits.
What is valerian root?
Valerian is a perennial plant with the scientific name Valeriana officinalis. The plant grows wild in grasslands throughout North America, Asia, and Europe.
It produces white, purple, or pink flowers in the summer. Herbal preparations are typically made from the rhizome root of the plant.
How does valerian root work?
Researchers aren’t sure how valerian root works to ease insomnia and anxiety. They think it subtly increases the levels of a chemical known as gamma amicability acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA contributes to a calming effect in the body.
Common prescription drugs for anxiety, such as alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium), also increase GABA levels in the brain.
Recommended dosage of valerian root for sleep
Insomnia, the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep, affects around one-third of all adults at least once during their lives. It can have a profound effect on your well-being and daily life.
Based on the available research, take 300 to 600 milligrams (mg) of valerian root 30 minutes to two hours before bedtime. This is best for insomnia or sleep trouble. For tea, soak 2 to 3 grams of dried herbal valerian root in 1 cup of hot water for 10 to 15 minutes.
Valerian root seems to work best after taking it regularly for two or more weeks. Don’t take valerian root for more than a month without talking to your doctor.powered by Rubicon Project
Recommended dosage for anxiety
For anxiety, take 120 to 200 mg, three times per day. Your last dose of valerian root should be right before bedtime.
The recommended dosage for anxiety is generally lower than the dosage for insomnia. This is because taking high doses of valerian root during the day can lead to daytime sleepiness.
If you’re sleepy during the day, it might make it difficult for you to participate in your usual daytime activities.
Is taking valerian root effective for anxiety and sleep?
Many small clinical studies have been done to test the efficacy and safety of valerian root for sleep. Results have been mixed: In a 2009 placebo-controlled study, for example, women with insomnia took 300 mg of valerian extract 30 minutes before bedtime for two weeks.
The women reported no significant improvements in the onset or quality of sleep. Likewise, a review of 37 studies found that most clinical trials of valerian root showed no differences between valerian root and placebo on sleep. These studies were done in both healthy individuals and people with insomnia.
But the National Institutes of Health (NIH) describes an old study showing that 400 mg of valerian root extract did significantly improve sleep compared to placebo in 128 healthy volunteers.
Participants reported improvements in the time needed to fall asleep, quality of sleep, and number of middle of the night awakenings.
The NIH also noted a clinical trial in which 121 people with insomnia taking 600 mg of dried valerian root had decreased symptoms of insomnia compared to the placebo after 28 days of treatment.
Research on the use of valerian root in treating anxiety is somewhat lacking. One small 2002 study in 36 patients with generalized anxiety disorder found that 50 mg of valerian root extract given three times a day for four weeks significantly reduced one measure of anxiety compared to placebo. Other anxiety studies used slightly higher dosages.
Is valerian root safe?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) labels valerian root “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS), but mild side effects have been reported.
As with most herbal products and supplements in the United States, valerian root products aren’t regulated well by the FDA. Valerian root can make you drowsy, so don’t drive or operate machinery after taking it.
Who shouldn’t take valerian root?
Although valerian root is generally considered safe, the following people shouldn’t take it:
- Women who are pregnant or nursing. The risk to the developing baby hasn’t been evaluated, though a 2007 study Trusted Source in rats determined that valerian root most likely doesn’t affect the developing baby.
- Children younger than 3 years of age. The safety of valerian root hasn’t been tested in children under 3.
Don’t combine valerian root with alcohol, other sleep aids, or antidepressants.
Also avoid combining it with sedative drugs, such as barbiturates (e.g., phenobarbital, secobarbital) and benzodiazepines (e.g., Xanax, Valium, Ativan). Valerian root also has a sedative effect, and the effect can be addictive.
If you’re taking any medications, ask your doctor if it’s safe to take valerian root. Valerian root may also increase the effects of anesthesia. If you’re planning to have a surgery, inform your doctor and anesthesiologist that you’re taking valerian root.
Powdered valerian root is available in capsule and tablet form, as well as a tea. You can purchase valerian root easily online or in drugstores.
Be sure to read the product labels and directions before taking valerian root. Some products contain dosages of valerian root that are higher than the above recommended amounts. Keep in mind, though, that there is no standard dose of valerian root.
While still safe, it’s unclear whether higher doses are necessary to product an effect. The NIH noted one dated study that found taking 900 mg of valerian root at night can actually increase sleepiness and lead to a “hangover effect” the next morning.
Ask your doctor if you’re unsure about the dose you should be taking.
Valerian root can make you drowsy. Don’t drive or operate heavy machinery after taking valerian root. The best time to take valerian root for sleep is right before bedtime.
Herbal remedies or medications aren’t always the answer for sleep problems and anxiety. See your doctor if your insomnia, anxiety/nervousness, or stress persists. You might have an underlying condition, like sleep apnea, or a psychological disorder, which requires evaluation.