InsomniaValerian may help you fall asleep faster and enjoy deeper sleep quality.
Herbal remedies have been used safely for centuries for insomnia. In modern herbal medicine, the leading herb for insomnia is valerian.1 Valerian root makes getting to sleep easier and increases deep sleep and dreaming. Valerian does not cause a morning “hangover,” a side effect common to prescription sleep drugs in some people.2,3,4 A double-blind trial found that valerian extract (600 mg 30 minutes before bedtime for 28 days) is comparable in efficacy to oxazepam (Serax), a commonly prescribed drug for insomnia.5 In a separate double-blind trial, the same amount of valerian extract was found to improve subjective assessments of sleep quality and certain aspects of brain function during sleep as well.6 A concentrated (4–5:1) valerian root supplement in the amount of 300–600 mg can be taken 30 minutes before bedtime. Alternately, 2 to 3 grams of the dried root in a capsule or 5 ml tincture can be taken 30 minutes before bedtime.
A combination of valerian and lemon balm has been tested for improving sleep. A small preliminary trial compared the effect of valerian root extract (320 mg at bedtime) and an extract of lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) with that of the sleeping drug triazolam (Halcion).7 The effectiveness of the herbal combination was similar to that of Halcion, but only the Halcion group felt hung over and had trouble concentrating the next day. A double-blind trial found that a combination of valerian and lemon balm, taken over a two-week period, was effective in improving quality of sleep.8
Another double-blind trial found a combination of 360 mg valerian and 240 mg lemon balm taken before bed improved reported sleep quality in one-third of the participants.9
Combining valerian root with other mildly sedating herbs is common both in Europe and the United States. Chamomile, hops, passion flower, lemon balm, American scullcap, and catnip are commonly recommended by doctors.10 These herbs can also be used alone as mild sedatives for those suffering from insomnia or nervous exhaustion. Chamomile is a particularly good choice for younger children whose insomnia may be related to gastrointestinal upset. Hops and lemon balm are approved by the German government for relieving sleep disturbances.11 In a double-blind trial, the combination of valerian root and hops was significantly more effective than valerian root alone for treating insomnia.12
How It Works
Valerian root contains many different constituents, including volatile oils that appear to contribute to the sedating properties of the herb. Central nervous system sedation is regulated by receptors in the brain known as GABA-A receptors. According to test tube studies, valerian may weakly bind to these receptors to exert a sedating action.13 This might explain why valerian may help some people deal with stress more effectively.14
Double-blind trials have found that valerian is an effective treatment for people with mild to moderately severe insomnia.15,16 Generally, valerian makes sleep more restful as well as making the transition to sleep easier, but does not tend to increase total time slept, according to these studies. Two trials have also found that a combination with lemon balm is effective in improving quality of sleep and in treating insomnia.17,18