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. It claims to cure insomnia and nervous tension caused by anxiety. Valerian has been used for centuries as an herbal remedy.
It was used in ancient Greece and Rome to ease:
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.
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.
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 aminobutyric 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.
Insomnia, the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep, affects around one-third of all adults at least once during their life. It can have a profound effect on a person’s 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.
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.
Many small clinical studies have been done to test the efficacy and safety of valerian root for sleep. Results have been mixed: In one 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 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 another study found 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.
A long-term clinical trial in 121 people with insomnia found that 600 mg of dried valerian root decreased the 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 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.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) labels valerian root "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS), but mild side effects have been reported.
Possible side effects include:
- stomach upset
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.
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 study 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., morphine, propofol) 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. One study found that 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.
Should you buy valerian root to take if you experience anxiety or insomnia?
Though not guaranteed, anxiety and insomnia sufferers may benefit from taking valerian root extract daily. It also may result in fewer side effects than traditional medications for anxiety or insomnia, making it a suitable potential treatment for many people.Natalie Butler, RD, LDAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.