Valerian (Valeriana officinalis, Valerianacea) – Herbal cure for insomnia?
I needed to do some research lately, as one of our friends came down with rapid heartbeat, constant sweating, general weakness and fatigue etc – the typical symptoms of an overactive thyroid. The rapid heartbeat was extremely alarming (around 120 / min all the time) so (among other things – but let’s talk about those a little later in an other post) I tried to find something with a great calming effect. I neved needed a natural sedative before, so this was a brand new area for me, but I pretty quickly found info on Valerian. If you are suffering from hyperthyroidism, I would recommend you to also check out Bugleweed and Lemon Balm.
Everyone was referring to it as a wonderful calming agent, so I purchased some Valerian Root Tea at the local health store and brewed some tea. I tried it on myself before recommending it to anyone, and I found it an enjoyable experience. I drunk it before going to bed and I had a very calm night with colorful dreams. It seemed to affect my nervous system, relaxing the muscles but not overshadowing the mind. After reading further the next day I found that people are saying that if you increase the dosage you will not go “deeper” but the effects will last longer. Very interesting statement.
So, let’s get into some details about the herb itself!
The name comes from Latin word “valere” meaning to be healthy or strong. Use of Valerian as a sedative and cure for insomnia is known for literally thousands of years.
Cure Insomnia Naturally
Several studies in adults suggest that valerian improves the quality of sleep and reduces the time to fall asleep (sleep latency), for up to 4-6 weeks. Ongoing nightly use may be more effective than single-dose use, with increasing effects over 4 weeks. Better effects have been found in poor sleepers.
Subjective parameters such as sleep quality, morning feeling, daytime performance, subjectively perceived duration of sleep latency, and sleep period time were assessed by means of questionnaires. After a single dose of valerian, no effects on sleep structure and subjective sleep assessment were observed. After multiple-dose treatment, sleep efficiency showed a significant increase for both the placebo and the valerian condition in comparison with baseline polysomnography.
We confirmed significant differences between valerian and placebo for parameters describing slow-wave sleep. In comparison with the placebo, slow-wave sleep latency was reduced after administration of valerian (21.3 vs. 13.5 min respectively, p<0.05). The SWS percentage of time in bed (TIB) was increased after long-term valerian treatment, in comparison to baseline (9.8 vs. 8.1% respectively, p<0.05). At the same time point, a tendency for shorter subjective sleep latency, as well as a higher correlation coefficient between subjective and objective sleep latencies, were observed under valerian treatment. Other improvements in sleep structure - such as an increase in REM percentage and a decrease in NREM1 percentage - took place simultaneously under placebo and valerian treatment. A remarkable finding of the study was the extremely low number of adverse events during the valerian treatment periods (3 vs. 18 in the placebo period). In conclusion, treatment with a herbal extract of radix valerianae demonstrated positive effects on sleep structure and sleep perception of insomnia patients, and can therefore be recommended for the treatment of patients with mild psychophysiological insomnia. (Pharmacopsychiatry. 2000 Mar;33(2):47-53., Critical evaluation of the effect of valerian extract on sleep structure and sleep quality. Donath F, Quispe S, Diefenbach K, Maurer A, Fietze I, Roots I., Institute of Clinical Pharmacology, Charité University Medical Center, Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany.)
Several studies of Valerian have reported benefits in reducing non-specific anxiety symptoms. Valerian has also been given in combination with other herbs, such as passionflower and St. John’s wort to treat anxiety. However, most studies have been small and poorly designed. More research is needed before a recommendation can be made.
Valerian as a sedative
Although Valerian has not been studied specifically as a sedative, evidence from studies conducted for other purposes suggests that Valerian may not have significant sedative effects when used at recommended doses. Therefore, even though Valerian could be helpful as a sleep aid, it does not appear to cause sedation.
The effective dosage of valerian root extract for treatment of insomnia ranges from 300 to 600 mg. An equivalent dose of dried herbal valerian root is 2 to 3 g, soaked in one cup of hot water for 10 to 15 minutes.25 The product should be ingested 30 minutes to two hours before bedtime.
How does it work
The major constituents include sesquterpenoids, valepotriates, bornyl acetate and valerenic acid. Multiple compounds in valerian root have pharmacologic activity. Valerenic acid has been shown to inhibit enzyme-induced breakdown and the inhibition of reuptake of the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. Basically this means that the brain chemical GABA can last longer and lead to sedation. Valerenic acid, an active constituent of valerian root extract, stimulates chloride currents through GABA(A) receptors. Valerenic acid is a subunit specific allosteric modulator of GABA (A) receptors that most likely interacts with the loreclezole binding pocket.