Valerian root sounds like something that a medieval apothecary would prescribe for helping stressed Lords and Ladies of Yore sleep better. The thing is, that description is pretty accurate.
Valerian root has been used for centuries as a sleep aid and to help people relax. Using valerian for sleep was popular thousands of years ago; the fact that we still use it today for the very same purpose is kind of incredible.
So if you have trouble sleeping, or just relaxing in general, someone has probably suggested valerian root for sleep at some point.
Before chucking any medication down your gob, it is important to scope out the good, bad, and everything else about said medication.
This article is going to cover just what is valerian root, the benefits and risks of valerian root, and how this magical plant works.
Let’s kick things off…
- 1 What is Valerian Root?
- 2 Benefits of Valerian Root
- 3 Valerian Root Side Effects
- 4 Is Valerian Root for Sleep Safe?
What is Valerian Root?
Valerian is the valeriana officinalis herb, native to parts of Asia and Europe. It is rather widespread in the wild, and is cultivated for its medical uses.
Although valerian looks a bit like a weed, it sprouts delicate flowers that are crushed and distilled into perfumes, making for a rather pretty looking plant all around.
The roots of the valerian herb contain all sorts of goodies – a.k.a. the stuff that helps people go to sleep.
The entire plant can be used to improve your quality of life, and how you smell! Talk about zero wastage!
How Does Valerian Root Work?
Now to get into the nitty-gritty of valerian root! First up, you don’t shove a root in your mouth and chew it like bubblegum. Professionals distil the roots into oral supplements and herbal teas that you can ingest. Valerian is available at most health food stores and chemists.
But, how exactly do the roots of this little herb help the stressed and insomniacs? The roots are chock full of compounds that have been linked to reducing stress and anxiety, and making it easier to fall asleep.
Some of these compounds are the antioxidants hesperidin and linarin, which have properties that can improve sleep quality.
Boiling it down, valerian tells your body and mind to chill out and relax. That, in turn, helps you sleep easier.
The key factor of valerian root as a sleep-enhancing agent is that ingesting it causes your GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) levels to rise.
High GABA levels mean better sleep and less stress in your life. Whereas low levels of GABA mean poor sleep and rising levels of anxiety and stress.
Basically, ingesting valerian root means introducing compounds into your body that affect you on a chemical level – easing you into more restful sleep and a calmer state of mind.
Benefits of Valerian Root
The whole reason why people use valerian root is for the benefits! There is no point in taking a supplement into your diet if it isn’t going to actually do anything for you (unless you really enjoy the taste of herbal tea).
The benefits of taking valerian root are many, and should be carefully considered. Taking a supplement that you don’t actually need does nothing other than make you have to pee more as your body flushes out all the extra nutrients.
Check out the benefits below and see if valerian root is the right supplement for you!
Using Valerian Root for Sleep
There are thousands of people in the world that struggle to get a proper night’s sleep. In this bright, noisy world, slipping into slumber can be difficult.
There is no shame in seeking out medication that will help you get a decent night’s rest.
Everyone has had those nights where they try to sleep, can’t, look at the clock, and repeat these three steps until you are so stressed as the clocks go from PM to AM that you can’t sleep at all.
Nights like these suck, and everyone gets to the point where they want and need some form of sleep aid aside from warm milk.
As you probably know, all sorts of things can interfere with sleep, like intrusive noises, stress, and general insomnia. There are sleep medications, such as melatonin, that can knock you out at night, but these can be expensive if you need them frequently.
Valerian root is not cheap by any means, but it is more affordable than other sleep aids and does not require a doctor’s prescription.
Buying herbal tea with valerian is perhaps an easier and more affordable way to include valerian in your diet as well.
Lowered Stress and Anxiety
In day to day life, there are many, many sources of stress and anxiety. Sometimes, just watching the morning news is all it takes to send your heart skittering with nerves. The following day is a wretched experience.
Though not a drastic reduction, Valerian root can lower your stress and anxiety to manageable levels. This can help you sleep better, and used in conjunction with other stress reduction techniques, can improve your quality of life.
Unlike some medications for the above two afflictions, valerian does not have any addictive properties and users will not suffer withdrawal symptoms should they cease taking valerian root.
However, it is still recommended to wean yourself off of valerian root if you wish to stop taking it.
More research is needed for this particular benefit; however, there are promising results thus far showing that daily doses of valerian root can help reduce the severity and frequency of menopausal hot flashes.
Anyone that is currently going through menopause will benefit from valerian root!
Research points towards Valerian root as useful for reducing the adverse effects of premenstrual syndrome. Physical and emotional states were improved through taking valerian root in clinical studies.
It is worth noting that more research needs to be conducted in this area. Scientists are learning new things each and every day, including what valerian root can and cannot do!
If you are suffering from PMS, seek out your doctor’s advice before self-medicating with valerian.
Nervous ticks, like restless legs and twitchy fingers, can be eased by taking valerian.
As valerian reduces anxiety and stress by coaxing your body and mind into a calmer state, any ticks born of stress are lessened.
This is not a guaranteed thing, mind you, but valerian can help.
Valerian Root Side Effects
Overall, valerian root is a remarkably safe supplement to take, even on a daily basis.
That’s not to say that there are no adverse side effects of taking valerian because there are a few. None will directly harm you, but they could contribute to you accidentally harming yourself.
It is important to point out that these side effects are not common.
Nobody likes developing a headache. They make everything, from light chores to work to kicking back with a book, difficult and unpleasant.
So it really sucks that valerian root can cause headaches. There is no concrete explanation as to how valerian root causes headaches and no hard numbers that say how often these headaches occur.
If you experience a sudden increase in frequency and/or intensity of headaches, drop the valerian.
Yeah, this one seems counterproductive. It is kind of weird when the very thing hailed to solve sleeping problems can cause insomnia.
It will be pretty apparent if the valerian root only worsens your insomnia, and should it do this, a prescription sleep aid may be in order.
Dizziness can really interfere with your day to day life. If a spell hits you while driving or working with power tools, the results can be disastrous.
As of yet, the severity of these dizzy spells has not led to blackouts.
If dizzy spells start happening while you are taking valerian, it is time to try a different sleep aid.
An upset stomach makes for a miserable day. Anxiety and stress can really kill your appetite as it is.
Adding an upset stomach to that mix, from the very supplement that is supposed to lessen anxiety, is a cruel blow.
If your guts are unhappy having valerian in them, either drop the valerian or ask a doctor for a stomach soother that can be used in conjunction with it.
Ginger is good for settling your stomach, so knock back a ginger beer or some crystallized ginger snacks!
Even if you get a full eight hours sleep, some users of valerian may feel a drowsiness the following morning.
Drowsiness can be difficult to combat. Your mind grows slow and your movements sluggish, all you want to do is curl up and sleep, and the one thought circling through your mind is I’m so tired. Driving becomes a danger, and operating power tools or heavy machinery is out of the question.
Thankfully, it is only high dosages (900mg) of valerian root that can cause drowsiness. Lower dosages, like those typical for anxiety and stress relief, have not been shown to cause drowsiness.
It is recommended that if you’re taking high dosages of valerian not operate heavy machinery the following morning.
Is Valerian Root for Sleep Safe?
Valerian root is judged to be safe for regular use, but (because there is always a but), as with many supplements, valerian root is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women.
So far, there are have not been enough thorough studies done on valerian root to definitively say whether or not it will harm young children. Better to be safe than sorry, though.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding and are stressed or having trouble sleeping, see your doctor or OBGYN for help.
Valerian root is one way to reduce stress and anxiety, and improve your sleep. It has its good aspects, just as it has bad ones, and is not recommended for everyone.
Here’s a video going into more detail on valerian root.
Have you tried taking valerian root for sleep?