Why Valerian Root Is Legendary for Sleep and Stress

by Lauren Tannenbaum

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Looking to get more quality zzZz’s and stress less? Enter: valerian root for sleep.

It befits a plant as legendary as this one to have a name like valerian. It honestly sounds like a Game of Thrones character we thought was going to be a villain, but who just turned out to be fairly benign and into scowling while sharpening things.

Though misunderstood for its strong smell (wow, maybe it really is a character on GoT…) and storied for its ability to charm and induce deep sleep, valerian is quite the opposite of villainous. Read on to learn more about one of the most powerful herbal allies in all the land.

A Brief History of Valerian

Valerian, scientifically known as Valeriana officinalis, gets its name from the Latin valere, meaning strong. According to age-old tales, herbalists in the 10th century named this plant for its overwhelming odor. It’s also sometimes called garden valerian, phu, or all-heal.

Valerian root is native to Europe and Asia and naturalized in North America. This perennial plant has been documented for use since Ancient Greek and Roman times, though it was likely used long before then. Legend has it that the infamous Pied Piper used this plant to charm children and rats alike. (Read the story; it’s way weirder than you remember.)

Couple in bed with the man sitting upright due to insomnia

Uses + Benefits of Valerian Root

Valerian Root for Sleep

Good news for insomniacs everywhere: Of all the benefits valerian root is known for, its greatest is its incomparable ability to achieve a good night’s sleep. Valerian contains terpene alcohols called valepotriates, plus monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes, in the form of volatile oils. These actives impact the gamma amino butyric acid receptor in humans, producing a sedative effect.

Valerian has been shown to improve both sleep quality and sleep latency (aka the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep). By contributing to quality slumber, valerian root for sleep can help you feel refreshed and revived upon waking, which is always a welcome side effect. You can take valerian root for both acute and chronic insomnia.

Valerian Root for Stress

Thankfully, there’s equally good news for those of us who are prone to stress. Unsurprisingly, the qualities mentioned above make valerian root a winning herbal choice for stress management. It stands to reason that a root described as sedating and hypnotic would be a force against tense times.

While it works on the nervous system rather than the musculoskeletal system, you might be fooled given its full-body relaxant effect. It’s possible that the regulatory effect of valepotriates on the autonomic nervous system may contribute to its ability to combat stress.

However, of all the 150-plus constituents in valerian, none are proven to be singularly responsible for its superpowers. The reasoning is most likely due to the fact that specific compounds that inform the complex chemistry of the plant work together to create valerian’s healing profile. Personally, I see it as teamwork at its finest.

Valerian Root vs. Melatonin

Now let’s discuss taking valerian with another common natural sleep aid: melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland, which you can also take as a sleep supplement.

Simply put, melatonin can help you fall asleep while valerian root will help you stay asleep. It’s safe and effective to combine the two natural sleep aids. You can also choose to alternate between the two from one night to the next.

Is valerian root safe?

Precautions

Consult your doctor before supplementing with valerian alongside other sleep medications, whether prescription or OTC. You also shouldn’t take it with alcohol.

It’s possible that valerian stays in the system for up to two weeks. It’s not considered to be addictive, though further studies are needed to make a conclusive claim. As with all herbs, use it safely and respectfully to benefit from its power and potential.

You shouldn’t take it if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, or within two weeks of surgery due to its effects on the central nervous system.

Potential Side Effects

Valerian is generally safe. However, it can potentially cause a number of mild side effects including dizziness, headache, and digestive issues. It’s also been reported to induce vivid dreams which, depending on who you talk to, could be a precaution or a benefit.

Girl in bed drinking tea and supplementing with valerian root for sleep

How to Take it

You can take valerian root in a variety of ways. First, you can opt for a valerian root supplement in capsule form and take it 30 minutes to two hours before bedtime.

It’s also lovely brewed in a tea (and drinking a hot bedtime treat is dreamy in and of itself). Steep two to three grams of the dried root in a cup of hot water for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the desired strength. Additionally, valerian and kava (another herbal remedy) create a stellar, soothing combination.

It seems that valerian root works best when you take it cumulatively for a couple weeks.

The Bottom Line

Whether you have ongoing battles with sleep or stress, or you just need some extra snooze support every once in a while, rest easy knowing valerian has you covered. We could sing its praises all day, but it’s getting late and we just took valerian to unwind. We love what this wonderful root has done for our beauty sleep, and we know you will too.

Until next time, sweet zzZz’s!


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