How many Australians do you think suffer from insomnia? The answer might surprise you — nearly 60% of us experience one or more symptoms of insomnia several times per week!
If you fall into this category, chances are that you've tried all sorts of pills, potions, and remedies to help you drift off faster and stay asleep through the night. It's also a safe bet that you haven't found much in the way of relief. Or, if you have, you're still concerned about taking sleeping medications that you might get hooked on.
For an all-natural sleep aid that also works during the daytime as an anti-anxiolytic, try valeriana, aka valerian root. Curious to learn more? Read on for a guide to this herb and how it can help you get some ZZZZs!
First Things First, What Is Valeriana?
Valeriana is an herb that has been used since ancient times to promote a feeling of relaxation and/or drowsiness. In fact, we have evidence that it was prescribed as a sleep aid by Roman physician Galen as well as by Hippocrates himself.
The plant itself is a perennial that is native to Asia and Europe. These days, it is cultivated in the United States, Japan, Germany, Eastern Europe, the Netherlands, France, and Belgium. Valeriana grows to heights of 5′ and produces clusters of white or pink flowers.
Valerian can be taken as a tea, tincture, capsule, or tablet.
The Effects of Valeriana on Sleep
The most common reasons to take valerian root are all related to sleep. People who have trouble falling asleep, who have poor quality of sleep, and who wake in the middle of the night and can't drop back off to sleep may find that valerian helps them.
Most of the scientific research surrounding this herb has also concentrated on its use as a sleep aid. Some studies have shown that taking 400 to 900 milligrams of valerian extract, approximately two hours before bedtime, works best. Taken in this manner, it can reduce the time it takes a person to fall asleep by up to 20 minutes.
That's a big difference for insomniacs!
It's important to understand that valerian root might not take effect immediately. Research suggests that it can take continuous use, for up to four weeks, before its full potential can be realized.
Another aspect of valerian for sleep is that it won't work as quickly as prescription sleeping pills usually do. If an individual is trying to wean themselves off addictive prescription sleep medications by using valerian, they may very well become discouraged. So doctors and herbalists who recommend valeriana tell their patients to be patient!
Valerian Root As an Anti-Anxiolytic
Is this herb also helpful for anxiety and psychological stress? The jury is still out.
This use of valerian root has not been studied anywhere near as extensively as its use for insomnia. Nevertheless, some initial research does suggest that this alternative remedy can be helpful for people who have anxiety.
There is evidence that valerian root can help with anxiety due to acute stress in addition to chronic disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder. What's more, it does not present the same risk of side effects as pharmaceutical drugs that are commonly prescribed for those conditions.
Perimenopausal Symptoms May Be Eased By Valerian
One of the major symptoms of perimenopause, which is defined as the period leading up to menopause in middle-aged women, is hot flashes, sometimes known as hot flushes. Not every woman gets these, but those who do can try taking 675 to 1000 milligrams of valerian root daily for eight weeks. That dosage has been shown to reduce both the severity and frequency of hot flashes.
Maintain Good Sleep Hygiene
Valerian root may be very effective at helping you fall asleep, but it's always a good idea to maintain good sleep hygiene. That will set you up for the best possible outcome, whether you take a supplement or medication or not.
Best practices for a good night's rest include:
- Keeping your bedroom dark and cool
- Using your bed only for sleep and intimacy
- Getting regular aerobic exercise, but not within two hours of bedtime
- Switching off electronics at least one hour before bed, or using blue shade if you absolutely must use your devices
- Avoiding alcoholic beverages for a few hours before bed
- Avoiding caffeine in the afternoon and evening
- Going to bed at the same time every day, and getting up at the same time every morning
Many people also find it helpful to establish a bedtime routine. This could include gentle yoga or stretching, a warm bath or shower, a relaxing cup of herbal tea, and meditating. By doing the same activities in the evening hours, you are “training” your body to expect sleep to follow.
Side Effects of Valerian Root
Most side effects of herbal supplements are mild, and valeriana is no exception. However, some people do experience some side effects. These may include headache, uneasiness, stomach upset, and grogginess or sluggishness, especially in the morning after taking it. Dry mouth and vivid, even upsetting dreams can be other effects of valerian.
If you experience these, or any adverse effects, try lowering the dose before you discontinue using the herb altogether.
Lastly, know that there may be some mild withdrawal symptoms associated with the sudden discontinuation of taking valerian root. If you want to stop taking it, taper off gradually over a week or so.
Will You Try Valerian?
All in all, valeriana is considered relatively safe and has few, if any, side effects. Whether it works for your insomnia or anxiety is impossible to predict, but there is so little risk that it's worth trying.
Have you ever taken a supplement to help you with sleep? Have you tried valerian root?
What are your best tips for combatting insomnia? Leave a comment below and let us know what your experience has been!