Nothing is worse than waking up in the middle of the night, tossing and turning and worrying about all those precious hours of sleep you’re losing. Insomnia can give you anxiety, but anxiety can also cause insomnia. It's a real chicken or the egg situation. But whether you’re struggling with one or both of these issues, valerian root might be able to help.
Often called “nature’s valium,” valerian is an herb that grows natively in Asia and Europe. It’s been used in Chinese traditional medicine and other ancient systems of medicine for thousands of years. The flower of the plant has even been used to make a delightful smelling perfume. But we'll be discussing the root of the valerian plant, which actually has a strong, earthy odor, and is noted for its sedative effects on the body.
So how does valerian work to relax us? Well, it’s loaded with antioxidants, like hesperidin and linarin, which relieve oxidative stress on the body and have been shown to have sleep-enhancing properties. What’s more, valerian root contains several other compounds which promote sedation, namely valerenic and isovaleric acid. Valerenic acid interacts with gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical that directly affects our brains and nerve impulses. Low GABA levels have shown to be related to stress and sleeplessness, but studies show that valerenic acid prevents the breakdown of GABA in the brain, resulting in feelings of tranquility and ease.
When it comes to anxiety, research has shown that valerian root could help you relax. In one human study, valerian showed to reduce physiological and psychological responses to mental stress. What’s more, valerian has also demonstrated efficacy in treating conditions like general anxiety disorder (GAD) and even obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Not only can valerian help you get to sleep, but it could also improve the quality of your sleep. It will help you catch those truly restorative Z’s that’ll give you the energy you need to rule the day. Research has shown that taking valerian root was associated with a decrease in the amount of time needed to fall asleep, as well as an improvement of overall sleep quality. In one study, 27 adults who initially reported having sleep issues took valerian root. By the end of the trial, 24 subjects reported improved sleep quality, and 12 reported having “perfect sleep.” Even more interestingly, valerian root has shown to be particularly effective for menopausal or post-menopausal women struggling with sleep issues.
Luckily, incorporating this powerful herb into your daily routine is pretty easy. Some things to note before you try it: high doses of valerian root have shown to cause an increase in anxiety — we don’t want that! To ensure you’re taking a safe dose, keep it at 500 mg starting out, and pay attention to how your body responds. No significant side effects have been found from taking moderate doses of valerian, but as always, check with your doctor before starting any new supplement. Valerian should be taken at nighttime, since it has sedating effects. Aim to take yours 30 minutes to two hours before bed for best results. and let yourself say, ahhhh. For a supplement we love, try this one from Now Foods ($11.99, Amazon).