Valerian Root for Sleep: Benefits and Side Effects

Herbal sleep aid may also treat anxiety and hot flashes

Valerian, tincture, capsules, tablets, and tea bags

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Valerian root is an herbal remedy for insomnia, anxiety, and other health concerns. It contains a substance known as valerenic acid, which is believed to affect parts of the brain that deal with relaxation.

Specifically, valerenic acid works on brain receptors for the chemical (neurotransmitter) gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA calms and slows the brain.

This article looks at the claims about valerian root's effectiveness for several uses, what research shows, potential side effects, dosages, and what to look for when buying valerian root.

Also Known As

Valerian root is also called:

  • All-Heal
  • Amantilla
  • Baldrian
  • Garden heliotrope
  • Setwall
  • Tagar (in Ayurvedic medicine)
  • Xie cao (in traditional Chinese medicine)

Valerian Root's Health Benefits

Alternative healthcare providers believe valerian root can treat a variety of health conditions. Some of these uses have garnered attention from researchers.

At least some preliminary evidence suggests valerian root may help with:

The evidence supporting these claims is generally mixed, but some promising evidence has come to light.

Valerian Root for Insomnia

Valerian root is probably best known as a remedy for insomnia. Despite its popularity among consumers, evidence is mixed over whether it can promote sleep or improve sleep quality.

In its 2017 insomnia-treatment guidelines, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends against using valerian due to weak evidence that it's effective.

A 2020 review of research states that valerian is among the most frequently studied plant extracts for sleep. However, it also notes that there's conflicting evidence about whether it works.

The body of evidence has grown in the past few years, though.

A 2021 review of studies on herbal sleep aids looked at their effect on GABA. It said valerian had the most evidence of altering GABA activity and that it may directly interact with serotonin (another key neurotransmitter involved in sleep).

Here are some highlights of recent research:

  • Valerian + hops, passionflower: A 2021 review of studies concluded this combination was among the best plant-based sleep aids for anxiety-related insomnia.
  • Sleep quality during kidney dialysis: A 2021 study said valerian significantly improved sleep in people undergoing dialysis.
  • Sleep quality after heart surgery: A 2021 study reported valerian root may be a safe option for improving sleep after coronary artery bypass graft surgery.
  • Post-operative sleep: A 2022 study reported promising evidence of improving sleep problems after surgery in people with long hospital stays.

A 2020 study states valerian could be a safe and effective herb for promoting sleep. However, researchers added that some of the active substances in valerian are relatively unstable so that it may require new quality control and standardization methods.

Valerian Root for Anxiety

Valerian root is touted by some as a safe and natural alternative to prescription anxiety drugs that act on GABA receptors, such as:

There is some evidence, albeit weak, to support these claims.

Valerenic acid appears to act on GABA receptors to improve the transmission of signals through the brain but without the pronounced sedative effects of a drug like Valium. This may benefit people on treatment for anxiety and other mood disorders, including depression.

A 2015 review from Harvard Medical School contends that of 12 traditional herbs used to treat anxiety (including hops, gotu kola, and gingko), valerian was the "most promising candidate" for treating anxiety associated with bipolar disorder.

More recent research appears to have similar findings. The 2021 study on people receiving kidney dialysis recorded significant reductions in illness-related anxiety and depression.

A 2020 study suggests valerian can significantly improve anxiety and other disorders that may result from insomnia.

Valerian Root for Hot Flashes

Valerian root may minimize hot flashes from menopause. The exact mechanism of action is unknown since valerian doesn't appear to influence hormone levels directly.

A 2013 study from Iran involving 68 women with menopause reported that valerian capsules, in 225-milligram doses three times a day for eight weeks, reduced the severity and frequency of hot flashes compared to a placebo (sham treatment). No notable side effects were reported.

Several later studies had similar results, according to a review of studies published in 2021. The authors concluded that evidence was promising but said more high-quality studies using consistent subjects and methods were needed.

Does Valerian Root Work Immediately?

The effects of valerian root are said to be noticeable within one to two hours. It is usually best to take a dose between 30 minutes and two hours before bedtime.

Side Effects of Valerian Root

Most clinical studies have shown that the herb is well-tolerated and safe for short-term use. Side effects of valerian root, if any, tend to be mild and may include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Itchiness
  • Upset stomach
  • Dry mouth
  • Vivid dreams
  • Daytime drowsiness

Valerian may cause excessive sleepiness if combined with:

Potential for Liver Damage

Although rare, some people have experienced liver damage while taking valerian. Usually, that's due to overuse of valerian supplements or taking "wild-crafted" dried root.

Experts don't yet know whether valerian root itself caused the damage or if it is due to contaminants in valerian products.

To protect your health, let your healthcare provider know if you intend to use valerian root for medical purposes. They may want to monitor your liver enzymes to ensure it remains healthy and functioning.

When to Call a Healthcare Provider

Stop using valerian and call your healthcare provider immediately if you have any signs of liver impairment, including:

  • Persistent fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored stools
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes or skin)

Contraindications and Interactions

Due to the lack of safety research, you shouldn't use valerian if you're pregnant or nursing. Some of the chemicals in valerian root are suspected of harming unborn babies or breastfed newborns.

It's unknown whether valerian is safe for use in children.

You shouldn't use valerian if you drink high amounts of alcohol or have liver disease.

Valerian is broken down in the liver by an enzyme called cytochrome P450 (CYP450). Theoretically, it could interfere with the effectiveness of medications that are also broken down by CYP450, including:

If you take any of these medications, talk to your healthcare provider before using valerian root.

Valerian tablets
Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Dosage and Forms

Valerian root is available in a pill, as a powder, or in liquid form. Dried valerian root can also be used to make a tea.

Valerian root and valerian root extracts don't have established dosages. Most valerian capsules and tablets are in doses ranging from 300 to 600 milligrams, which is considered safe.

To make valerian tea, combine:

  • 2 to 3 grams of dried valerian root (roughly 1 to 2 teaspoons)
  • One cup of hot water
  • Steep for 10 to 15 minutes

Valerian tinctures and extracts can vary in concentration. As a general rule, never exceed the recommended dosage on the product label.

Valerian essential oil is mainly used for aromatherapy and is not intended for internal use. Even food-grade essential oils used for flavoring should never be taken by mouth for medicinal purposes.

Unpleasant Smell and Taste

Some people describe valerian's taste and smell as "earthy" or "woodsy." Other people say it smells like dirty feet or stinky cheese. You should take this into consideration when deciding what form of valerian to use.

What to Look For

Because herbal remedies like valerian root are largely unregulated in the United States, you need to take steps to find products that are safe and reliable.

One way to do this is by checking the label to see if the supplement has been certified by an independent agency like:

  • U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP)
  • ConsumerLab
  • NSF International

These certifying bodies ensure that the supplements voluntarily submitted for testing contain the active and inactive ingredients listed on the product label and are free of contaminants. Certification doesn't guarantee safety or effectiveness.

Another way to choose herbal supplements is to pick those that have been certified organic. This is especially important when buying dried "wild-crafted" root or root shavings used to make teas and tinctures.

Summary

Valerian root is an herbal remedy that's shown some promise in studies as a remedy for insomnia, anxiety, possibly depression, and hot flashes associated with menopause. It's believed to affect the activity of the neurotransmitters GABA and serotonin, both of which are involved in sleep and mood.

Remember that even natural products can cause side effects and interact badly with other things you use medicinally. Always talk to your healthcare provider before starting a new supplement.

In rare cases, valerian may cause liver damage. You shouldn't take valerian if you're pregnant, nursing, drink heavily, or have liver disease. Don't give it to children.

You can buy valerian root in capsule, powder, or liquid forms. The dried root can be used to make tea.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Which is better for sleep: melatonin or valerian root?

    There's no certain answer to this question. From what experts know so far, melatonin tells your brain it's time for sleep and can help regulate your sleep cycle.

    Valerian quiets your nervous system and prepares you for sleep. So while similar, they may work differently for you.

  • Does valerian increase serotonin?

    Some evidence suggests valerian may increase activity of serotonin—a brain chemical that affects mood and sleep—but more research is needed to say for sure.

24 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.