People can take the root of the valerian plant Valeriana officinalis as a supplement. Valerian root may have a sedative effect and reduce anxiety, making it a popular natural remedy to help with sleep and promote calmness.

Valerian root may work for some people, but it is not right for everyone. It is important to watch for any side effects while taking valerian root.

A person may consider talking to a doctor about taking valerian root and managing any conditions they may have.

This article reviews the effectiveness of valerian root and discusses its uses, dosage, and more.

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Valerian root is a common herb in traditional and folk medicine. Proponents say the herb has a relaxing effect that calms anxiety, allowing a person to rest.

A study in Frontiers in Neuroscience noted that people around the world recognize valerian as an effective herbal sedative. However, researchers still do not completely understand the herb’s effects.

Compounds in the root appear to interact with important components of the nervous system, such as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical messenger in the brain.

A study published in BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies noted that compounds in valerian root, such as valerenic acid, may interact with GABA and its receptors to create the noted antianxiety effect.

This is similar to how prescription antianxiety drugs, such as diazepam (Valium), work.

How valerian interacts with GABA, however, remains a theory.

Other experts believe that valerian exerts its sedative and antianxiety effects through the action of its potent antioxidants in areas of the brain involved with stress and emotion, such as the amygdala and hippocampus.

Valerian root is a known sedative and may help many people reduce symptoms of anxiety and insomnia. However, the research on these effects is conflicting.

A review in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine looked at 17 different articles on the effects of valerian on sleep.

The authors noted that some research showed that valerian improved markers of sleep, such as overall sleep time, and reduced the severity of insomnia.

However, they say that the findings of other studies go against these results, showing that valerian caused little or no difference in these symptoms.

It may be that results vary from person to person or that other factors come into play.

For example, a study featuring in Nature and Science of Sleep looked at a blend of herbs.

The researchers found that people who took an herbal supplement containing valerian, hops, and jujube experienced significantly improved markers of sleep compared with people who did not take the supplement.

While this is promising, the results come from self-assessment. Researchers need to investigate the effects of valerian root on sleep in greater depth.

Anecdotally, some people also include valerian root as a natural treatment for symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression.

A 2015 study noted that in animal studies, a compound in valerian protected against markers of both physical and mental stress.

This is important because stress, fear, and anxiety are often closely related and can affect other issues, such as sleep. Future research could also help explore this claim.

Some people use valerian root to treat other symptoms, though there is not much formal research on these uses.

Proponents may recommend valerian for issues such as:

  • menstrual cramps
  • stomach cramps
  • headaches and migraine headaches
  • symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes

Some people may find valerian root effective in alleviating these symptoms.

However, most of the research on valerian focuses on its use as a sedative, antioxidant, and antianxiety compound.

As valerian root is an herbal supplement, dosages can be difficult to get right. Many factors may affect the quality of the root and supplements, such as the growing conditions, age, and preparation of the plant.

Due to this, there is no standardized way to provide a correct dosage.

Many people make a simple tea using about 3 grams of dried valerian root and 1 cup of boiling water. They allow the root to fully steep for at least 10 minutes before drinking the tea.

For extracts and supplements, different manufacturers will have their own recommended dosages based on their extraction processes or added ingredients.

In general, the recommended dosage of a valerian supplement may be 160–600 milligrams a day. However, some products may include stronger doses.

Taking the herb about 30 minutes to 2 hours before bedtime may be best for sleep, depending on how intensely the person feels the effects of the herb.

Taking lower doses throughout the day may have a gentler effect and help some people with anxiety symptoms.

People generally consider valerian root supplements to be safe at the recommended doses.

However, there is not enough research on valerian root supplements to ensure that they are safe, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS).

If a person is interested in taking valerian, they should talk to their doctor.

The compounds in the plant may interact with some medications, which could put a person at risk of side effects or complications.

For instance, valerian may interact with medications that have similar functions. This interaction could potentially increase the effects of other classes of drugs, such as:

Additionally, valerian may interact with other dietary supplements, such as melatonin, kava kava, and St. John’s wort.

Anyone taking these drugs or supplements should talk to their doctor before using valerian root.

While some people will feel the effects of valerian root very quickly, many note that the herb works best when they take it for a week or two.

However, research has not fully explored the long-term effects of valerian.

Anyone considering using valerian regularly should talk to their doctor.

Some side effects may occur when a person is taking valerian. Valerian’s sedative effect means that sleepiness may be a common side effect.

While this is helpful at night for getting to sleep, daytime sleepiness may interfere with a person’s ability to function. People taking valerian who experience daytime sleepiness may wish to reduce their dosage.

Some people may also react to valerian root. In these cases, they may experience:

  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • itchy skin
  • upset stomach

Some people should avoid valerian root.

Valerian root may not be safe to take while pregnant or breastfeeding, according to the ODS.

Similarly, very young children under the age of 3 years should avoid valerian. Even in older children, it is important to work with a doctor to find the minimally effective dosage in each case.

People who regularly use alcohol should be aware of any interactions that it may have with sedatives such as valerian. They may wish to avoid alcohol or valerian altogether.

People have been using valerian root as a natural sedative for many years.

Some research suggests that it may be helpful for sleep, as well as to reduce the effects of stress and anxiety in the brain. However, researchers need to investigate the herb’s effectiveness and safety further.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not regulate herbal supplements, so the standardized use and dosage are difficult to determine.

Valerian may not be the solution for everyone. People who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid it, as should young children. Some people may experience side effects or drug interactions.

Anyone considering using valerian root should talk to their doctor first.