So you’ve counted sheep, downed half a litre of warm milk and listened to the sounds of the rainforest on your sleep melodies app... but you still can’t catch those zzz’s.
Well, you’re not alone. According to recent statistics, more than one-quarter of the U.S. population report occasionally not getting enough sleep and have problems with insomnia, while 10% suffer from chronic insomnia (1).
How to improve and manage insomnia
Sleep plays an important role in physical health, brain function and overall well-being. Adults are said to require a minimum of 7 hours of sleep per night, whilst adolescents require up to 10 hours, figures that most of us find hard to reach due to our time-constrained, hectic lifestyles. Day-to-day, lack of sleep can affect how well you think, work and react. On a more serious level, ongoing sleep deprivation can increase your risk of some chronic health problems, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease (2).
Valerian root for insomnia
Valerian root, a perennial plant ,is best known for its ability to promote sleep and ease the effects of insomnia. Scientists believe that using Valerian root increases the amount of Gamma Amino Butyric Acid (GABA), the chief inhibitory neurotransmitter distributed in the brain and most important amino acid for sleep, anxiety and muscle relaxation. Certain prescription medications such as Valium and Diazepam work in the exact manner, increasing GABA levels (3).
How to use valerian root to help you sleep
Valerian can be prepared as teas or tinctures, or incorporated into capsules from dried plant materials or extracts. However, if you decide to get your brew on, be aware that Valerian isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, so it might be best to combine with other calming herbs or lemon balm to mask its pungent aroma.
How much valerian for sleep
The standard dosage of valerian root is 300-600mg, taken at bedtime. The suggested maximum time period that the herb should be taken is four to six weeks. Studies have shown that the longer valerian is taken, the more likely it will be that a reduction in effectiveness will occur.
One reported advantage of valerian is that it may not have the 'groggy' effect felt the following morning, such as in after the consumption of prescription sleeping pills. Further, sleeping pills can worsen insomnia once discontinued, an effect that has also not been reported with valerian supplementation.
Side effects of valerian root
Few adverse effects have been reported with valerian supplementation. Like most supplements and medications, headaches, dizziness and lethargy are the most common effects, although studies indicate that these occurred primarily following large doses. It is advised that women who are pregnant or nursing should not take valerian without medical advice, as the possible risks to the fetus or infant has not yet been evaluated.
Health benefits of valerian root
While Hippocrates was believed to be using Valerian as early as 420BC to relieve insomnia, other benefits have also been associated with the use of this herb. Some studies have shown that valerian supplementation can alleviate headaches, migraines, stress, hypochondria and gastrointestinal discomfort. Valerian can also be taken to alleviate menstrual cramps, symptoms of pre-menstrual syndrome and menopause.
What causes insomnia
While it is hard to specifically diagnose the causes of insomnia and why you can't sleep at night, there are many possible factors. These include limited time, lifestyle choices, stress, anxiety and diet. From personal experience, I found that when I was not living well through the day, I wasn’t giving myself the best chance for a full recovery during the night. Subsequent changes in lifestyle worked wonders for me and included consuming less caffeine, eating healthier and regular meditation. And, once I added Valerian into the mix, I never looked back.
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1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/index.html
2. US National Library of Medicine: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/node/4605
3. University of Maryland Medical Center: https://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/valerian