Friday, 12 April 2019

Valerian and Insomnia

Article and Photo by Ann Walker
The documented use of Valerian for sleep problems goes as far back as Galen, the physician/philosopher of the Roman Empire, who recommended the herb for insomnia in the 2nd century AD. Despite this long history of use, modern research findings have been equivocal as to the herb’s benefit for sleep. Indeed, some studies have shown no benefit at all (e.g. PMID: 18482867). These ‘no effect’ findings are likely to be due to the dose being too low, as, given at a realistic level, even one dose can markedly reduce nerve excitability in the cortex region of the brain (PMID: 29035887). The cortex plays a key role in memory, thought, language and consciousness: characteristics which relate to sleep patterns.

Contradictory study results seem to afflict valerian. Although one study showed that nearly a month of regular daily consumption was necessary to combat insomnia, another study found a more immediate effect. In a large study, of 128 subjects, valerian extract given before bedtime, worked immediately to improve sleep compared with placebo, which is more in keeping with how the herb is used in practice (PMID: 7122669).

Ambivalent responses to valerian are well known to herbal practitioners: while most patients respond well to valerian taken before bedtime, it does nothing for a minority. Nevertheless, if insomnia is a problem, it is well worth giving it a try and, based on the research mentioned above, perhaps for up to a month before discarding it as ineffective. Fortunately, if valerian proves ineffective for insomnia, all is not lost, as there are several other herbs, mostly taken in combination, which can combat insomnia.

PMID = PubMed identifier

Ann Walker PhD, FCPP, MNIMH, RNutr
Course Director DHM
Herbal Practitioner