Scientists have confirmed this is the most powerful natural sedative (valerian root)
Have you ever lied in bed wishing you could just fall asleep? Or do you fear you will wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to get back to sleep? Do you constantly look at the clock counting down the limited hours left until your alarm goes off? If so you are not alone. According to the CDC , more than one-quarter of the U.S. population report occasionally not getting enough sleep, while nearly 10% experience chronic insomnia. Of those suffering from lack of sleep, 2-6% use medications to aid sleep amounting to a significant number of prescriptions filled each year (4).
What is Insomnia?
Insomnia is defined as sleeplessness not attributed to any other cause or difficulty initiating/maintaining sleep or non-restorative sleep for greater than one month (2). The American Academy of Sleep Medicine simplifies this definition to unsatisfactory sleep that impacts daytime functioning (3).
Insomnia can lead to fatigue, social dysfunction, daytime sleepiness, attention/concentration & memory impairment, mood disturbance, and low motivation. Insufficient sleep is also associated with a number of chronic diseases and conditions—such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression—which threaten our nation’s health (5). Aside from these, insufficient sleep is also responsible for motor vehicle and machinery-related crashes, causing substantial injury and disability each year (1).
Conventional Insomnia Treatment
The current first-line therapy for insomnia (that is not due to coexisting medical, neurological, or psychiatric illness) is non-pharmacological therapy such as sleep hygiene and lifestyle modifications. The goal of treatment should always be to improve the length of sleep, sleep quality, improve daytime function and cause minimal adverse drug effects. When pharmacologic therapy is used adverse effects must be taken into consideration.
Pharmaceutical Treatment of insomnia include nonbenzodiazepines, Melatonin receptor agonist, antihistamines, antidepressants, and benzodiazepines. Some potential side effects of these drugs include abdominal pain, altered color perception, unpleasant taste, hallucinations, worsening depression, suicidal ideation, dizziness, headaches, morning sleepiness, cardiac toxicity, sexual dysfunction, increased appetite, facial swelling and irritability (6).
Natural Sleep Remedies
There is good evidence to suggest exercise, cognitive behavior therapy, and relaxation therapy are effective non-pharmacological treatments for insomnia (7-10).
Exercise: In one study exercise was shown to be as effective as benzodiazepines at improving sleep as well as it offers many other health benefits (7,10). Staying active during the day will help to wear you out at night. I would recommend exercising before dinner if possible as some people find it stimulating too close to bed.
Relaxation: Evidence also supports the use of relaxation therapy and cognitive based therapies (7,9). There are many free guided meditation apps out there such as the “calm” app or “insight timer”. Listening to a guided meditation will help calm you down and get rid of any excessive thoughts.
Sleep hygiene: Good sleep hygiene is critical for a restful night’s sleep. Sleep hygiene includes always going to bed at the same time, limiting exposure to light before bed (such as from electronics) and doing peaceful activities before bed like having a bath or reading a book.
Herbal Therapies: Many herbs and dietary supplements (e.g., valerian root, melatonin, lavender, passionflower, kava, St. John’s wort, glutamine, niacin, and l-tryptophan) have been advertised and used as sleep aids (11). While there is insufficient evidence to support many of these therapies, there are case reports suggesting a perceived benefit. The two natural supplements that do however have supportive evidence are melatonin and valerian.
Herbal Feature: Valerian Root (Valeriana officinalis)
Valerian root has been used for many, many years as a herbal sleep aid. It is widely used and now supported by evidence for its sedative effects and anti-anxiety capabilities. What the research was shown is that valerian root may reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and helps you stay asleep.
Valerian root causes sedation by inhibiting the breakdown of a neurotransmitter called y-aminobutyric acid or GABA (12). This causes the GABA levels in the brain to increase. Because GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, the higher the levels the more calming and sedative effects will be produced. This results in a sense of calm and promotes a better nights sleep (12).
In a double-blind randomized control trial, the effects of valerian on poor sleep quality were investigated. What was found was 89% of participants reported improvements and 44% reported “perfect” sleep! Even better was that no side effects were observed for this group (12).
How to Use Valerian Root
Valerian root is available in tea, supplement and tincture forms. It is often combined with other calming herbs such as Chamomile (matricaria recutita), lavender (lavendula officials), hops (Humulus lupulus) and, lemon balm (Melissa officianalis).
Using herbs is easy and often inexpensive but always consult your doctor or your primary care doctor prior to use. Below you will find 3 different ways to add valerian root into you sleep schedule.
Hot Tea: Simply add 1 cups of boiling water to 2 tsp of dried valerian root, cover with a plate (to trap essential oils) and steep for 5-10 minutes. Enjoy 30min to 1 hour prior to desired sleep time (8).
Cold Infusion: A cold infusion may be made by pouring 1 cup of cold water over 2 tsp of root and let stand for 8-10 hours. You would need to prepare your nighttime dose in the morning (8).
Tincture: (1:5 in 60%) is the most widely used preparation. According to the author of the textbook, Medical Herbalism The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine, David Hoffmann (FNIMH, AHG), the recommended dose is 2.5-5ml (1/2 to 1 tsp) (8).
Note: valerian appears to improve subjective experiences of sleep when taken nightly over one to two week periods so don’t give up if a single dose shows no effect!
Insomnia is a common but uncomfortable ailment to deal with. Many treatment options exist that range from lifestyle to herbs and pharmaceuticals. Currently, the most evidence exists to support exercise, cognitive behaviour therapies as well as valerian root for the treatment of disturbed sleep.
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- Sateia MJ, Doghramji K, Hauri PJ, Morin CM. Evaluation of chronic insomnia. An American Academy of Sleep Medicine review. Sleep. 2000;23:243–308.
- Ohayon MM. Epidemiology of insomnia: what we know and what we still need to learn. Sleep Med Rev. 2002;6:97–111.
- NIH state-of-the-science conference statement on manifestations and management of chronic insomnia in adults. NIH Consens State Sci Statements 2005;22:1–30. Accessed March 20, 2007, at: http://consensus.nih.gov/2005/2005InsomniaSOS026main.htm.
- Am Fam Physician. 2007 Aug 15;76(4):517-526.
- Buscemi N, Vandermeer B, Friesen C, Bialy L, Tubman M, Ospina M, et al. Manifestations and management of chronic insomnia in adults. Evid Rep Technol Assess (Summ). 2005;125:1–10.
- Holbrook AM, Crowther R, Lotter A, Cheng C, King D. The diagnosis and management of insomnia in clinical practice: a practical evidence-based approach. CMAJ. 2000;162:216–20.
- Montgomery P, Dennis J. Cognitive behavioural interventions for sleep problems in adults aged 60+. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2003;(1):CD003161.
- King AC, Oman RF, Brassington GS, Bliwise DL, Haskell WL. Moderate-intensity exercise and self-rated quality of sleep in older adults. A randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 1997;277:32–7.
- Cauffield JS. Supplement used to treat sleep disorders. U.S. Pharmacist. Accessed March 20, 2007, at: http://www.uspharmacist.com/oldformat.asp?url=newlook/files/Comp/sleep.htm”&”pub_id=8&article_id=729.
- Lindahl, Olov, and Lars Lindwall. “Double blind study of a valerian preparation.” Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior 32.4 (1989): 1065-1066.
- Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism. 1st ed. Rochester, Vt.: Healing Arts Press, 2003. Print.
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