Does Valerian Root Actually Work for Insomnia?

Does Valerian Root Actually Work for Insomnia?

Difficulty falling asleep or just staying asleep can be a very common problem to all of us a times.  Not only can it be incredibly frustrating, but it can leave you feeling tired and irritable for the rest of the entire day.

Approximately one in three people suffer from sleep related disturbances or insomnia.  The old ‘joke’ about statistics like this—if you pick two friends and they’re okay, then you’re it!

Valerian root, often hailed as nature’s answer to stress and sleeplessness, has a long history of use in herbal medicine. This plant, with its distinctive qualities, has been a subject of interest for centuries. Here’s a closer look at valerian root, its origins, characteristics, and discovery.

Where Valerian Root is Found

Valerian, scientifically known as Valeriana officinalis, is native to Europe and parts of Asia but is also grown in North America. The plant thrives in damp, grassy environments, along riverbanks, and in woodland areas. It’s recognized by its sweetly scented pink or white flowers and the strong, distinctive aroma of its root.

The Aroma and Taste of Valerian Root

Valerian root is notorious for its pungent odor, which some people find unpleasant. This smell is often described as earthy or musty, akin to wet socks or dirty feet. Despite its off-putting scent, the taste of valerian root is somewhat milder. It has a slightly sweet, bitter flavor, which is why it’s often taken as a capsule or tincture to mask the taste and smell.

Historical Discovery and Uses

The use of valerian root dates back thousands of years. It was known in ancient Greece and Rome, where it was used for a variety of medicinal purposes, including as a sleep aid and to ease digestive issues. The name “valerian” is derived from the Latin verb “valere,” which means “to be strong” or “to be healthy,” a testament to its perceived healing powers.

Greek physician Dioscorides reportedly recommended valerian root for a host of ailments in the first century AD, and its use continued through the Middle Ages and into modern times. In the 16th century, it was used to treat nervousness, trembling, headaches, and heart palpitations.

Modern Use and Research

Today, valerian root is primarily used for its sedative properties. It’s a popular herbal remedy for insomnia and anxiety, often used in teas, tinctures, and capsules. Its calming effect is attributed to its influence on increasing the levels of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, which helps regulate nerve impulses and has a calming effect.


Valerian root stands out in the world of herbal remedies for its strong aroma and long history of use in promoting relaxation and sleep. While its scent might not be for everyone, its potential benefits have made it a mainstay in herbal medicine. As with any herbal supplement, it’s important to consult with a healthcare provider before using valerian, especially if you have existing health conditions or are taking other medications.

Otherwise, Ask Yourself these Questions:

  1. Do you often experience difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep?
  2. Do you awake feeling tired or rested?
  3. Do you awake too early in the morning?
  4. Have these sleep related difficulties persisted for longer than one month?
  5. Have you experienced an impairment in your ability to function as a result?

Valerian Root for Insomnia, Research:

If you suffer from sleep related difficulties, you should see your physician for an accurate diagnosis and treatment.  For those who suffer from a mild degree of insomnia, extracts of the roots of valerian (Valeriana officinalis) are widely used for inducing sleep and improving sleep quality.  In fact, the extract of the root of valerian, a flowering plant, has been widely used to treat sleeping disorders in Europe for decades.

Important! Dosage: 225 to 1215 mg [this review included studies which had Valerian dosages in this range]

Clinical Significance

  • Valerian is commonly used to improve sleep.
  • Patients taking valerian had an 80% greater chance of reporting improved sleep compared with patients taking placebo; however, there was evidence of publication bias.

Conclusions from the Study Authors:

“This systematic review suggests that valerian may improve sleep quality, but methodological problems of the included studies limit the ability to draw firm conclusions.”

To improve your sleep hygiene, avoid drinking more than 2 cups of coffee during the day, avoid napping during the day, set a regular bed time, moderate your alcohol consumption, and avoid exercising late at night.


  1. Bent S, Padula A, Moore D, Patterson M, Mehling W.  Valerian for sleep: a systematic review and meta-analysis.  Am J Med. 2006 Dec;119(12):1005-12
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