Tools
Snooze University

Does Valerian Root Help Insomnia? (Study Review)

by Dale Cudmore | Updated: Jul 05, 2021

Valerian root is one of the most popular over the counter herbal supplements that is sold with claims of improving sleep.

But reviews and research around valerian is mixed. There are a lot of biased and low quality studies published solely to try and market a company’s products.

Once you remove those flawed studies, you get a clearer picture of the effectiveness of valerian on sleep quality. I’m going to walk you through that research in this short post.

The Effect of Valerian on Sleep Quality

Most of what we’re going to be looking at comes from a 2020 meta-study on using valerian root for sleep problems (1).

After filtering out low quality studies, 60 remained, and the data from those was analyzed.

The first thing the authors looked at was the effect of valerian on sleep quality, which you can see in the chart below.

You can see that 2 studies had large and clear positive effects.

Most of the rest showed a small or negligible effect on sleep quality that’s mostly insignificant once you consider the confidence interval.

The green bar at the very bottom shows the combined effect size, which is certainly on the positive side.

SummaryMost high quality studies show that valerian likely has a small positive effect on sleep quality.

The Effect of Valerian on Anxiety

After digging deeper, it seems that valerian mainly has a positive effect when it improves anxiety, which is a major insomnia risk factor.

A total of 8 studies that looked at valerian and anxiety met the quality standard in the meta-study.

You can see the results of the meta-analysis for anxiety below. Note that the top 2 studies are for valerian taken in the form of whole root, while the rest are valerian extract.

Again, the overall effect shows a small positive effect on anxiety.

Possibly more interesting is that the valerian extract studies seem to have much more variance in their results. Overall, the authors concluded that whole root valerian produces much more reliable positive results than valerian root extract.

SummaryValerian root appears to have a small positive impact on anxiety, which in turn will help most cases of insomnia. Note that not all insomnia is caused by anxiety though.

Valerian May Work Best With Other Herbs

The last major thing to consider is that unlike medications that often interact with each other, most herbal supplements play nicely with each other.

While studies that combined valerian root with other herbs had mixed results as well, there does seem to be some potential to improve the effects.

The most common partners for valerian in research are:

  • Humulus lupulus (HOPS) - Research shows a positive effect on sleep quality and reduced arousal (2,3,4).
  • M. officinalis (lemon balm) and P. incarnata (passionflower) - When used in combination with valerian, they showed positive outcomes for sleep problems and anxiety (5,6,7,8)

The chart below shows how these pairings can improve the effect of valerian root on sleep quality either directly, or indirectly through improving anxiety or depression symptoms.

SummaryHigh quality sleep supplements that combine valerian with HOPS, lemon balm, or passionflower show promise to improve sleep quality even further.

The Quality of Valerian Supplement Matters

The obvious question is how come some studies show such a clear positive result, and some don’t?

There’s a few different possibilities, but the most likely explanation that has some proof behind it is that many valerian supplements are low quality. These have limited or no impact.

Furthermore, valerian root (whole) is much more likely to be high quality than valerian extract.

Compounds in Valerian Root

There are multiple important active components in valerian, all of which can play an important role in improving sleep.

Active compounds in valerian extract are unstable, and they can break down quickly.

For example, one of the most important compounds are valepotriates, which exert antidepressant-like effects - albeit only studied in mice so far (9,10).

In commercial valerian extract supplements, values are standardized to levels of valerenic acids (another compound), but valepotriates are unknown in most cases.

In one study, researchers stored a valerian extract supplement at room temperature for 2 months and found (11):

The levels of valepotriates (valtrate and isovaltrate) after 2 months

were less than 5% of the original, whereas the levels of valerenic acids (valerenic acid and acetoxyvalerenic acid) were not affected.

In plain English, shelf life is specified based on valerenic acids, but not on other active compounds that are more likely to decay.

SummaryValerian root extract products are more likely to be low quality and have no or less impact on sleep quality. Regardless, supplements should be stored below room temperature.

Is Valerian Root Safe to Take?

The last thing to look at is safety.

In general, herbal supplements are fairly safe to take (in recommended amounts), especially compared to sleep medication that often comes with adverse effects.

SummarySeveral studies have shown that valerian root is generally safe to take in a wide range of ages (from children to elderly subjects) (8,12,13).

Summary: Valerian Root and Insomnia

Overall, valerian root seems to have a mild but positive impact on sleep quality, and could be a useful tool in treating insomnia. It’s not likely to be a cure, but it can temporarily help while the root cause is addressed.

Research shows that whole root valerian supplements regularly taken for 4-8 weeks produces the most consistent improvement on sleep quality. Conversely, valerian extract taken in studies ranging from 5 days to 4 weeks had inconsistent results.

It appears to be an effective natural sleeping aid, the only alternative that really outshines it is melatonin (see valerian root vs melatonin for why).

References

  1. Valerian Root in Treating Sleep Problems and Associated Disorders—A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
  2. A randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled, prospective clinical study to demonstrate clinical efficacy of a fixed valerian hops extract combination in patients suffering from non-organic sleep disorder
  3. Sleep improving effects of a single dose administration of a valerian/hops fluid extract
  4. Valerian-hops combination and diphenhydramine for treating insomnia
  5. Efficacy and safety of a polyherbal sedative-hypnotic formulation NSF-3 in primary insomnia in comparison to zolpidem
  6. Effects of a fixed herbal drug combination (Ze 185) to an experimental acute stress setting in healthy men
  7. Anxiolytic effects of a combination of Melissa officinalis and Valeriana officinalis during laboratory induced stress
  8. Hyperactivity, concentration difficulties and impulsiveness improve during seven weeks' treatment with valerian root and lemon balm extracts in primary school children
  9. Antidepressant effect of Valeriana wallichii patchouli alcohol chemotype in mice
  10. Antidepressant-like effect of Valeriana glechomifolia Meyer (Valerianaceae) in mice
  11. Cytotoxic potential of valerian constituents and valerian tinctures
  12. Acute pharmacological effects of temazepam, diphenhydramine, and valerian in healthy elderly subjects
  13. Herbal triplet in treatment of nervous agitation in children

Medical Disclaimer: The information on SnoozeUniversity.com is not intended to be a substitute for physician or other qualified care. We simply aim to inform people struggling with sleep issues about the nature of their condition and/or prescribed treatment.


About the authorDale is the founder of Snooze University and a sleep researcher. I overcame my sleep issues and now I'd like to help you do the same by summarizing the latest sleep studies for you.