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Valerian Root vs Melatonin: Which is More Effective?

by Dale Cudmore | Updated: Sep 14, 2020

When it comes to natural sleep aids, melatonin and valerian root are two of the most mentioned options.

While they may not be a cure for insomnia on their own, both have research that suggests they can help people with minor sleep issues in some situations.

I’ve summarized the research behind each of these sleep aids, and then we’ll do a head-to-head comparison at the end.

Melatonin: Effectiveness as a Sleep Aid

Melatonin is the most widely studied sleep aid.

It’s a hormone that we all produce, but taking melatonin supplements can directly increase levels of melatonin in our bodies.

Most importantly, melatonin is arguably the most important hormone involved in sleep timing and regulation. Once levels rise to a certain amount, it’s a strong signal that it’s time to go to sleep.

Research Behind Melatonin

There is an absolute ton of research behind the effectiveness of melatonin.

Almost every study finds at least some positive effect on sleep, typically in the form of (1, 2, 3):

  • Decreased sleep onset latency (i.e. time it takes to fall asleep)
  • Increased overall sleep time
  • Improved sleep quality

However, note that melatonin is only one possible part of treatment for insomnia:

...the absolute benefit of melatonin compared to placebo is smaller than other pharmacological treatments for insomnia.

SummaryMany studies show that melatonin mostly helps decrease the time it takes to get to sleep.

When is Melatonin Effective?

Melatonin supplements won’t help everyone that has sleep issues. For example, if you’re waking up too early, melatonin is unlikely to help.

It has the largest effect when someone isn’t making enough melatonin when they want to be sleeping.

This situation can arise for a few different reasons (4):

  • Too much light exposure at night (particularly blue light)
  • Jet lag from travel
  • Shift work
  • Circadian rhythm‐related sleep disorders

Melatonin Dosage

The amount of melatonin used in studies varies widely, ranging from 0.1 mg to 10 mg over the course of 2 to 5 weeks (3).

Most studies where melatonin has significantly improved sleep efficiency in subjects use a dose between 0.3 mg and 1.0 mg per night (5). So it really doesn’t take much in most people to see a positive effect.

In terms of safety, even a study where patients took 10 mg of melatonin for 28 days saw no observable toxicological or side-effects in the short-term (6).

And finally, there doesn’t appear to be diminishing returns (1):

The effects of melatonin on sleep are modest but do not appear to dissipate with continued melatonin use.

SummaryMost melatonin supplements come with their own recommended dosage directions. In studies, patients that take even 0.3 mg to 1.0 mg on a daily basis see significantly improved sleep quality.

Melatonin Risks and Side Effects

Most research indicates that melatonin is safe for most people, at least in the short term (7). That’s why it’s available over the counter in many countries without a prescription.

However, there is a lack of long term studies.

Some studies do show adverse reactions to melatonin, including:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Drowsiness

And there are concerns about melatonin supplement safety in children in particular (8).

Additionally, not all melatonin supplements are the same.

One study found that (9):

Melatonin content did not meet the label within a 10% margin of the label claim in more than 71% of supplements and an additional 26% were found to contain serotonin.

Finally, there are other safety concerns:

  • Interactions with other medicines
  • Allergic reactions
  • Possible safety issues for older people (10)

SummaryWhile a research-grade melatonin supplement is safe for most people, few studies have looked at long term safety. Additionally, there are many low quality melatonin supplements that are poorly regulated, which may contain harmful ingredients.

Valerian Root: Effectiveness as a Sleep Aid

Valerian root comes from the valerian herb, which grows in Europe and Asia.

Compared to most other herbs that are claimed to have beneficial effects, valerian root has been studied quite a bit.

Research Behind Valerian Root

While there is a lot of research behind valerian root and its effect on sleep, most of it is low quality and from a long time ago.

Only a few dozen studies have a solid methodology, and those show (11):

The available evidence suggests that valerian might improve sleep quality without producing side effects

In plain terms, some studies suggest there might be a benefit in certain situations, where others show no significant improvement in sleep over a placebo.

For example, a study where cancer survivors with sleep disorders took 450 mg of valerian at bedtime found no significant improvement (12).

The more promising studies are trials using higher doses of valerian (13).

There is also some evidence that it can be useful for specific people, like menopausal women (14).

SummaryBased on current research, we can’t claim either way if valerian root has an effect on sleep. Some studies find a small beneficial effect, and some find none.

When is Valerian Root Effective?

As we saw, most studies have mixed results.

However, in studies that showed valerian root had a positive effect, the most common finding was that it reduced sleep latency (time to get to sleep).

SummarySimilarly to melatonin, people who take a long time to fall asleep may benefit from supplementing valerian root.

Valerian Root Dosage

Most studies have subjects take doses of between 450 to 900 mg of valerian root before sleeping (15).

One of the longer studies I could find had patients take 600 mg of valerian over 44 days, which showed some benefit and no significant side effects (16).

Valerian Root Risks and Side Effects

Current research suggests that moderate valerian root dosage is safe for short term usage, side effects are uncommon (16).

There is some concern that valerian root can be bad for your liver. These cases are rare and typically only happen when the patient is also taking other botanicals that could be dangerous (17).

It’s a potential risk of long term valerian usage that has not been studied yet, so it’s unclear if valerian is dangerous for the liver or not.

Some other adverse effects that have been reported with valerian root include (13):

  • Diarrhea
  • Migraine
  • Stomach pain

There are also case reports of withdrawal from valerian root causing delirium and cardiac complications, which suggests that it could be dangerous when used long-term (18, 19).

Finally, herbal supplements aren’t regulated the same way that medication is, so the quality of a valerian root supplement can vary widely.

SummaryWhile short term usage of valerian root appears to be safe for most people, there are serious potential long-term side effects.

Comparison: Valerian Root vs Melatonin

Let’s compare the main aspects of both valerian root and melatonin:

  • Evidence of Effectiveness - Melatonin has a clear positive effect in people who struggle to get to sleep. Valerian root may help people get to sleep, but the research is unclear, and the positive effect is smaller than melatonin in almost all cases.
  • Safety - Both are regarded as safe for short term usage as long as dosage instructions are followed. However, there is a lack of long-term research for melatonin, and there are serious health concerns about long-term valerian root usage.

Overall, melatonin is the safer and more effective natural sleep aid to include as a part of treatment for a sleep disorder like insomnia.

Can you take valerian root and melatonin together?

I could not find a single study that looked at taking valerian root and melatonin at the same time.

There are supplements out there (e.g. Future Kind’s natural sleep aid) that contain both, but you should check with your doctor before taking either (or both).

References

  1. Meta-Analysis: Melatonin for the Treatment of Primary Sleep Disorders
  2. A review of sleep disorders and melatonin
  3. Evidence for the efficacy of melatonin in the treatment of primary adult sleep disorders
  4. New perspectives on the role of melatonin in human sleep, circadian rhythms and their regulation
  5. Low dose melatonin improves sleep in healthy middle-aged subjects
  6. Randomized, double‐blind clinical trial, controlled with placebo, of the toxicology of chronic melatonin treatment
  7. The Efficacy and Safety of Exogenous Melatonin for Primary Sleep Disorders
  8. Potential safety issues in the use of the hormone melatonin in paediatrics
  9. Melatonin Natural Health Products and Supplements: Presence of Serotonin and Significant Variability of Melatonin Content
  10. Clinical Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Intrinsic Circadian Rhythm Sleep-Wake Disorders
  11. Valerian for Sleep: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
  12. The use of Valeriana officinalis (Valerian) in improving sleep in patients who are undergoing treatment for cancer
  13. Herbal medicine for insomnia: A systematic review and meta-analysis
  14. The Effects of Valerian Root on Hot Flashes in Menopausal Women
  15. Effect of valerian on human sleep
  16. Critical Evaluation of the Effect of Valerian Extract on Sleep Structure and Sleep Quality
  17. LiverTox: Valerian
  18. Delirium After Withdrawal From Valerian Root: A Case Report
  19. Cardiac Complications and Delirium Associated With Valerian Root Withdrawal

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.