Nearly one-third of all Canadians suffers from some type of sleep problem, so it’s no surprise that the herb valerian has enjoyed growing popularity for its sleep-inducing and anti-anxiety properties. Valerian works much the same as a mild sedative, binding weakly to two brain receptors, GABA and benzodiazpine, to help induce sleep. However, unlike typical sedatives, valerian is not addictive.

At the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Miami School of Medicine, researchers tested the herb’s effectiveness. Twenty-three volunteers who suffered from insomnia were given valerian for a two-week period and then completed sleep questionnaires regarding their progress. Twenty patients completed the trial, and of that twenty, 16 (80%) reported their insomnia to be “moderately improved,” noting the valerian was “extremely helpful.”

At the Institute of Clinical Pharmacology in Charite University Medical Center in Germany, researchers compared short-term (single dose) and long-term (14 days at least) use of valerian. In this double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 16 patients suffering insomnia were given either a single dose or a two-week regime of valerian. During the study, tests and questionnaires were used to rate sleep efficiency, morning feeling, daytime performance and sleep quality. Though short-term use of valerian showed no effect in this study, long-term use resulted in a significant increase in REM sleep as well as a decreased number of sleep interruptions.

The recommended dose of valerian is 400 to 900 mg, 30 minutes to one hour before bedtime.

Sources: Leslie Beck’s Nutrition Encyclopedia by L Beck, Prentice Hall:2001; Cultur Divers Ethni Minor Psychol 2000 Feb;6(1):84-92; Pharmacopsychiatry 2000 Mar;33(2):47-53