Inconsistent Findings for Valerian as a Sleep Aid

Valerian root extract is probably not an effective sleep aid.

Posted Nov 15, 2017

How Valerian works

An extract of the herbal Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) has been used in many healing traditions for more than a millennium. The mechanism of action may involve both inhibition of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) reuptake and binding to serotonin receptors by valepotriates, the bioactive constituents of the herb.

Inconsistent findings for Valerian as a sleep aid

Taking Valerian extract following discontinuation of sleep aids such as benzodiazepines may improve overall sleep quality. In a large, multicenter, six-week study, chronic insomniacs randomized to a standardized Valerian extract at 600 mg versus a prescription sleep aid reported comparable improvements in sleep quality and duration. An early systematic review of placebo-controlled trials on Valerian for insomnia concluded that a standardized extract (600 and 900 mg at bedtime) improves the subjective quality of sleep with few side effects. However, a more recent systematic review of 29 placebo-controlled trials that met rigorous criteria for study design and methodological quality concluded that the most rigorously designed studies failed to demonstrate significant differences between Valerian and placebo. Another systematic review found a statistically significant benefit of Valerian extract in insomnia but noted significant methodological flaws in most studies examined and evidence of publication bias.

Safety issues

Unlike many prescription sleep aids, there is no risk of addiction with valerian preparations, and there are no reports of daytime psychomotor slowing. Because valerian affects the neurotransmitter GABA, the herbal should not be taken together with alcohol or with benzodiazepines sleep aids such as lorazepam and clonazepam. There are rare reports of elevated liver enzymes. The active ingredients valepotriates may be mutagenic, and this herbal should be avoided in pregnant or nursing women.

To learn about supplements and other non-pharmacologic sleep aids that are effective for insomnia check out my e-book Insomnia: The Integrative Mental Health Solution


Insomnia: The Integrative Mental Health Solution by James Lake MD