Have you ever gone to bed wishing you could fall asleep right away? Or are you afraid of waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to go back to sleep? Do you constantly look at the clock, hoping to see how long until dawn? If so, you are not alone. As a point of reference, a quarter of the population, in the US alone, occasionally report not getting enough sleep, while almost 10% experience chronic insomnia. Of those who suffer from lack of sleep, 2-6% use medications to help sleep, which means a significant number of prescriptions each year, however, this problem can often be solved with natural remedies such as valerian root, which only few choose to use. Do you want to know how to use it for insomnia?
What is insomnia
Insomnia is defined as unrefreshing sleep for more than a month. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine simplifies this definition as unsatisfactory sleep that affects functioning during the day.
Insomnia can lead to fatigue, social dysfunction, daytime sleepiness, impaired attention / concentration and memory, altered mood, and low motivation. Insufficient sleep is also associated with a number of chronic diseases and conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression. Apart from this, insufficient sleep is also responsible for accidents involving motor vehicles and machinery, causing substantial injuries and disability each year.
Conventional insomnia treatment
The current first-line therapy for insomnia (not due to coexisting medical, neurological, or psychiatric conditions) is non-drug therapy, such as sleep hygiene and lifestyle modifications. The goal of treatment should always be to improve sleep duration, sleep quality, improve daytime function, and cause minimal drug adverse effects. When using drug therapy, adverse effects should be taken into account.
Pharmaceutical treatment of insomnia includes non-benzodiazepines, melatonin agonists, antihistamines, antidepressants, and benzodiazepines. Some potential side effects of these drugs include abdominal pain, altered color perception, unpleasant taste, hallucinations, worsening of depression, suicidal ideation, dizziness, headaches, morning drowsiness, heart toxicity, sexual dysfunction, increased appetite, facial swelling and irritability.
There is good evidence to suggest that exercise, cognitive behavioral therapy, and relaxation therapy are effective non-drug treatments for insomnia.
Exercise: Exercise was shown in one study to be as effective as benzodiazepines in improving sleep, as well as offering many other health benefits. Staying active during the day will help you wear out at night. Exercising before dinner is recommended if possible, as some people find it stimulating very close to going to bed.
Relaxation: Evidence also supports the use of relaxation therapy and cognitive therapies. Listening to a guided meditation will help you calm down and get rid of any excessive thinking.
Sleep hygiene: Good sleep hygiene is essential for a good night’s sleep. Sleep hygiene includes always going to bed at the same time, limiting exposure to light before bed (such as electronics), and doing peaceful activities before bed, such as taking a bath or reading a book.
Herbal Therapies: Many herbs and dietary supplements (e.g., valerian root, melatonin, lavender, passionflower, kava, St. John’s wort, glutamine, niacin, and l-tryptophan) have been advertised and used as sleep aids. While there is insufficient evidence to support many of these therapies, there are case reports that suggest a perceived benefit. The two natural supplements that however have supporting evidence are melatonin and valerian.
Characteristics of valerian root
Valerian root has been used for many as an herbal sleep aid. It is widely used and now supported by evidence for its sedative effects and anti-anxiety abilities. What research has shown is that valerian root can reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and helps you stay asleep.
Valerian root causes sedation by inhibiting the breakdown of a neurotransmitter called y-aminobutyric acid or GABA. This causes the levels of GABA in the brain to increase. Because GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, the higher the levels, the more calming and sedative effects will be produced. This results in a feeling of calm and promotes a better night’s sleep.
In a double-blind randomized controlled trial, the effects of valerian on poor sleep quality were investigated. What was found was that 89% of the participants reported improvements and 44% reported “perfect” sleep. Even better was that no side effects were seen for this group.
How to use valerian root
Valerian root is available in tea, supplement, and tincture forms. It is often combined with other calming herbs such as chamomile (feverfew recutita), lavender (lavendula officials), hops (Humulus lupulus), and lemon balm (Melissa officianalis).
The use of herbs is easy and often inexpensive, but always consult your doctor before use. Here are 3 different ways to add valerian root to your sleep schedule.
Hot tea: Simply add 1 cup of boiling water to 2 teaspoons of dried valerian root, cover with a plate (to trap essential oils), and leave for 5-10 minutes. Enjoy 30 minutes to 1 hour before your desired sleep time.
Cold infusion: A cold infusion can be made by pouring 1 cup of cold water over 2 teaspoons of the root and letting it steep for 8-10 hours. You would have to prepare your nightly dose in the morning.
Tincture: (1:5 in 60%) is the most used preparation. According to the author of the textbook, Herbal Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine, David Hoffmann, the recommended dose is 2.5-5ml (1/2 to 1 tsp).
Note: Valerian appears to enhance subjective sleep experiences when taken nightly for periods of one to two weeks, so don’t give up if a single dose shows no effect.
Insomnia is a common but uncomfortable ailment to treat. There are many treatment options ranging from lifestyle to herbs and pharmaceuticals. Currently, there is more evidence supporting exercise, cognitive behavior therapies, as well as valerian root for the treatment of disturbed sleep.