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Why Valerian Won't Help You Sleep Through The Night + What To Try Instead

Image by Studio Firma / Stocksy
July 12, 2022

Of all the sleep supplements on the market these days, valerian is one ingredient with an undoubtedly fascinating history. A number of well-known physicians through time—back to ancient Greece and Rome—have harnessed the roots of the tall, flowering valerian plant for their sedative properties. It's also been distributed to ease stress during war times, according to historical records1.

But is there any modern science to back up the ancient sleep aid? Here's what to know about valerian's potential and limitations, and what to try if the notoriously stinky herb (no really, it's pungent) is not working for you.

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The research on valerian for sleep.

As mbg previously reported, recent studies on valerian's effectiveness as a sleep aid have yielded mixed results. For every study that says taking valerian before bed can improve sleep quality2 and ease nighttime anxiousness, there is one that indicates it is not an effective sleep aid3.

A systematic review of clinical research on the herb, published in 2000, concluded that there is4 "significant inconsistency in terms of participants, experimental design and methodology among the trials." 

A 2006 systematic review5, 2010 meta-analysis6, and 2020 combination systematic review and meta-analysis7 further echo the many methodologic problems of valerian studies to date, even including publication bias, while suggesting valerian might modestly help with subjective sleep quality. The key word being "subjective," since objectively quantified data is lacking.

After reviewing the pool of existing research, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) declared8 that there is not enough evidence to determine the effectiveness of valerian to help with major sleep disturbances or issues. "Overall, the evidence from these trials for the sleep-promoting effects of valerian is inconclusive," the Institutes note.

Valerian has also been associated with a number of side effects, including a queasy stomach, abdominal cramps, restlessness, and agitation.

If you are someone who enjoys taking a supplement or sleep tea formulated with valerian and find that it helps you get better rest, by all means, continue. But if you're open to another option, there are other sleep supplements that might prove more reliable.

What to try instead.

For those on the hunt for a nightly sleep aid that will support their body's natural ability to get a great night's rest, might we recommend sleep support+?* mindbodygreen's sleep supplement is formulated with three ingredients that have promising research to back them up: magnesium bisglycinate, jujube, and PharmaGABA®.

In one study on magnesium, those who took the essential mineral before bed for eight weeks reported significant improvements9 in sleep onset latency, sleep duration, and sleep efficiency (the percentage of time spent asleep while in bed) compared to those who took a placebo.* A recent study on jujube10 found that those who consumed extracts of the fruit nightly for four weeks reported longer, higher-quality sleep10 than those who took a placebo.* And a 2016 study11 found that supplementing with PharmGABA® (a natural form of the GABA amino acid neurotransmitter) could decrease sleep latency and increase time spent in REM sleep.*

A quick scan through the hundreds of five-star reviews for the supplement will give you a sense of how these ingredients can work together to transform sleep.* "Take an hour before you want to sleep; you will feel relaxed and be able to sleep peacefully, and fall back asleep easily if you wake up... I highly recommend this to anyone in need of real solid rest,"* writes one reviewer, Tansy W.

"I am glad that I came across this product. I am sleeping more soundly, not waking during the night, and sleeping longer,"* notes another reviewer, Tamara G. "When I do wake up, I feel well-rested and ready to start my day without being tired and groggy."

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The takeaway.

The research on using valerian as a nightly sleep aid is mixed. If you're looking to improve the quality of your zzz's, make sure that your sleep hygiene is up to par and consider looking into a valerian alternative like sleep support+.* Learn more about the product here.

Emma Loewe
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director

Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.

Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.