Valerian root is one of the most popular alternatives to sleep medications. While valerian is a herb, Xanax and Valium are considered benzodiazepines (benzos).
Valerian root is one of the most popular alternatives to sleep medications. While valerian is a herb, Xanax and Valium are considered benzodiazepines (benzos).

Valerian root is one of the most popular alternatives to sleep medications such as Xanax and Valium. It can also treat conditions other than insomnia, such as anxiety and hyperactivity. Yet, its effectiveness hasn’t been fully verified, and doctors sometimes advise against using it. Here’s what you need to know.

What is valerian root?

Valerian root, also known as valerian, is an herb native to Asia and Europe that has been used extensively for its health benefits. Experts believe valerian root use dates back to ancient Greece and Rome.

Derived from the Valeriana plant, it can be taken as capsules, tablets, tinctures, and even tea. It’s widely seen as a safe supplement you can use to treat insomnia, as few side effects have been reported. Furthermore, most effects stem from prolonged use or pre-existing conditions. 

Arguably, the most popular use for valerian root is as a sleep aid — however, it can also treat headaches, anxiety, and hyperactivity. It’s also a fantastic dietary supplement and may even treat premenstrual symptoms.

While it’s always good to check with a doctor before trying, you can get valerian root without a prescription in the U.S. This makes it a fantastic alternative to, for example, cannabis, which requires a recommendation or prescription in most states.

Is valerian root better than Xanax and Valium?

Xanax and Valium are two of the most popular drugs for treating insomnia, anxiety, and other conditions that may affect sleep. Their effects differ slightly, but both are recognized as some of the most effective ways to treat restlessness. Yet, they are well-known for causing several side effects and withdrawal symptoms.

Both of these medications are considered benzodiazepines (benzos), a drug used for treating anxiety, depression, and panic disorder, among others. Benzos work by promoting a neurotransmitter known as GABA, which regulates the brain’s activity.

While Xanax and Valium are some of the most effective medications for treating insomnia, they are also some of the most addictive. People prescribed benzodiazepines for sleep often have a hard time quitting these drugs and may even suffer withdrawal symptoms. Some experts go as far as to claim Valium is more addictive than heroin.

However, not everything bad about benzodiazepines comes from withdrawal, as many side effects can occur minutes after taking them. For example, Xanax can cause dizziness, drowsiness, and difficulty concentrating. It can also cause trouble speaking, increased heart rate, and irritability in more severe cases.

Naturally, benzodiazepines such as Xanax and Valium have their place in treating insomnia, but many prefer to avoid them when possible. Valerian root provides an alternative to these drugs when treating anxiety, insomnia, or other sleep-related conditions.

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Can I use valerian root to improve my sleep?

Thanks to its impact on the GABA neurotransmitter, valerian can help you sleep in a relatively safe way. However, while experts usually regard it as an alternative to benzos, there’s still some discussion regarding how safe or effective it is. More testing is needed to establish both beyond doubt.

Several studies have shown that valerian root can reduce brain activity while also improving serotonin receptors, both crucial factors in getting a good night’s sleep. Yet, statistics have also shown that these effects may not be as significant as users think. Experts point out that, for valerian root to work, you must take it regularly.

Some doctors advise against using natural sleep aids, such as valerian root and melatonin, as their safety hasn’t been fully verified. However, the exact effects may vary depending on the person, so it might be the right solution for you.

The usual dose of valerian root for sleep ranges between 300 to 600 mg once daily. Keep in mind that you might need to gradually increase the dosage over time if you find that it isn’t working as expected. If you want to use valerian root as a sleep aid, it’d be best to check with a doctor before taking the first dose. A doctor familiar with your health issues is in a good position to warn you of specific dangers, drug interactions, and other risks.

What are some other health benefits of valerian root?

Besides its use as a sleep aid, valerian root may also have other beneficial applications. However, remember that these claims aren’t completely verified, and some experts actively reject them due to the lack of evidence.

These are some of the other health benefits of valerian root.

Valerian root can also have side effects. Many people report headaches, upset stomachs, and dry mouth when taking this herb. Some reports even claim that it can increase anxiety when taken in larger doses.

How do I take valerian root?

There are many ways you can take valerian root. While most of these have the same effects, some may lead to a more pleasant experience if you dislike the taste and smell.

Teas, tinctures, fluid extracts, and dry extracts are some of the most common ways people take their daily dose of valerian root. The time you decide to take it won’t change the effects much; however, most people prefer to take valerian a couple of hours before bedtime. Others choose to divide their dose into three parts, which they take during the course of the day.

If you are unsure how to take valerian root or how much to buy, check with a doctor, who can review whether the choice is appropriate and suggest amounts to start with.

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Medically Reviewed on 10/13/2022
References
American Addiction Centers: "Valium Addiction: Side Effects, Symptoms & Treatment Near Me."

Mount Sinai: "Valerian."

National Alliance on Mental Illness: "Alprazolam (Xanax)."

National Capital Poison Center: "Valerian Benefits and Risks."

Sleep Foundation: "Valerian Root for Sleep."

Spectrum Health Lakeland Diabetes and Endocrinology: "Valerian."