Does Valerian Help You Sleep?

photo of a flowering valerian plant

Are you thinking about trying valerian to help you sleep or to reduce anxiety?

As an insomniac myself, I’ve tested and written about several over the counter sleep aids that have valerian as an ingredient.

Readers regularly ask questions about the specific sleep aids in the comments. But some of those questions are perhaps better answered by talking about valerian itself, rather than the particular brand.

So in this article, I’ll be taking a look at what the experts currently say about using valerian as a sleep aid.

And there’s been a lot of research into its effectiveness, with mixed results. So I’ll also be discussing some of the research done over the years.

What is valerian root?

photo of fresh valerian roots from a plant just dug up

Valerian (Valeriana Officinalis) is a tall, flowering plant that’s native to Europe and parts of Asia. It was also naturalized to North America.

It’s the root of the plant that’s used as a herbal remedy. As a sleep aid, the root is available in many forms – as a whole piece of root, dried powder, pill or capsule, liquid extract, tincture, and in tea.

It has a strong taste that can be a little off-putting, so some people prefer it in capsule form or disguised in tea with other ingredients. In my experience, sometimes even store-bought pills taste strange though!

Valerian is one of the most popular herbal remedies for sleep and anxiety problems. In a large survey in the United States, approximately 2 million adults said they had used valerian in the previous week.

What’s the correct dosage for sleep?

The question of the right valerian root dosage is a tricky one as there isn’t a standard answer. It’s classed as a herbal remedy or food supplement, and therefore not regulated to the same level as pharmaceutical sleep aids.

Even medical websites offer different advice about the range of dosages you can take.

According to, the dosage used in some clinical trials was 400 to 600 mg per day for 2 to 4 weeks .

Healthline has similar advice:

Take 300 to 600 milligrams (mg) of valerian root 30 minutes to 2 hours before bedtime. This is best for insomnia or sleep trouble. For tea, soak 2 to 3 grams of dried herbal valerian root in 1 cup of hot water for 10 to 15 minutes.

WebMD suggests a higher maximum dosage, recommending 400 to 900 mg of valerian extract before bedtime.

My advice would be to stick to the instructions on the information leaflet if you buy valerian. And to consult your doctor if you’re not sure if it’s right for you, or what dosage to take.

When to take it to help with sleep

photo of brown valerian pills

For anxiety, valerian can be taken during the daytime or before bed, as per the manufacturer’s instructions.

For sleep, the general advice is to take valerian between 30 minutes and two hours before bedtime.

How long can you take valerian for?

It’s usually advised that valerian can be taken for up to 28 days. A principal reason is that the majority of research studies (see below) only go up to 28 days. And those studies show that valerian is usually well tolerated for this length of time.

The long-term safety of valerian still isn’t known though. So if your sleep problems continue after 28 days, again, it’s best to speak to your doctor about it.

Some medical sites, such as the Mayoclinic, suggest that valerian has an accumulative effect, working best after 2 weeks of daily use.

Dr. Dick Middleton, chairman of the British Herbal Medical Association, also recommends that valerian is taken for 2 to 4 weeks to reap the benefits.

So that might only leave you a 2 week window to fully benefit from a sedative effect. Unless, of course, the placebo effect also plays a part.

Safety and possible side effects

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers valerian root as ‘generally recognized as safe’.

And researchers in Poland, who analysed the data of trials spanning 10 years, concluded:

Valerian root is well tolerated and safe, with infrequent and benign side effects

But despite being infrequent, some people do experience side effects. According to the National Institutes of Health and, possible side effects include:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Itchy skin
  • Dry mouth
  • Upset stomach / diarrhea
  • The opposite effect – restlessness, excitement, insomnia
  • Daytime sleepiness (more common with larger doses)

Can you overdose on valerian root?

There’s very little information available about what might happen if you take more than the recommended dosage. A case report suggests that even a large dose has a low toxicity:

The patient presented with mild symptoms, all of which resolved within 24 h. Valerian overdose, at approximately 20 times the recommended therapeutic dose, appears to be benign.

Still, another important point to keep in mind is the potential to be intolerant or allergic to valerian. You should seek medical assistance if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Hives (swollen, red bumps or blisters on the skin)
  • Swelling in the face, lips, tongue, or throat.
  • Difficulty in breathing or chest pain.

Who shouldn’t take valerian

If you’re not sure about taking valerian, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor first. That said, there are some situations in which it’s generally advised not to take valerian:

  • Women who are pregnant or nursing (it’s not known if it’s safe for baby, so it’s better to be cautious).
  • Children under 3 years old shouldn’t be given valerian.
  • If you have liver disease.

Drug interactions

There’s a risk of an additive effect if you take other medications or substances that can cause sedation at the same time as valerian.

If you’re taking any of the following medications, it’s better to get your doctor’s approval before taking valerian:

  • Benzodiazepines, such as Ativan, Halcion, Valium and Xanax.
  • Barbiturates or central nervous system depressants, such as Luminal, morphine, and Diprivan.
  • Drugs changed and broken down by the liver, such as Mevacor, Nizoral, Sporanox, Allegra, and Halcion.
  • Other sedatives, analgesics or sleeping pills.
  • Alcohol
  • Recreational drugs.

Can I take valerian and melatonin at the same time?

Melatonin can also cause drowsiness, so it’s a good idea to consult your doctor before taking both at the same time.

Research evidence that valerian helps with sleep problems

During the last few decades, there have been various research studies looking at the sedative effects of valerian.

I’ve read many of the published studies, discovering some that prove it works, others that say it doesn’t, and some that found it worked, but so did a placebo!

The current situation appears to be that the evidence is inconclusive, and more research is both warranted and needed. As the National Institutes of Health valerian fact sheet states:

Evidence from clinical studies of the efficacy of valerian in treating sleep disorders such as insomnia is inconclusive.

So what is that evidence exactly? There are 3 particularly useful studies in which researchers analyzed the available data from individual clinical trials.

I think their conclusions are especially helpful, as they only included studies they assessed as being of higher quality.

image of valerian plant showing the leaves and flowers

1. Research in Korea

In 2018, researchers in Korea reviewed 79 studies investigating plant-derived extracts. They found a total of 21 plants had been tested, and valerian was the most common. However, they found conflicting results, and summarized:

There was limited evidence with inconclusive results regarding the effects of single plant-derived natural products on sleep, warranting further studies.

2. Research in Portugal

In 2011, researchers in Poland looked at valerian studies published in English, Spanish, French or Portuguese spanning 10 years. They found:

The evidence is insufficient regarding the efficacy of valerian in the treatment of anxiety disorders…The evidence in insomnia is limited by the contradictory results of studies reviewed and their methodological problems, although it seems to have some effect in mild to moderate insomnia.

3. Research in the United States

In 2006, researchers at the University of California looked at 16 studies involving a total of 1093 patients. They found 6 studies with evidence of improvements to sleep, and concluded:

This systematic review suggests that valerian may improve sleep quality, but methodologic problems of the included studies limit the ability to draw firm conclusions.

They also suspected that more studies have been done that didn’t show a positive effect for valerian, and were simply never published.

If you’re interested in reading more about the individual studies, each of the 3 above do reference the clinical trials they discuss.

It’s interesting, and a shame, that the study authors all found significant flaws in the research. Hopefully, in the future, scientists will take note of their criticisms and design experiments which satisfy the high standards expected to demonstrate that a sleep aid really works.

How do scientists think valerian works?

The exact mechanism of action isn’t fully understood. Research suggests that valerian root extract might contain gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is also found in the brain.

GABA is thought to act as a natural nerve calming agent. Some drugs, such as Valium and Xanax, also work by increasing GABA activity in the brain.

However, the National Institute of Health suggests that it could in fact be the result of multiple constituents, rather than just one compound.

My personal experience

valerian tea freshly prepared with the flower

A lot of the evidence that valerian can help with insomnia is anecdotal. It’s been used since medieval times in Europe, and has an extensive history in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine too.

My personal experience has been that it might have a mild sedative effect. I’ve tried several over the counter sleep aids containing valerian (Kalms, Sominex and Nytol). I’ve also prepared my own, and drunk it in tea form.

But I’ve never been quite sure if it’s the valerian, another ingredient in some cases, or a placebo effect. Personally, I would like to think it works, as I’d prefer to take a natural remedy than a pharmaceutical sleep aid.

Your experience

Have you taken valerian to help you sleep better? What form did you take it in, and do you think it helped? Let me know in the comments below!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. I took one Healtheries Easy Sleep with valerian. I felt no pain and overall good, but I was wide awake. Then, I experienced vivid nightmares, had worse sleep than usual, and felt groggy and exhausted. I felt terrible all the next day and will never use it again.

    • Hi Marion
      Thanks for sharing your experience. Sorry to hear it was so bad! I think you’ve probably taken the right decision to avoid it in the future considering your experience.

  2. I’m seven days into a four-week experiment to see if I can train my body/mind to go back to sleep after night wakings.

    Keeping a diary is helpful as what I’m already finding is the things we think wake us aren’t always the cause.

    What seems to be causative for me is mild apnea followed by a danger-seeking response. Additionally following the ‘get up after 15 mins awake’ advice has trained me over the years to just stay awake.

    What often works for are breathing techniques or progressive relaxation exercises. If needs be I take another valerian. However after 5am I have found it can make me groggy in the morning.

    My dosing is two 400mg Kalms at 10pm with an expected sleep time of 11-11:15 and a target wake up of 6:45-7:40am.

    I also keep a bottle of 96mg tablets for lower dose top ups.

    So far I have only not managed to go back to sleep on one 2am waking, which is an increase on my normal 2-3 nights per week.

    I sorted out the not being able to go to sleep thang years ago when I used the Gina Ford baby books to teach my kids how to sleep.

    As with that I’m not worried about effect size or placebo, it’s simply training my body/mind to expect sleep and allow it.

    • Hi Frank

      Thanks for sharing your story. It’s always fascinating to hear about people’s experiments, as I like doing experiments of this nature myself. I think keeping a diary is a great way to pinpoint things that could be affecting our sleep – and many other aspects of our health. I also believe in doing breathing exercises, so it was interesting to hear that.
      All the best with your sleep fixing!

      • Cheers Ethan, and you. I’m at nearly four weeks now and sleep has improved massively with longer duration and easier back-to-sleep-after-waking.

  3. I have tried it 3 times in the last week. The first night, I had vivid dreams and slept more than I usually do. The next night I only took one of the capsules, and I slept a couple of hours but then woke up and was up most of the night. I didn’t take any the next night but went back to Advil PM. I tried it again last night and again slept a couple of hours, but then was up most of the night, having to constantly go to the bathroom. I also have hip bursitis, so hard to sleep because of pain. Some people mention you have to use it for a while, but now I am afraid to. Maybe will go back to Advil PM. I need some sleep, so tired.

  4. I started taking 125mg valerian tablets about a week ago, the first night was brilliant following by a high energy positive day the next.
    The 6 days following were not great waking up around 5 am for toilets then not being able to get back to sleep also waking up with rapid heartbeat. last night taking the maximum dose recommended on the instructions 2 tablets (250mg) thinking I needed a bit more to maybe keep me asleep I woke up yet again around 5am screaming from a vivid nightmare and full-body pins and needles with heartbeat all over the place and serious anxiety back. Massive shame but I guess it affects everyone differently.

  5. Hi ethan!
    I tried valerian because my psychiatrist suggested it, it not only didn’t work but caused me nausea and couldn’t sleep well that first night.
    After that horrible first night i used it very rarely, mainly when i had anxiety attacks with little effect.
    Last week i had an anxiety attack so i drank one, i fell asleep at 3 am feeling drowsy during the whole next day, but thanks to that i sleept really well that following night.
    Since day 3 afer i last used valerian, I’ve been having the toughest times sleeping, laying in bed awake during whole nights like I’ve ever experienced.
    I only took 5 pills out of 90 and they are of 300 mg each.
    I am afraid that valerian caused insomnia on me and i don’t know what should i do next, is this insomnia permanent?.
    Any advice will be greatly appreciated.

    • Hi Adrian
      Thanks for your comment. I don’t think insomnia is ever really permanent – it can usually be sorted out by tackling it correctly. I also don’t know of any situation when a short term bad experience with valerian led to serious ongoing insomnia. So I am sure you’ll be fine. But really, I would discuss this with your psychiatrist as they were the person that suggested it in the first place.

  6. Hi,
    I started taking valerian a couple of months ago. I have taken it previously and it worked for me so I thought I’d give it another try. I have been amazed to find that since taking it my migraines have disappeared. I normally get at least one per week but have not had any since taking the valerian. I have been a migraine sufferer for 24 years and this is the longest I have ever gone without one. It is wonderful! I don’t think I sleep any better but I think I am generally more relaxed. I don’t know what to do now though as there is no advice on taking it long term.

    • Hi Rachel
      Thanks for sharing your experience. That’s amazing that your migraines have gone. Interestingly, if you look at the website, they have a reader poll which seems to suggest others have had similar results. If you look at the results of the poll they currently have on the page I linked there, the majority of 300 people say it helped them. I know it’s just a poll on a website, but it’s still interesting.
      As for long-term safety, I’d discuss that with your physician/doctor.

  7. After reading about Valerian Root and all the potential benefits with anxiety and insomnia, I tried it last night to help me sleep. I took the reccomended dosage and I was up the entire night. It was definitely one of the worse sleep option I have tried. It also made me feel shaky and tingly. It definitely had the opposite effect on me. My mind was racing and I was very restless.

    • Hi Lacey
      Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m sorry to hear you had such a bad response to the valerian, if it was responsible. Although it’s helpful for some people, your story illustrates how it isn’t going to be right for everyone.
      I hope you sleep better tonight!

    • Well, you are supposed to take it for several weeks. Just as with St John’s worth, it takes natural herbs around 1 month of consistent ingestion before you start to see the effects for sure. Its better then chemical drugs IMO, just need more patience.

  8. Hi Ethan, I’m a 61-year-old woman who started taking Kalms (385mg) a week ago. My sleep problems are only about a year old, and involve waking very early and staying awake, leading to continual tiredness. Since taking Kalms I have had several nights of eight hours sleep. Of course, I am still in the placebo period, so this doesn’t mean much! But I’ll keep taking them and let you know how it goes. :)

    • Hi Helen
      Thanks for sharing your experience. It’s great that they seem to be helping so far. You might be right about the placebo, but equally they might actually be helping you! I’d love to hear from you again a bit later on to see if they still help if you keep taking them.

  9. I have been using Valerian off and on for approximately 3 years. I notice side effects only if I take more than one pill. It helped me with my anxiety and sleep issues. I would definitely recommend trying it as it’s natural and not addictive.

    • Hi Olya
      Thank you for your comment and for sharing your experience. Out of interest, what side effects do you notice when you take more than one?

  10. I’ve been battling insomnia for several months. Ambien did nothing for me. 500 mgs of valerian root 2 hrs before bed helps me to get to sleep and sleep solidly for about 6 hrs. I’ve been taking these for a month every night and haven’t had to increase the dosage. Best of all, no side effects.

    • Hi Edward
      Thanks for sharing your experience. Sound like valerian is working very well for you. It would be great to hear back from you again in the future to see if it continues, or you end up stopping using it.

    • For a few years, I’ve been having trouble sleeping, probably due to the menopause. I tried Valerian by taking two capsules 150mg each and noticed a slight improvement, I decided to increase the dosage to 500mg and now find that my sleeping pattern has improved greatly. My husband even says he can hear me snoring!!!

  11. I had the same reaction as Margaux – in other words, a paradoxical reaction. I took it in the form of tea, using the Pukka Night Time tea bags. The first couple of times I had this it was wonderful – really helped me have a good night’s sleep. The third time was scary. I was up all night with pounding heart and adrenaline surges. It was only when I looked online that I discovered it can have this effect on some people.

  12. I have been taking valerian plus tablets(valerian root extract 125mg and passion flower herb extract 250mg) every day for the past 4 months for insomnia.After approximately 2 weeks my sleeping improved (i.e. I fell asleep quite quickley). Suddenly, after about 4 months,I started having sleepless nights again.I considered that my body had possibly become immune to the dosage,so I am now taking 2 valerian root capsules (337 mg each),one around 6pm, and the second around 9pm.After about 3 days,my sleeping was fine for 4 days,but now I have stopped sleeping yet again.Should I continue taking the capsules?,I’m at my wit’s end as I really don’t know what to do.

    • Hi Daryn
      Thanks for your comment. It’s not really my place to give personal advice on whether you should or shouldn’t take them. However, what I would say is that many medical professionals advice that if your sleep problems persist for 2 weeks or longer, it’s a good idea to speak to your doctor about it. They should also be able to advise you on the valerian dosage and how long to continue or not.

  13. I took one valerian 337mg capsule 30min before bed. Instead of helping me sleep it generated anxiety symptoms (dry mouth, heart palpitations, needing to go to the toilet a lot over night) and I hardly slept at all that night. Seems it had the exact opposite effect… an hour after get up this morning I am still feeling the effect. But it might now be due to lack of sleep than the capsule. I’m not sure I should try them again? Or will these side effects stop over time?

    • Hi Margaux
      I personally wouldn’t try them again after having that reaction. You could discuss this with your doctor, and perhaps try a different herbal ingredient.

  14. I just recently started taking Spring Valley Valerian Root, dosage three capsules 400 mg. But I’m also taking 10 mg time release melatonin. I still wake up after 3 to 4 hrs sleep. The past two nights I got up and took two more valerian and went back to sleep within 30 mins. Is it ok to take more valerian during the night? I am getting more sleep than I was before starting the Valerian.

    • Hi Carolyn
      Thanks for your comment. Usually, it’s advised not to take more sleep aids late in the night. Valerian might be one you could get away with taking more of if really needed, but I wouldn’t want to say either way if you should or not. I’d discuss this with your doctor, or ask the manufacturer for their advice.

  15. Hi,
    When I took Valerian it didn’t help me sleep really but as the article you wrote suggests it does seem to have an accumulative effect, it just made me very lethargic even 3 days after stopping it, of course we are all a bit different. Unfortunately my insomnia is so bad I have to take Zolpidem pretty much each night to fall asleep otherwise I toss and turn until 6am or not sleep at all. Zolpidem doesn’t keep me asleep all night due to it’s short half life. I would prefer Temazepam because it’s supposed to keep you asleep all night but my GP would rather keep me on Zolpidem and not a Benzo. Am I addicted to Zolpidem? Possibly but I’m also addicted to sleep and sleep deprivation must surely be worse than getting chemical induced sleep.

  16. I had an awful sneezing fit, seconds after taking it, and then felt bunged up with a cold.. This reaction went, just as soon as it had come on.. I then preceded to experience a fast heartbeat.. I was trying it, as a sedative.. I don’t think so.. I know it helps a lot of people though. Cathy..

    • Hi Cathy
      Thanks for your comment. That doesn’t sound good – I guess it’s just not one for you. I’d mention the reaction you had to your doctor when you see them. They can advise you on whether it might be an intolerance/allergy to valerian, and whether you should avoid it or not in the future.

  17. I have taken Valerian in tea form with peppermint, lemongrass, chamomile, and blue cornflowers (at least that’s what it says on the tea label). 15-30 mins. after drinking, my eyes would feel heavy and there’s no stopping. I stayed asleep until morning, and if I happen to wake up I could easily go back to sleep. I usually just get 5 hrs of sleep every day but with this tea, I usually ended up w an 8-hr of sleep, the downside is I kept on yawning during the day, maybe because I overslept. I also feel relax and my mind calm. Probably placebo but whatever, I’m still glad.

    • Hi Nel
      Thanks for your comment. It’s great that you’ve found a tea which helps you sleep so well. I’m not sure why it would make you yawn more though. Yawning is commonly seen as a way to cool the brain. We normally do it more when tired because tiredness impairs the body thermostat, so to speak.

  18. On the third night, I took three capsules (300 mg) as before. I was up all night constantly going to the toilet. Next day I found out it is a diuretic used to lose weight through loss of liquid. The last thing I need! Never again.

    • Hi Peter
      Thanks for your comment. I don’t know a lot about the association between valerian and weight loss, though I have seen some articles about it. I didn’t personally have an issue with it though.

  19. Kalms gave me tachchycardia. Not supposed to take on an empty stomach i think it says. I had some toast and it cleared up but was pretty scary. Haven’t taken it since. A friend had similar experience.

    • Hi KM
      Thanks for your comment. I hadn’t seen the advice about taking them on an empty stomach or not. Where did you read that instruction?

  20. I have been suffering from Peripheral Neuropathy in my feet and legs for some years which causes considerable discomfort and pain at night. I have also experienced Sleep issues for most of my adult life, both getting to sleep and staying asleep for extended periods of time. I have tried several over the counter products and had tried Valerian previously. When I did use it previously I stopped as I found it caused me to have vivid dreams which were often unpleasant. I have, however, recently begun to take it again every night for the past 10 days. I have found it to be very helpful in allowing me to fall asleep quickly. I still dream most nights but not in an unpleasant way. When I awake I am able to fall back asleep and feel fine the next day. I’m hoping a month of regular use will help me to develop an improved sleep pattern. I am only taking 200mg per evening 2 hours before bed. I would recommend you give it a try as it is definitely helping me.

    • Hi Kim
      Thanks for your comment and for sharing your experience. It’s useful to hear from a reader who has had a positive experience with valerian. If you have time at the end of the month to give a little update on how your sleep was, it would be great to hear from you again.