A gentle approach to feeling relaxed and well rested
Is stress or nervousness making it hard to relax? What about get a good night’s sleep? Valerian may help take the edge off. The roots of this unique-smelling herb have been used for centuries throughout Europe and Asia to help people relax and calm overactive nerves—yet we’re only now learning the science behind valerian’s full range of benefits.
If you’re struggling to get a good night’s sleep, you’re not alone. About 10 percent of the world’s population suffers from insomnia. For over 1000 years, people have turned to valerian root to help get their sleep back on track. Supplementing with extracts made from the root has been found to shorten the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and improve sleep quality—especially when used daily for multiple weeks. Even breathing in valerian’s essential oils may help you fall asleep and get a longer night’s rest.
For many of us, stress is an ongoing challenge of daily life—but it shouldn’t be ignored. In addition to regular exercise and good sleep hygiene, valerian offers a natural way to help ease stress levels. A study on stressed diabetes patients found that those who took valerian supplements for eight weeks lowered their mental stress and felt 20 percent better about their quality of life than patients who were given a placebo.
Despite valerian’s long history of use, it’s only recently that scientists have linked its calming benefits with its activity on the central nervous system. Valerian creates an oasis of tranquility by triggering the release of special chemical messengers, such as GABA (short for gamma-aminobutyric acid) into the brain. This calms the activity of excited brain neurons and prevents them—and you—from becoming over stimulated.
Tension headaches—the ones that feel like you’re wearing a tight headband—are the most common form of headache., While many over-the-counter headache therapies are designed to treat symptoms, valerian works preventatively. A recent study found that regular headache sufferers who supplemented with valerian for one month cut the severity of their headaches by half and also reduced the impact that headaches had on their daily activities.
The pain of menstrual cramps is a common symptom of PMS and impacts the professional and personal lives of many women. As part of its natural sedative properties, valerian is believed to help ease the uncomfortable muscle spasms that cause menstrual cramps. A study found that university students who supplemented with valerian during their first three days of menstruation rated their menstrual cramps 73 percent less painful.
Stress and high blood pressure are closely linked, so it’s no surprise that valerian’s relaxing qualities may also benefit your blood pressure stats. Valerian extracts have been tested on nervous dental patients, showing that it may help keep systolic blood pressure steady in unnerving situations. Although valerian isn’t a common blood pressure aid in western cultures, in plays an important role in traditional hypertension therapies used in Unani medical practices of South Asia.
Hot flashes, night sweats, and poor sleep are common symptoms of menopause. Rather than addressing these symptoms with prescription therapies, some women turn to valerian for its gentler, virtually side-effect-free benefits. Although more research is needed, taking valerian for three months has been shown to lessen the intensity and frequency of hot flashes, and as a result improve women’s sleep quality.
Our 24/7 world can sometimes feel overwhelming. If you’re looking for a plant-based approach to relaxation, valerian is worth a try. Valerian’s traditional use as a sedative is thanks to the calming effects that it has on the mind and central nervous system. A test on healthy men and women found that within one hour of taking valerian extract, their brains had a 24 percent lower response to stress.
From its use for headaches and menstrual cramps, to reducing the need for medication in migraine patients, valerian’s role in pain management is gaining momentum. Although more clinical research is needed to confirm how well valerian works, animal studies show that it may block pain pathways in the body—especially when used in combination with other natural pain remedies, such as lemon balm and turnip.,
Valerian is considered a gentle and well-tolerated herb. Although some people have experienced mild intestinal issues or drowsiness from taking valerian extract, most adults use it without side effects. Unlike some prescription-based therapies for sleep and anxiety, valerian doesn’t cause dependency and doesn’t impair your brain or body function., One study found that it doesn’t even impact driving performance—but who wants to drive when you’re trying to relax.