Valerian flowers

Valerian Explained

Written by: Victoria Hanlon
Senior Writer

So, you’ve tried counting sheep, switching off devices, getting your room temperature right, and not eating an hour before bed, but you’re still struggling to get a good night’s sleep. Whether you’re having trouble switching off before bed, or staying asleep once you’ve drifted off, it might be time to consider valerian as a potential solution to your sleep problems. Let’s take a closer look at this popular herbal sleep-aid.

What is valerian?

A member of the Valerianaceae family, valerian has been used traditionally in Western Herbal Medicine for its sedative properties for over 2,000 years, dating back to ancient Greece and Rome[1]. It’s a widely-used herb across the globe, and has been a favoured part of European herbal medicine for the past 500 years[1] – it was even said to be used by the fabled Pied Piper of Hamelin when he rid the German town of rats[2].

Native to Europe and Asia, this flowering grasslands plant can grow to 1.5 metres in summer and bears sweetly-smelling pink or white flowers. However, it’s the roots and underground stems that offer the relaxing, medicinal benefits[1].

Valerian for sleep

The most common use for valerian is as a sleep aid. The relationship between valerian and sleep is supported by a number of studies, which talk to its efficaciousness both in terms of reducing the time it takes to fall asleep, and in improving sleep quality[3],[4],[5].

Despite its long use as a sedative, scientists aren’t exactly sure how valerian works to support sleep. One theory is that certain compounds in valerian act as GABA receptors in the body. GABA is a chemical messenger that helps regulate impulses in your nervous system, and if you increase the amount of GABA in your body, it has a sedative effect[6]. Valerian is also believed to contain compounds that interact with serotonin and adenosine, chemicals that play an important role in sleep regulation[7].  

Importantly, valerian is not recommended as a treatment for chronic insomnia. 

Valerian for feelings of anxiety 

There’s a reason valerian is known as ‘Nature’s Valium’[8]. This calming herb can be used to help relieve mild nervous tension and low mood[9]. It’s thought to work in a similar way to how it supports sleep, through increasing GABA receptors, which help lower stress, and through compounds that interact with serotonin and adenosine, which help control mood[7]. Given sleep and mood are so closely linked, it’s perhaps not surprising that the body helps regulate them in similar ways. 

Valerian benefits

The recognised benefits of valerian haven’t changed much since ancient times. While it’s no longer used for stomach cramps, it’s still popular for treating sleep challenges, nervous tension, headaches and low mood[10]. Valerian and other natural sleep aids are often favoured over prescription sleep solutions because they tend to have fewer side effects[11]

Does valerian make you drowsy the next day?

Like with any medicinal herbs, valerian interacts with different people in different ways. Some people may experience feeling drowsy after taking high doses, so consider starting with a low dose and don’t exceed the recommended amount for your supplement. 

When to take valerian root for sleep

You can take valerian whenever you are struggling to fall asleep, or if you are experiencing challenges staying asleep once you’ve drifted off. It’s safe to take valerian over a short period of time if your sleep struggles are ongoing, although it’s best to consult a health professional if that’s the case. 

How long before bed should I take valerian?

On average, valerian should be taken 30 minutes to two hours before bedtime[12] to encourage sleep, although if you are consuming it in a supplement format, it’s important to follow the specific directions for use on the label. 

How much valerian should I take to sleep?

The recommended dosage of valerian for sleep is between 300 to 600 mg of valerian root[12], or the dosage recommended in your supplement’s instructions. Try starting with a lower dose if your body is new to valerian and increase if needed. 

Is valerian safe to take every night?

Studies have found valerian is safe to take regularly, with researchers discovering that taking valerian every night for 28 days doesn’t cause problems for most adults[10]. However, if you are having ongoing sleep challenges, then consider consulting a health professional for a longer-term solution. 

How long does it take for valerian to kick in?

The time it takes for valerian to work depends on the format and strength of the valerian you’re taking, and also how your body interacts with it. However, generally this tends to be within 30 minutes to two hours of taking it[12]. Make sure you follow the directions for use on your supplement. 

If you find yourself struggling with sleep, then consider making valerian part of your regular wind-down evening routine, alongside sleep-inducing activities like taking a bath, meditating, switching off devices, and reading, to help your body and mind prepare for bed. 


  1. National Institutes of Health, US Department of Health & Human Services. Valerian. Sourced 19 July 2023
  2. American Botanical Council. Valerian. Sourced 19 July 2023
  3. Tammadon MR, Nobahar M, Hydarinia-Naieni Z, Ebrahimian A, Ghorbani R, Vafaei AA. The Effects of Valerian on Sleep Quality, Depression, and State Anxiety in Hemodialysis Patients: A Randomized, Double-blind, Crossover Clinical Trial. Oman Med J. 2021;36(2):e255. Published 2021 Mar 31. doi:10.5001/omj.2021.56
  4. Palmieri G, Contaldi P, Fogliame G. Evaluation of effectiveness and safety of a herbal compound in primary insomnia symptoms and sleep disturbances not related to medical or psychiatric causes. Nat Sci Sleep. 2017;9:163-169. Published 2017 May 26. doi:10.2147/NSS.S117770
  5. Taavoni S, Ekbatani N, Kashaniyan M, Haghani H. Effect of valerian on sleep quality in postmenopausal women: a randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial. Menopause. 2011;18(9):951-955. doi:10.1097/gme.0b013e31820e9acf
  6. Bruni O, Ferini-Strambi L, Giacomoni E, Pellegrino P. Herbal Remedies and Their Possible Effect on the GABAergic System and Sleep. Nutrients. 2021;13(2):530. Published 2021 Feb 6. doi:10.3390/nu13020530
  7. Shinjyo N, Waddell G, Green J. Valerian Root in Treating Sleep Problems and Associated Disorders-A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Evid Based Integr Med. 2020;25:2515690X20967323. doi:10.1177/2515690X20967323
  8. Healthline. How Valerian Root Helps You Relax and Sleep Better. Sourced 21 July 2021
  9. Tammadon MR, Nobahar M, Hydarinia-Naieni Z, Ebrahimian A, Ghorbani R, Vafaei AA. The Effects of Valerian on Sleep Quality, Depression, and State Anxiety in Hemodialysis Patients: A Randomized, Double-blind, Crossover Clinical Trial. Oman Med J. 2021;36(2):e255. Published 2021 Mar 31. doi:10.5001/omj.2021.56
  10. Sleep Foundation. Valerian root for sleep. Sourced 19 July 2023
  11. Sleep Foundation. Natural Sleep Aids. Souced 21 July 2023
  12. American Family Physician. Valerian. Published 15 April 2003


Victoria Hanlon - Senior Writer