Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is a flowering plant, the root of which has been used for centuries as an herbal remedy for its sedative and anxiety-reducing effects. Valerian roots were traditionally brewed for tea or eaten for relaxation and sedation purposes. But the current primary usage of valerian is to soothe anxiety or make it easier to go to sleep. Valerian is thought to enhance the signaling of one of the main sedative neurotransmitters, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). It may also help with menstrual pain, as it is a spasmolytic.
Valerian plant grows wild in grasslands throughout North America, Asia, and Europe. Though valerian is not a direct nootropic, it has nootropic effects as it may indirectly improve cognitive performance through promoting healthy sleep and anxiety reduction. It modulates GABA receptors and provides neuroprotective effects. It is effective for insomnia, nervousness, trembling, headaches and stress.
The herbal supplement valerian has great medicinal effects and has been used for over 2000 years. As having mild, natural sedative effect, it is much popular with its users. The people who face difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep through the night can really depend on valerian. It can decrease the symptoms of anxiety by activating GABA receptors in the brain. Actually, the neurotransmitter GABA is believed to be the main one that is responsible for preventing us from becoming anxious or feeling stressed. Neurons in the brain discharge GABA to control the level of stimulation in the brain and GABA helps us calm down and deal with anxiety and stress. Though valerian supplement is well-known as an effective ingredient for insomnia and nervous tension caused by anxiety, it has many health benefits. The common health benefits of valerian include:
- Improves sleep quality 
- Helps people who are prone to anxiety 
- Improves stress management 
- Helps with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) 
- Relieves menstrual cramp pain 
- May decrease menopausal symptoms 
- Improves heart health 
- Lowers high blood pressure 
- May improve memory and cognitive function 
- Relieves epilepsy 
- May help relieve rheumatoid arthritis 
- Helps people who are undergoing cancer treatment 
- Helps with migraine 
- Helps with behavioral disorders in children 
- Has anti-inflammatory effects 
Most of the prescription sleep drugs may leave you feeling groggy the following morning. But valerian supplement works with the chemistry of your body to help get your nightly rest back on track. Valerian supplement is widely used to produce a sedative effect during periods of agitation. People also use it to make a stimulant effect in extreme fatigue. Valerian root is also said to lower blood pressure and relax muscles. It can be said that valerian may be just what you need to finally get a good night’s sleep.
How it works
Valerian is a medicinal herb that produces anxiolytic and sedative effects on the brain and nervous system. It was suggested that valerian acts via gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)ergic mechanisms. Valerenic acid in valerian enhances brain levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) that helps slow down nerve activity in the brain. It occurs by binding to GABA receptors in the amygdala, the region of the brain involved in fear and emotional responses to stress. This produces a calming effect similar to benzodiazepines (anti-anxiety medications). As valerian works naturally to produce a calming effect on your brain, it has been called “nature’s valium”. 
Valerian may also increase GABA in the brain by inhibiting GABA from being taken back into nerve cells and by impeding the breakdown of GABA by enzymes (GABA aminotransferase and succinic semialdehyde dehydrogenase). In addition to valerenic acid, there are other compounds in valerian that can bind to GABA receptors, including lignans and other flavonoid antioxidants. Valerian activates adenosine and serotonin receptors.
Valerian is generally safe for most people when used in medicinal amounts for a short-term meaning no longer than 3 to 6 months at a time. While using high doses for sleep disorders, it should not be taken for more than 30 days. There might be some possible side effects such as headache, dizziness, stomach problems, excitability or uneasiness, and also some people may experience odd dream sequences.
If you are pregnant or breast-feeding, you should avoid taking valerian. Try to avoid driving or operating dangerous machinery after taking valerian. As long-term use may cause withdrawal symptoms, it’s better to reduce the dose slowly over a week or two before stopping completely. To reduce the chance of side effects, take valerian supplement as directed by your doctor, herbal practitioner, or healthcare provider.
A standard dosage range of valerian root for sleep disorder or insomnia can be 300 to 600 mg 30 minutes to two hours before bedtime. Daytime supplementation should be taken with meals and consist of 2 to 3 doses of 300 mg. For anxiety, you can take 120 to 200 mg, 3 times per day.
For menopausal symptoms the dose should be 225 mg of ground valerian root to be taken 3 times daily for 8 weeks. Also, 530 mg of valerian root extract can be taken 2 times daily for 8 weeks.
While taking tea, you can take 2 to 3 grams of dried herbal valerian root in 1 cup of hot water for 10 to 15 minutes.
Consult your doctor or healthcare provider before adding an herbal supplement to your routine. They can help you determine an appropriate valerian dosage that is best for you.