The flowering plant, valerian, contains various compounds that may help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. It's also used to treat anxiety and abdominal cramps.

The most studied, most widely available, and seemingly most effective species of valerian is Valerian officinalis, which is native to northern European countries. Other species are grown and used in countries throughout the world, but are not as well recognized as the European variety.

No one actually knows why or how valerian works, but its effects have been compared to those of the anti-anxiety medication Valium.

The Supplements

Valerian supplements are available as pills, capsules, liquid extracts, and teas. You can find them in any health food store and many drugstores. The appropriate dosage to treat insomnia depends on the preparation.

For the dried herb, the standard dose is two to three milligrams, according to New York University Langone Medical Center. You may have to take valerian supplements for several weeks before you experience any beneficial effects. Valerian is also sold in combination with other herbs thought to aid anxiety and insomnia such as passionflower, kava, hops, and St. John's wort.

Side Effects

Keep in mind that even natural remedies that are generally considered safe can have side effects, and valerian is no exception. If you take a sleep aid that contains valerian, you may experience headache, dizziness, or stomach problems. Overall, valerian is considered a safe supplement because few problems have ever been reported, but no clinical studies have ever been performed to confirm its long-term safety.


Overall, the best long-term approach to insomnia is not to take supplements or sleep aids of any kind, but to make lifestyle changes that will help you fall asleep and stay asleep every night. Follow a regular sleep routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, cutting out caffeine, increasing the amount of exercise you get each day, and taking steps to relieve stress.

Speak to your doctor if you suffer from chronic sleep problems or if you are considering using valerian in combination with other medications used to control anxiety or sleeplessness. Do not take valerian if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. And do not give to children under the age of three.




National Institutes of Health/Office of Dietary Supplements: Valerian. Web 14 Nov 2011

New York University Langone Medical Center: Valerian. Web 14 Nov 2011

Taibi, DM, et al. "A Systematic Review of Valerian as a Sleep Aid: Safe But Not Effective."  Sleep Medicine Reviews. 2007: (11) 209-230.  Web 14 Nov 2011

Tang Center for Herbal Medicine: Valerian. Web 14 Nov 2011