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Valerian root contains many different constituents, including volatile oils that appear to contribute to the sedating properties of the herb. Central nervous system sedation is regulated by receptors in the brain known as GABA-A receptors. According to test tube studies, valerian may weakly bind to these receptors to exert a sedating action.16 This might explain why valerian may help some people deal with stress more effectively.17
Double-blind trials have found that valerian is an effective treatment for people with mild to moderately severe insomnia.18, 19 Generally, valerian makes sleep more restful as well as making the transition to sleep easier, but does not tend to increase total time slept, according to these studies. Two trials have also found that a combination with lemon balm is effective in improving quality of sleep and in treating insomnia.20, 21
For insomnia, some doctors suggest 300–500 mg of a concentrated valerian root herbal extract (standardized to at least 0.5% volatile oils) in capsules or tablets 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime.22 Non-standardized dried root products, 1.5 to 2 grams 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime, may also be used. As an alcohol-based tincture, 5 ml can be taken before bedtime. Combination products with lemon balm, hops, passion flower, and scullcap can also be used.
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The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2015.