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Insomnia: Everything You Knew
Valerian is the herbal superstar for insomnia. Several studies prove that valerian safely helps you fall asleep faster and enjoy a better sleep. Double-blind research shows that valerian improves sleep in 89% of people and that 44% of them report perfect sleep.
How good is valerian? Valerian is better than the best drugs for insomnia. In one double-blind study, 600mg of valerian extract equalled the benzodiazepine oxazepam while being safer, and in another it beat it: while both treatments significantly improved sleep quality, the valerian was safer, and 82.2% of people with insomnia felt they had very good results with valerian while only 73.4% felt they did with oxazepam. A review of controlled studies of insomniacs found that nine out of twelve studies of valerian found improvement in at least one measure of sleep. According to the authors, there were severe design flaws in the three studies that didn't find a benefit.
Another reason valerian is the treatment of choice over drugs is that valerian doesn't cause the morning hangover that is so common with pharmaceutical sleeping pills.
The usual dose for valerian pills is 1.5-2g as a dried root or 150-300mg of valerian extract standardized for .8% valeric acid.
Valerian combines really well with other relaxing herbs. One great herbal partner is hops. This potent combination will help you to fall asleep significantly faster, to wake up in the night last often and to feel more refreshed in the morning. The valerian/hops combination has not only proven itself against a placebo: it is as effective as benzodiazepines without leading to their withdrawal symptoms. Other studies have also shown the benefit of this herbal combo.
Valerian and hops can also be combined with passionflower. A double-blind study compared the three herb combo to the drug zolpidem in 78 adults with insomnia. The herbal dose was 300mg valerian extract standardized to .8% valerenic acid, 80 mg passionflower extract standardized to 4% isovitexin and 30 mg hops extract standardized to 0.35% rutin. Each person took one dose at bedtime. In both groups, time to fall asleep improved significantly and comparably. The two treatments both also significantly and comparably improved the amount of time they slept: the drug group improved from 3.5 to 5.7 hours, and the herb group had a slightly better improvement from 3.4 to 5.9 hours. The two treatments were also equally effective for significantly improving night time awakenings and quality of life.
Another good herb to combine with valerian is lemon balm. Double-blind studies prove that this combination works (1). It works as well as the drug Halcion without the daytime drowsiness and trouble concentrating that the drug causes (2).
More than Insomnia: Everything You Didn't Know
Insomnia & Menopause
Women going through menopause often struggle with insomnia: about 50% of menopausal women experience sleep disturbances. But a four week triple-blind study of 100 postmenopausal women with insomnia found that quality of sleep improved significantly more with valerian than with placebo. 30% of women in the valerian group had improved sleep versus only 4% in the placebo group. The dose was 530mg concentrated valerian extract twice a day.
When 100 menopausal women with sleep disturbances were given a placebo or a combination of valerian and lemon balm, there was significantly better improvement in sleep in the herbal group.
It may not come as much of a surprise that the greatest herb for insomnia can help menopausal women with insomnia. What is much more surprising is that valerian doesn't just help the insomnia of menopause, it helps the menopause.
A new triple-blind study gave a placebo or 530mg of valerian twice a day for two months to sixty postmenopausal women. Both the frequency and severity of hot flashes improved significantly more in the valerian group.
This is not the first study to show that valerian helps hot flashes. An earlier study of 68 women found that, when compared to placebo, 225mg of valerian given three times a day significantly reduces the frequency and severity of hot flashes. Hot flash severity dropped from 9.82 to 5.23 after eight weeks on valerian, while the placebo group only changed from 9.96 to 9.86. As for frequency, the valerian group improved from 7.91 hot flashes a day to only 4.83 while the women on the placebo went from 7.73 to 7.75.
And menopause is not the only problem that valerian can solve for women. A recent double-blind study gave women with PMS valerian extract or placebo. There was significant improvement on valerian but no improvement on placebo. Valerian was significantly better at improving PMS symptom severity. It significantly improved both emotional and physical symptoms.
And that's not all. A double-blind study gave either a placebo or 255mg of valerian three times a day to 100 students. The valerian was given for three days beginning at the start of menstruation for two consecutive cycles. The valerian was significantly more effective at reducing menstrual pain.
The great sleep herb valerian is also as good as drugs for anxiety. When researchers compared valerian to benzodiazepines for insomnia, they found an unexpected result: it not only equalled the drug for insomnia, it also equalled it for anxiety and with fewer side effects. Combining valerian and passionflower is also effective (3).
Anxiety down, stress to go. Valerian, passionflower and lemon balm are all great herbs for relaxing. This double-blind study gave seventy men either a placebo or a combination of 90mg valerian, 90mg of passionflower, 60mg of lemon balm and 90mg of butterbur or no treatment for four days. The men were then subjected to a social stress test, consisting of a five minute oral presentation and a five minute mental subtraction activity while being taped in front of a live audience. Tests for self reported levels of stress revealed that the group on the herbs suffered significantly less stress than the other two groups.
Valerian may even be able to help people struggling with OCD. An eight week double-blind pilot study of 31 adults with OCD found that 765mg a day of valerian was significantly better than placebo at treating OCD (J Complement Integr Med 2011;8).
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To learn more about ways Valerian may benefit your health, visit the GreenMedInfo database on the subject.
1. Dressing H, Köhler S, Müller WE. Improvement of sleep quality with a high-dose valerian/lemon balm preparation: A placebo-controlled double-blind study. Psychopharmakotherapie 1996;6:32-40.
2. Dressing H, Riemann D, Low H, et al. Insomnia: Are valerian/balm combination of equal value to benzodiazepine? Therapiewoche 1992;42:726-36.
3. Brown D. Valerian root: Non-addictive alternative for insomnia and anxiety. Quart Rev Nat Med 1994;Fall:221-4 [review]