Valerian Root Or Melatonin - Which Is The Best Sleep Supplement?

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What is melatonin?

Melatonin is a natural hormone produced in your brain in response to darkness. It helps to regulate your circadian rhythm (internal alarm clock) and is partly responsible for helping you get to sleep.

Too much light at night can prevent your brain from producing enough melatonin. Taking a melatonin supplement can compensate for this and help remind your body when it is time to sleep. Although melatonin is natural, many supplements contain a higher dose than your body would normally produce.

What is valerian root?

Valerian is a plant native to Europe and Asia that has long been used to treat:

Because of its long history, it is often promoted as a treatment for insomnia and sleep disturbances, as well as for mental health issues, premenstrual syndrome, menopause symptoms, and headaches.

The part of the valerian plant used medicinally is the root and rhizomes (underground stems).

Melatonin for sleep: dosage and side effects

There is no official recommended dosage of melatonin for adults, but a range of 0.5–5 mg¹ appears to be safe. There is still a lot of research to be done into whether taking melatonin works for insomnia, although it does seem to help with shift work sleep disorder (SWSD) and delayed sleep-wake phase disorder (DSWPD). Older adults should start with the lowest dose of melatonin possible, but children can handle the same dosage range as adults.

It's wise to use the lowest dosage that seems to help. Side effects from melatonin include:

  • Morning and daytime drowsiness

  • Agitation

  • Bedwetting

  • Dizziness

  • Headaches

You should not take melatonin if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, and melatonin should not be given to older adults with dementia. You should also talk to your doctor if you are taking:

  • Oral contraceptives

  • Blood thinners

  • Immunosuppressants

  • Corticosteroids

  • Hypertension medications

  • Anticoagulants

If you have depression or epilepsy, you should talk to your doctor.

Always choose a high-quality supplement. As supplements are not as heavily regulated as prescription or over-the-counter medication, they are more likely to have an incorrect dosage or be contaminated with other substances. For example, some melatonin supplements have been found to be contaminated by serotonin, which can have unwanted side effects even in small doses.

Check the ingredients on supplements so you are familiar with everything that it contains.

Valerian root for sleep: dosage and side effects

The effective dose of valerian root extract for sleep ranges is 300–600mg,² based on reviewed studies. If using dried root, an equivalent dose is 2–3 g, which should be soaked in one cup of hot water for 10 to 15 minutes. Higher doses are not more effective but rather cause more side effects.

Side effects include:

  • Headache

  • Gastrointestinal disturbances

  • Morning drowsiness at higher doses

  • Potential dependency leading to withdrawal symptoms (typically at higher doses)

  • Dizziness

  • Mental dullness

  • Uneasiness

  • Heart disturbances

  • Dry mouth

  • Vivid dreams

  • Insomnia

Valerian should not be mixed with other central nervous depressants as they can make it more potent. If you are having surgery, tell your anesthesiologist you are using valerian so they can adjust medication dosages as necessary.

Valerian can also increase the potency of:

  • Anticonvulsants

  • Tricyclic antidepressants

  • Other sleep aids

  • Alcohol

Never mix valerian root and alcohol. Mixing valerian root with other sleep aids can make you extremely drowsy. This applies to other herbs with a sedating effect, such as catnip, chamomile, and lemon balm. Valerian may also potentially interact with antihistamines and statins.

Valerian root is not recommended while pregnant or breastfeeding due to a lack of research on its effects. Do not give valerian to a child without first talking to your doctor.

Does melatonin work to treat insomnia?

Melatonin has been shown to be effective in some people for treating short-term sleep disturbances, especially those caused by jet lag. It appears that it can help your brain "reset" to the new schedule.

However, there is no good evidence that it works to treat chronic insomnia. Also, it appears not to be helpful at all to some people. Likely, melatonin is only helpful for certain specific causes of insomnia.

Taking melatonin is not a substitute for talking to your doctor about treatment for your insomnia, and cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) remains the front-line treatment. If melatonin does not work for you, stop taking it. Tell your doctor that you tried melatonin, and it did not work.

Does valerian root work to treat insomnia?

The evidence supporting the use of valerian root is stronger. Specifically, valerian root appears to decrease sleep latency – it helps you get to sleep faster and improves sleep quality. It works best in people who are poor sleepers and habitually have lengthy sleep latency, especially women and older men.

In people who do not have sleep issues, valerian appears not to work better than a placebo (and may, in fact, be working as a placebo). The evidence is inconclusive, but it certainly seems that some people find it helpful.

Be aware that valerian root can worsen insomnia in some individuals. If this is the case for you, stop taking valerian immediately.

Valerian appears to be safe for short-term use, but very high doses can result in physical dependency similar to that of prescription sleep aids. In fact, valerian has some of the same side effects as common prescription sleep medication, including vivid dreams, and thus may work in a similar way.

Which supplement should you choose?

Both melatonin and valerian root are available over the counter, so you can technically start taking them without a go-ahead from your doctor. However, if you have chronic insomnia, it is wise to talk to your doctor rather than trying to self-medicate. The best treatment for chronic insomnia is therapy, and it is not something you can treat on your own.

Melatonin is worth trying if you have jet lag or are working shifts and trying to get yourself to sleep on an "off" schedule, but it does not work for everyone, and there are no good studies on its long-term safety.

Valerian appears to reduce sleep latency and is a potential choice if you lie awake for a while before finally getting to sleep. Again, there is no conclusive evidence that it helps, although it has been used for a long time. Be aware that high doses of valerian can cause dependency and morning drowsiness.

Never exceed the recommended dosage. Never mix valerian with prescription sleep medication, as this can cause extreme drowsiness and make you unsafe to drive or work.

Neither supplement is a substitute for a proper evaluation of your insomnia, although doctors may recommend melatonin or valerian root in certain circumstances. However, neither have major safety concerns for healthy adults who are not on a lot of medication, so they can be a useful option for short-term issues.

Can you take both melatonin and valerian root?

If you are having sleep issues, you may be tempted to combine melatonin and valerian root. Some commercial supplements contain both, sometimes with other herbs, such as lavender and chamomile.

Using both supplements together can increase side effects, including drowsiness, dizziness, and difficulty concentrating. This could make it unsafe for you to drive or operate machinery.

It's typically not recommended to take both supplements at the same time. It's wise to be careful with sleep aid supplements that contain multiple calming herbs as this can also result in next-day drowsiness and increased side effects.

Check the ingredients on sleep aids to make sure you are not mixing too many calming substances. Monitor yourself for the effects, and avoid using supplements that make it hard for you to get up the next morning.

The lowdown

Both melatonin and valerian root appear to have some benefits in treating acute insomnia. Neither is a substitute for medical treatment, and there is little research on the effects of long-term use.

Melatonin can be helpful for jet lag, helping your brain adjust to the new time zone. Valerian root has been shown to help reduce sleep latency and get you to sleep faster. Both are safe as long as you keep the dosage relatively low but should be avoided when pregnant or breastfeeding.

If you do use a sleep supplement, choose a high-quality one from a reputable brand. As supplements are not as tightly regulated as drugs, they are more likely to be labeled inaccurately or contaminated. Avoid taking valerian and melatonin at the same time, as this is likely to result in increased side effects. Remember that "natural" is not the same thing as "safe."

Sleep aid supplements can sometimes be helpful for short periods, but you should talk to your doctor if your insomnia continues.

  1. Melatonin dosage: How much melatonin should you take | Sleep Foundation

  2. Valerian | American Family Phsycisian

Other sources:

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