Valerian Root vs. Melatonin: Which One Is Right For You?

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    Valerian and melatonin are both natural supplements widely used to promote better sleep quality. Let’s compare the two to discover which one is best for you.

    Getting a good night’s sleep is an essential part of our daily routine and it’s crucial for maintaining good physical and mental health. However, for many people, falling asleep or staying asleep can be a challenge. As a result, they often turn to over-the-counter remedies to help them achieve better sleep.

    Two popular natural supplements that are frequently used to improve sleep quality are valerian root and melatonin. These supplements work differently and have distinct benefits. In this article, we will compare valerian root and melatonin to help you make an informed decision about which one may be more beneficial for your sleep needs.

    What is melatonin?

    Melatonin is a hormone that is produced in the pineal gland of the brain from tryptophan, an essential amino acid. Melatonin controls the sleep-wake cycle, otherwise known as the circadian rhythm. Melatonin production is influenced by the time of day, with levels increasing at night and decreasing during the morning hours.

    How does melatonin work?

    Melatonin works by interacting with the body’s internal clock. The pineal gland in the brain begins to produce melatonin in response to darkness and starts to decrease its production in response to light, signaling the body to wake up. Melatonin binds to receptors in the brain that help reduce nerve activity, leading to feelings of drowsiness and sleepiness. It may also help lessen the time it takes to fall asleep and improve the quality of sleep.

    Benefits of melatonin

    Melatonin supplements are commonly used to promote better sleep and manage temporary symptoms associated with jetlag. Melatonin supplements can help reset the body's internal clock by signaling to the brain that it’s time to sleep. They’re often used as a natural remedy to combat jet lag, as they are effective in reducing the time it takes to fall asleep and improving the quality of sleep. These supplements are also useful for jet lag support since they can be taken on a temporary basis to help the body adjust to a new time zone.

    How long does melatonin take to work?

    Melatonin supplements typically start working within 30 to 60 minutes after ingestion, which is why it’s recommended to take them within 1-2 hours before bedtime. However, it’s important to know that this a general guideline and the time it takes for melatonin to work can vary depending on a few factors, such as the individual's age and weight. In addition, the dosage and form of melatonin (fast or slow-releasing) can also affect how quickly melatonin is absorbed by the body.

    How much melatonin should you take?

    Melatonin supplements are available in doses ranging from 0.5-10 mg, with doses between 1-5 mg being normal starting points. A study conducted on 15 healthy middle-aged volunteers investigated the effects of single evening doses of melatonin (0.3 mg and 1 mg orally) on sleep. The results showed that compared to the placebo, the 1 mg dose of melatonin significantly increased Actual Sleep Time, Sleep Efficiency, non-REM Sleep, and REM Sleep Latency.

    It’s worth nothing that the optimal dosage of melatonin for improving sleep quality can vary depending on the individual and their health status.

    Potential side effects and risks

    Melatonin supplements are generally safe for short-term use, with few reported side effects. Some of these include:

    • Dizziness
    • Nausea
    • Daytime sleepiness

    In addition, since melatonin supplements can cause drowsiness, it’s recommended to avoid driving or operating heavy machinery after taking them.

    Anyone who is pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid melatonin, as there aren’t enough studies or research completed for safety or efficacy.

    Consulting with a healthcare provider is always recommended before starting to take melatonin supplements to determine the appropriate dosage and avoid any potential interactions with other medications.

    What is valerian root?

    Valerian root is a natural herbal supplement that is commonly used as a sleep aid and for stress relief. The root is derived from the Valeriana officinalis plant, which is native to Europe and Asia but can now be found throughout the world. Valerian root has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries, and its sedative and calming effects have been well-documented in traditional medicine. This root can be found in various forms, including teas, tinctures, capsules, or tablets.

    How does valerian root work?

    It’s believed that valerian root works by increasing the levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, which is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps to manage stress and promote relaxation. Valerian root contains several compounds, including valerenic acid and isovaleric acid, which are believed to enhance the effects of GABA in the brain.

    Benefits of valerian root

    Recent research has supported the traditional use of valerian root, suggesting that it can help improve sleep quality and reduce the time it takes to fall asleep! In one study, valerian root was found to reduce perceived sleep latency and wake time after sleep onset. Another study reported that the use of valerian root improved overall sleep quality and reduced levels of stress. These findings suggest that valerian root may be a promising natural option for those experiencing sleep problems.

    How long does valerian root take to work?

    The time it takes for valerian root to work can vary depending on the individual and the specific product used. Some people may notice a calming effect within 30 minutes after taking it, while for others, it may take several days or even weeks to see any noticeable effects. Generally, valerian root is recommended for regular use over a period of several weeks to achieve maximum benefits for sleep and relaxation. It’s important to note that the effects of valerian root may not be immediate or dramatic, but instead may manifest as a gradual improvement in sleep quality and reduction in stress over time.

    How much valerian root should you take?

    The typical dosage for valerian root supplements is between 300-600 mg taken about 30 minutes to 2 hours before bedtime. As for dried, herbal valerian root, the equivalent dose is 2-3 grams, steeped in one cup of hot water.

    Potential side effects and risks

    Valerian is generally considered safe and few adverse events have been reported in clinical studies. The most common side effects include:

    • Dizziness
    • Gastrointestinal disturbances
    • Itchiness

    Similar to melatonin, anyone who is pregnant or breastfeeding should not take valerian without consulting with their doctor first.

    Frequently asked questions

    Can you take melatonin and valerian root together?

    Yes, both of these supplements can be taken together. In fact, they may work synergistically to promote relaxation and help you naturally fall asleep.

    Can you take melatonin or valerian root every night?

    While melatonin and valerian root supplements are generally considered safe for short-term use, it’s not recommended to take them every night for an extended period of time without consulting with a healthcare provider.

    Best time to take melatonin or valerian root

    It is recommended to take melatonin about 30-60 minutes before bedtime to promote sleep. Valerian root is often taken within 30 minutes to 2 hours before bedtime, but it can also be taken during the day to help manage feelings of stress.

    Does melatonin or valerian root help combat insomnia?

    Insomnia is a sign of a chronic sleep issue which should be addressed with your doctor. Both of these supplements have been used as natural remedies to help with sleep quality, but their effect may not be suitable for everyone.

    Does melatonin or valerian root have any drug interactions?

    Both melatonin and valerian root may have interactions with certain medications. This is not a complete list and it’s important to consult a healthcare provider before taking melatonin or valerian root supplements if you are currently taking any medications.

    Who should avoid melatonin or valerian root?

    Pregnant or breastfeeding individuals should avoid using these supplements, as there is not enough research to determine their safety for these populations. Additionally, individuals with certain medical conditions or those taking medications should consult with a healthcare provider before taking melatonin or valerian root supplements.

    Which supplement is right for you?

    Both melatonin and valerian root are natural supplements that can potentially help combat sleep problems. Melatonin is a natural hormone made by the body that works to regulate the sleep-wake cycle and is a great tool for combating jet lag, while valerian root is an herb that promotes relaxation and calmness. Ultimately, the decision to use either melatonin or valerian root should be based on individual needs and preferences.

    In addition to natural supplements like melatonin and valerian root, there are several other ways to improve sleep quality. One important factor is maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, using blue light blocking glasses or filters, which can help reduce the disruption of melatonin production caused by blue light from electronic devices. It’s also important to avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol right before bed. Regular exercise can help promote better sleep quality, and creating a dark, cool, and comfortable sleep environment can also be helpful.

    Taking an herbal combination 30 minutes before bed, like the Care/of Sleep Blend can also be helpful. (The Care/of Sleep Blend includes ashwagandha for relaxation, valerian for promoting restful sleep, and passionflower for supporting a healthy nervous system and healthy sleep.) By incorporating these tips into your sleep routine, you can potentially improve your sleep quality and wake up feeling more rested and refreshed.

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    Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
    Medical Content Manager
    Dr. Montrond-Correia is a licensed naturopathic physician and a certified nutrition specialist (CNS). She holds degrees from University of Bridgeport, Georgetown University, and University of Saint Joseph, and supplemented her education with internships in the health and wellness space. She's focused on research, herbal medicine, nutrigenomics, and integrative and functional medicine. She makes time for exercise, artistic activities, and enjoying delicious food.
    Jordana Tobelem, RD
    Freelance Contributor
    Jordana Tobelem is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys helping others become the best versions of themselves through proper nutrition education. Jordana is passionate about promoting lifestyle changes through nutrition, physical activity, and behavior to create a superior quality of life. She uses her experience in the clinical field of dietetics to provide consulting services to an array of healthcare brands and companies. Jordana loves finding the most current research in nutrition to create meaningful content to share with her clients. Jordana has been a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics since 2018 and also holds certifications in both Personal Training and Health Coaching.