As we age, sleep problems become more common. In fact, about half of older adults report trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Among them are postmenopausal women who often suffer from hot flashes and night sweats that exacerbate the problem. However, a recent study suggests that the herb valerian may provide relief for older women who have occasional sleep disturbances.
The researchers randomly assigned 100 postmenopausal women with sleep problems to take either two capsules containing 530 milligrams of valerian root extract or inactive placebo capsules every day for a month. In the valerian group, 30 percent of the women reported an improvement in their ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Only four percent of women taking the placebo reported better sleep. Women in this study reported no side effects.
Valerian root has been used since ancient Greek and Roman times for its various health benefits, most notably for its ability to promote restful sleep. However, few modern clinical studies proving its effectiveness had existed until now.
Valerian supplements are widely available but it’s important to know what to look for in an effective formula. When choosing a valerian supplement, read the “Supplement Facts” panel and make sure that the supplement is a “root extract” that is standardized to deliver a guaranteed amount of the active compound, valerenic acid.
Researchers believe this compound helps induce sleep through increasing the amount of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) and slowing its reuptake. GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter that limits brain activity. This produces a calming effect so you can relax and fall asleep. Valerian supplements are best taken about 30 minutes before bedtime.
As with any herbal product, do your homework to be sure the supplement brand you choose utilizes thorough quality testing for purity and potency as quality standards vary widely among manufacturers. For example, only 22% of valerian supplements recently tested by Consumerlab.com passed quality tests. Among nine products selected for review, only two passed testing. Of the seven that failed, one contained no detectable key valerian compounds and four others had only 26.7% to 82.5% of the active ingredients they claimed to deliver. Three of the products were found to be contaminated with lead.
In addition to valerian supplements, here are a few more tips for getting a good night’s sleep, naturally.
National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements
Consumerlab (full report requires membership fee)