In this month’s issue of Sleep Medicine, researchers reported that valerian, a popular herbal remedy that’s promoted as a sleep aid, was found no better than a placebo. Sixteen older women with insomnia were randomized and given either 300 mg of concentrated valerian extract or placebo before bedtime. Sleep quality was assessed at baseline and after the treatment phase by using a questionnaire, sleep study, daily sleep logs and actigraphy (nighttime movement analysis). After 2 weeks of treatment, no difference was found in all these assessments between valerian and placebo.
Interestingly, people taking valerian had significantly more nighttime awakenings seen on sleep studies. This may be explained by the fact that valerian may have stimulant, rather than sedative properties. Herbalists have noted this apparent paradoxical effect of valerian. There have been many conflicting studies on using valerian as a sleep aid, and this study only adds more fuel to the fire.
My take on this? If valerian works for you, keep using it. Even if its’ beneficial effect is a placebo response, it may be worth using. If not, try something else.