America is a sleep deprived society in which sleep is now considered a luxury. Adults sleep 1.6 hours less per night than their grandparents did—that averages out to less than seven hours per night.
Just how important is a good night’s sleep? Think about this: a tired brain is slower, is less efficient, and makes more mistakes than one that is
refreshed. With sleep deficiency, cognitive function and reaction time are seriously impaired. And, no surprise, a chronic lack of sleep is associated with nagging feelings of fatigue and mild depression.
A Natural Alternative
Conventional sedatives can produce daytime drowsiness, poor concentration, slowed reaction times, as well as dependency. So what safe alternatives are there for insomniacs?
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis), considered one of the best herbal tranquilizers, has been used successfully for nervous
unrest, anxiety, tension, insomnia, and other sleep disturbances. It has a sedative effect, as well as an antispasmodic effect.
While valerian benefits the quality of sleep, it does not produce sleepiness the next morning. For patients with sleep disorders, valerian is a safe alternative to regular sleeping pills. It significantly decreases the time it takes to fall asleep and the frequency of waking during the night. However, valerian is not considered suitable for acute cases of insomnia.
How It Works
The neurotransmitter GABA is an important inhibitory substance that plays a key role in handling stress and anxiety.
Sedation is strongly influenced by GABA, which binds to specific receptors in the brain. A valerian extract increases the secretion of GABA and prolongs its activity.
After several weeks of use, valerian promotes natural sleep with no adverse side effects or risk of dependency. The effects may not be fully realized for at least two weeks. For best results, valerian capsules or tablets should be taken about two hours before bedtime.
Combining valerian with other sedative herbs such as hops, lemon balm, and passion flower is often a more effective treatment than taking valerian alone. However, valerian should not be used in combination with regular sleeping pills, since it may potentiate their sedative effect.