Valerian Root vs. Melatonin

Written by

Katherine Zheng , Staff Writer, Sleep Health

Reviewed by

Dr. Michael Breus, PhD, DABSM, FAASM , Clinical Psychologist, Sleep Medicine Expert
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Medical Disclaimer: The following content should not be used as medical advice or as a recommendation for any specific supplement or medication. It is important to consult your health care provider prior to starting a new medication or altering your current dosage.

It is common for people of all ages to experience sleep problems. In fact, nearly half of people in the United States have trouble sleeping. Among the various ways to address sleep issues, natural sleep aids are becoming an increasingly popular remedy for people to turn to. 

Valerian root and melatonin are two common over-the-counter supplements that are promoted to help with sleep. Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally produced by the body, while valerian root is harvested from a plant. These supplements work in different ways, but both offer benefits that may help people wind down and fall asleep. 

If you are considering taking melatonin or valerian to help you sleep, you may be wondering which one is right for you. When making this decision, it can be helpful to understand how each supplement works, as well as their different benefits and side effects.

How Does Melatonin Work?

Melatonin is a natural hormone released by the brain that helps to regulate a person’s circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are patterns that occur in a nearly 24-hour cycle that determine the timing of processes in the body, including when you sleep and wake up. 

Nighttime or being in a dark room usually signals the brain to produce more melatonin and ease a person to sleep. Exposure to light sources, like the sun or artificial lights, can slow the release of melatonin and wake a person up. 

People take melatonin supplements for a variety of reasons. For example, melatonin supplements can be an effective treatment for jet lag since melatonin can help reset a person’s circadian rhythms and sync them with a new environment. Melatonin also lowers body temperature, which is another way it can help prepare the body to sleep.

Since melatonin signals the body to fall asleep, it can also be used to combat certain types of insomnia. Insomnia is a sleep disorder in which people find it difficult to fall asleep, get up often during the night, or wake up earlier than needed. Melatonin has been shown to be effective in helping people initially fall asleep, but may not help people stay asleep at night. 

How Long Does Melatonin Take to Work?

Melatonin supplements are often taken about one to two hours before a person’s desired bedtime, which is around the same time as when the body naturally increases melatonin production.

However, when to take melatonin may be different depending on the sleep problem being treated. Additionally, melatonin supplements come in both fast-release and slow-release forms, which can affect how long it takes for the effects to begin.

How Much Melatonin Can You Take?

The amount of melatonin you can take depends on your age. A usual dose for adults is between 1 to 5 milligrams, but some research suggests that doses lower than 1 milligram can also be helpful.

In children, dosages can also depend on what sleep problem is being treated, so it’s best to work with a child’s doctor to find the right dose. For children with sleep and wake cycles that are delayed by a few hours, 0.2 to 0.5 milligrams of melatonin may be recommended. 

For children who have trouble falling asleep, doctors may recommend the following dosages given around 30 minutes prior to bedtime:

  • 1 to 2 mg in preschool children between 3 and 5 years old
  • 2 to 3 mg in school-aged children between 6 and 12 years old
  • 5 mg in adolescents between 13 and 18 years old

Side Effects of Melatonin

The majority of the studies conducted on melatonin have examined its daily use for up to six months, and less is known about the effects of long term use. In some studies, melatonin has been used safely with minimal side effects for up to two years.

While melatonin is generally considered safe, some people might experience side effects such as:

  • Headaches
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Stomach upset

Since melatonin can cause drowsiness, it is recommended that people avoid operating heavy machinery or driving after taking it. Melatonin should also be avoided by those who are breastfeeding, pregnant, or taking blood thinners. Additionally, people with the following medical conditions should talk to their doctors before using melatonin:

  • Asthma
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Depression
  • Seizures

But it’s a good idea for all people to speak to their health care providers in deciding whether melatonin is right for them.

How Does Valerian Help You Sleep?

Valerian root is an herb that is often marketed as a sleep aid. Not a lot of research has been conducted on valerian root, but experts believe that it may stimulate natural chemicals in the brain that relax the mind and muscles. Unfortunately, studies looking at whether valerian helps people sleep are inconclusive.

Although valerian has not shown consistent benefits as a sleep aid, people who need a bit of extra help falling asleep or improving their sleep quality may see mild benefits from the relaxing properties of this herb.

How Long Does Valerian Root Stay in Your System?

There are many oils and natural compounds within valerian root, and researchers aren’t sure which of these produce its sedative effects. While the effects of valerian may last for around four to six hours, each component of valerian is likely processed by the body at a different rate.

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How Much Valerian Root Is Best for Sleep?

There is currently no set recommended dosage for valerian, and dosing may depend on how valerian is prepared. For capsules or tablets, some people take 400 to 600 milligrams about an hour before bedtime.

Dried valerian root can also be brewed and consumed as tea. For brewing, some experts recommend that two to three grams of dried valerian root be dissolved in 150 milliliters of water for 10 to 15 minutes. People should avoid drinking more than three to five cups per day.

As when trying any new dietary supplement, people should always read the directions specific to each manufacturer’s label, avoid exceeding the dosage recommendations, and work with a doctor to find the right dose.

Side Effects of Valerian Root

There is not much known about the long-term use of valerian. However, studies show that people may be able to use it safely with minimal side effects for up to 28 days.

Side effects that have been reported by people taking valerian include:

  • Headaches
  • Stomach aches
  • Dry mouth
  • Grogginess
  • Feelings of uneasiness

As with melatonin, people should not operate heavy machinery or drive after taking valerian, since it may cause drowsiness. When taken in higher doses, valerian may cause drowsiness the next day. Some people have also reported that valerian can have the opposite effect and cause insomnia.

Valerian has not been studied in people who are pregnant or breastfeeding, so these groups may want to avoid valerian until after speaking with their doctors.

Which Is Better: Melatonin or Valerian Root?

When deciding whether to use melatonin or valerian root, it can be helpful to consider what is known about each supplement. Since melatonin has been researched more thoroughly than valerian root, there is more evidence backing up its ability to help with sleep. This also gives experts more information to provide specific guidelines on how melatonin should be taken. 

This does not necessarily mean melatonin is better than valerian root. The benefits of each may depend on the type of sleep problem a person has. And there may simply need to be more research on valerian to uncover all its benefits and side effects.

If you are experiencing disruptions to your circadian rhythm from situations like jet lag, you may benefit from taking melatonin, since it can help reset a person’s inner clock. However, there is evidence that both melatonin and valerian root may help people fall asleep faster. Both appear to have similar side effects, but side effects can differ from person to person.

Neither melatonin nor valerian are recommended for treating long-term insomnia and shouldn’t replace a conversation with a doctor. But someone who needs a bit of help falling asleep or improving the quality of their sleep could potentially benefit from either supplement. 

Since experts have established dosage recommendations for melatonin, it may be easier to figure out how much someone should take. Finding the right dose of valerian may take more experimentation, since recommendations are not well-established. 

Can You Take Valerian Root and Melatonin Together?

Because melatonin and valerian root can both make a person sleepy, they should not be taken together. Combining these two supplements may enhance feelings of sleepiness as well as other side effects. Similarly, melatonin and valerian root should not be mixed with other sedatives or substances that cause drowsiness.

If you are taking any other medications or supplements, speak with your health care provider to discuss possible interactions before taking either melatonin or valerian.


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About The Author

Katherine Zheng

Staff Writer, Sleep Health

Katherine is a freelance writer based in Chicago. She has doctorate and bachelor’s degrees in nursing and is published in the journal Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research and the journal JMIR Mental Health. She has also worked as a policy fellow at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. With a background in academia, Katherine has always been interested in making healthcare research more accessible to the public. When not writing, Katherine is an actor and loves doing theater at night.

  • Position: Side Sleeper
  • Temperature: Neutral Sleeper
  • Chronotype: Dolphin

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