How nice would it be if, following a long, fulfilling day, you could doze off effortlessly, sleep soundly throughout the night, and wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the world the next morning?
Sadly, that’s just not a reality a lot of the time.
Many people rely on sleep aids to fall asleep and stay asleep. Some of these aids are derived from natural sources. Others, not so much. Of the ones that are, none are more popular and widely used than melatonin and Valerian root.
But which is better? Is there a clear winner?
Having experimented extensively with both substances, I can tell you with some authority that the answer is: it depends.
In the following paragraphs, I’ll be explaining the key similarities and differences between these two all-natural sleep supplement superstars.
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that helps humans and other animals fall asleep.
The pineal gland, a central component of the endocrine system, produces and secretes melatonin during night-like conditions—most notably, darkness. Melatonin plays such an essential role in inducing and regulating sleep cycles that it’s sometimes referred to simply as “the sleep hormone.”
Essentially, melatonin works by telling your body it’s time to go to sleep. Once it’s made its way into the bloodstream in sufficient concentrations, melatonin typically brings about effects like:
- Heavy eyelids
- Decreased mental acuity
- Decreased muscular strength and control
- General fatigue or languor
Isolations of the hormone are sold in various forms as over-the-counter sleep aids. The most common of these forms are tablets and capsules. There are also quick-dissolving melatonin strips that users suffering from disordered sleep can place under their tongues before turning in for the night.
Possible Side Effects of Melatonin
The same effects that make melatonin such an effective sleep aid might also make a bad choice for daily use. Over-consumption of melatonin has been known to cause:
- Difficulty waking
- Grogginess or unclear thinking
- Disorientation, dizziness, or confusion
- Stomach pain
- Mild, temporary feelings of depression or anxiety
What Is Valerian Root?
Valeriana officinalis, better known by the name “Valerian root” or just “Valerian,” is a flowering herb native to Asia and many parts of Europe. It’s prized for its sedative and sleep-promoting properties.
People have been using Valerian root to treat insomnia and anxiety for hundreds or possibly even thousands of years. Modern research has borne out some of the plant’s purported benefits, though more testing is necessary to determine whether they have a legitimate physiological basis.
Whereas melatonin is a hormone, Valerian root is an herb. As such, it contains lower natural concentrations of active botanical compounds, which means its effects are generally more subtle. Examples of such effects include:
- Feelings of relaxation
- Alleviation of anxiety-related symptoms
- The perception of improved sleep quality
- Freedom from post-sleep “hangover”
While Valerian root is traditionally brewed as a tea or consumed as a tincture, today, it’s readily available as an oral supplement. The concentration of botanical compounds in these supplements can vary widely depending on the manufacturer and the specific strain of herb used.
Possible Side Effects of Valerian Root
Valerian root is remarkably safe, with very few associated dangers or downsides. However, some users may experience:
- Stomach pain
- Disorientation, dizziness, or confusion
- Insomnia (ironically)
- Anxiety (in high doses)
Valerian Root vs. Melatonin for Sleep
So how do these two sleep aids stack up?
If you value the expertise of scientific researchers and medical professionals, melatonin is the way to go.
Of the two sleep aids, it’s the only one with scientifically proven results. It’s also the only one guaranteed to work night after night, owing to its natural role in the human body.
Furthermore, melatonin is non-habit-forming, and you don’t have to worry about developing a tolerance to it. Most adults will have completely processed and eliminated the free-floating melatonin in their systems after only about 4-5 hours.
That said, it’s best to regard melatonin as an occasional remedy for sleeplessness rather than a full-time crutch. If you take it too often, your brain may adapt by producing less of the hormone on its own. It’s also possible to develop a psychological dependence on the drug.
Keep in mind also that melatonin may not work equally well for everyone. A relatively small dose is enough to put some users out like a light, while others don’t seem to feel anything at all. It’s best to stick to the generally recommended dosage of 1-5mg for no more than 3 nights per week until you know how you respond to an extra helping of the hormone.
Is Valerian Root Worthy of the Hype?
Whether or not Valerian root works as advertised is still a matter of much scientific debate.
Some studies suggest that taking Valerian root before bed could help you fall asleep faster or improve your overall sleep experience. However, there currently isn’t enough solid evidence to rule out the possibility of a placebo effect.
Even so, there’s little risk in trying it for yourself, especially if you’ve attempted to treat poor sleep with melatonin in the past unsuccessfully.
If you’re considering adding Valerian root to your list of supplements, just be sure to use a reasonable dose. Somewhere between 250mg and 500mg should do the trick for most people. Extremely high doses don’t have a demonstrable effect on the timing or quality of sleep, and can actually worsen symptoms of anxiety in some.
In a head-to-head battle pitting Valerian vs. melatonin for sleep supremacy, melatonin emerges the victor.
A bedside bottle of melatonin could be the difference-maker on nights when you find yourself tossing and turning. Just try not to get in the habit of taking it every day.
If you’re curious about Valerian root, feel free to give it a shot, as there appears to be no harm in doing so. If nothing else, it could aid in relaxation and create a more restful internal atmosphere in the evening hours.