Using Melatonin and Valerian to Help Get Some Shut Eye

by Chad Kerksick PhD May 21, 2012 4 min read

Everyone knows that sleep is important, but any individual who does not get enough sleep on a regular basis puts themselves behind the recovery 8-ball.  This can begin a cycle of symptoms that can be challenging to overcome.  For starters you feel tired and beat up…all the time, not just after your leg workout.  You likely may feel extra tired in the morning and again in the afternoon.  You might feel like you can’t recover from what are fairly typical workouts.  This can lead you to not train as hard or for many people you may lose the desire altogether to complete a workout.  A number of formulations and products have become available that provide an array of ingredients which are intended to help people get higher quality sleep.  Two primary ingredients, melatonin and valerian, are commonly used in these formulations to help promote more restful sleep.  This article will serve as an introduction to each ingredient and provide a brief summary of the research behind them.

By definition, insomnia is a complaint defined as sleep is difficult to initiate, maintain or that the sleep is non-restorative.  In other words, you either can’t fall asleep, stay asleep or you sleep like garbage and it does not work to repair and recuperate your body.  In addition, sleep gets worse as you get older so if you think you have problems now, “father time” is waiting.  Melatonin is a hormone produced in the body that operates as a signal for darkness.  When melatonin is given during the daytime it promotes fatigue and sleepiness (Barchas, DaCosta et al. 1967; Anton-Tay, Diaz et al. 1971; Cramer, Rudolph et al. 1974).  Studies have shown melatonin to have its primary effects around two hours after ingestion (Wesensten, Balkin et al. 2005).  Because insomnia is shown to get worse as people age, a number of studies have used older populations as test subjects.  When melatonin was given to older (>55 years) insomnia patients, its use was found to be significantly improve the quality of sleep when compared to placebo.  In addition, the authors reported that morning alertness was significantly improved greater than when a placebo was taken (Lemoine, Nir et al. 2007).

Another common ingredient used in sleep formulations is valerian extract.  Valerian is a plant that is commonly located in warm areas of North America, Europe and Asia and has been used for centuries for medicinal purposes.  Research studies spanning the last 30 years have examined valerian for its ability to aid in relaxation and promote restful sleep.  In 1982, investigators fed valerian or a placebo and had them complete a questionnaire regarding their sleep habits and quality.  When valerian was ingested, sleep latency or the amount of time required to get to sleep was improved (Leathwood, Chauffard et al. 1982); other studies have also reported modest effects for valerian to positively impact sleep quality (Oxman, Flottorp et al. 2007).  Moreover, European scientists used a sound research model involving multiple research sites to examine the impact of valerian extract at a dosage of 600 mg/day to positively impact sleep quality and relaxation.  The authors of this study also concluded that favorable outcomes occurred when valerian was ingested at a fairly high dose for just six weeks (Ziegler, Ploch et al. 2002).  Finally, a review which summarized a number of studies which used valerian and hopes as agents to help people relax reported a number of studies indicate that valerian may exert favorable outcomes regarding sleep and sleep quality (Salter and Brownie 2010).

A number of reasons exist for poor sleep health including emotional or psychological problems; both of which need to be addressed by someone who can help.  At the end of the day, sleep is valuable and a necessary part of your health.  For people who exhibit poor quality sleep, it is important to realize these effects often get worse with age and ingredients such as melatonin and valerian are ingredients which researchers have indicated may improve sleep quality and sleep latency.  As more and more interest develops for optimal sleep health, the interest in non-medical ways to improve to improve sleep will continue to increase.


Anton-Tay, F., J. L. Diaz, et al. (1971). “On the effect of melatonin upon human brain. Its possible therapeutic implications.” Life Sci I 10(15): 841-850.

Barchas, J., F. DaCosta, et al. (1967). “Acute pharmacology of melatonin.” Nature 214(5091): 919-920.

Cramer, H., J. Rudolph, et al. (1974). “On the effects of melatonin on sleep and behavior in man.” Adv Biochem Psychopharmacol 11(0): 187-191.

Leathwood, P. D., F. Chauffard, et al. (1982). “Aqueous extract of valerian root (Valeriana officinalis L.) improves sleep quality in man.” Pharmacol Biochem Behav 17(1): 65-71.

Lemoine, P., T. Nir, et al. (2007). “Prolonged-release melatonin improves sleep quality and morning alertness in insomnia patients aged 55 years and older and has no withdrawal effects.” J Sleep Res 16(4): 372-380.

Oxman, A. D., S. Flottorp, et al. (2007). “A televised, web-based randomised trial of an herbal remedy (valerian) for insomnia.” PLoS One 2(10): e1040.

Salter, S. and S. Brownie (2010). “Treating primary insomnia – the efficacy of valerian and hops.” Aust Fam Physician 39(6): 433-437.

Wesensten, N. J., T. J. Balkin, et al. (2005). “Daytime sleep and performance following a zolpidem and melatonin cocktail.” Sleep 28(1): 93-103.

Ziegler, G., M. Ploch, et al. (2002). “Efficacy and tolerability of valerian extract LI 156 compared with oxazepam in the treatment of non-organic insomnia–a randomized, double-blind, comparative clinical study.” Eur J Med Res 7(11): 480-486.


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Chad Kerksick PhD
Chad Kerksick PhD