Valerian Root vs. Melatonin: Similarities & Differences Explained

Valerian root and melatonin are two supplements that are often compared because of their ability to help enhance sleep. However, there are also some key differences between these supplements that …

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Written by: Daniel Powers, MS
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Valerian root and melatonin are two supplements that are often compared because of their ability to help enhance sleep.

However, there are also some key differences between these supplements that you should be aware of before choosing one or the other.

In this article, we’ll dig into the differences between valerian root vs. melatonin, as well as their similarities.

valerian root versus melatonin

Valerian Root Overview & Uses:

Valerian root is a strong-smelling herb that has been used for centuries for its ability to improve sleep and fight insomnia.

This herb has been shown to improve sleep quality (including REM sleep) and decrease sleep latency.

While valerian root is often used as a “sleep supplement”, it has other medicinal uses, including benefits for anxiety, premenstrual syndrome symptoms, and overall brain function.

1. May Improve Sleep Quality

Research shows that valerian may have the ability to help to reduce instances of insomnia. In fact, valerian is one of the most popular natural remedies for insomnia.

A meta-analysis review found that valerian root is an effective natural sleep aid for promoting sleep. The researchers noted that valerian root impacts sleep via two pathways, 1) it improves sleep quality, and 2) valerian decreased sleep latency (the amount of time it takes to fall asleep).

A clinical trial found that taking 400mg of valerian root nightly helped to reduce the total time it took to fall asleep. It was also shown to help increase overall sleep quality.

2. May Improve Brain Function

According to researchers, valerian may help to support brain health and cognitive function.

A human clinical trial found that valerian root extract can be beneficial in boosting mental cognition. In this study, the study participants were given either valerian or a placebo. The valerian group showed an increase in both mental focus and cognition.

3. May Reduce Anxiety

Various studies have shown that valerian root, when combined with kava-kava (another popular herb), may have the ability to reduce mild anxiety.

A human clinical trial showed that a combination of valerian root and kava helped to reduce anxiety in the study participants. The researchers also noted that this combination of valerian and kava helped to reduce systolic blood pressure.

Another study showed that taking kava and valerian helped to increase overall sleep quality and reduce anxiety.

Learn more about the health benefits of valerian.

Melatonin Overview & Uses:

Melatonin is an endogenous hormone that’s involved in regulating the body’s sleep-wake cycles. It’s commonly called the “hormone of darkness” due to the fact that your body secretes it at night when it senses a lack of light.

When melatonin is released within your body, it kickstarts various biological processes that wind your brain down and prepare your body for sleep.

The human body naturally produces melatonin in the pineal gland, however, as the body ages, the natural production of melatonin decreases.

This is why melatonin supplementation is popular.

Melatonin has a variety of benefits, including:

  • Insomnia
  • Age-related insomnia
  • Jet lag disorder
  • shift work sleep disorder

We’ll dig into the primary benefits of melatonin below.

1. May Reduce Insomnia

Melatonin is a popular supplement for insomnia, and for good reason. Research shows that melatonin is effective in supporting sleep.

A comprehensive review of sleep studies found that melatonin supplementation is effective at reducing the time it takes to fall asleep and increasing total sleep time.

Another study showed that giving melatonin to individuals with insomnia worked to improve sleep induction and quality. The researchers noted that they gave the melatonin to the study participants 2 hours before bedtime.

A human clinical trial found that melatonin worked to improve subjective, and objective, sleep quality in patients with traumatic brain injuries.

2. May Reduce Jet Lag

Melatonin has been shown to be an effective treatment for jet lag.

A clinical review found that melatonin works to reduce jet lag from flights crossing five or more time zones. The researchers noted that daily doses of melatonin between 0.5 and 5mg are similarly effective in reducing jet lag, but that individuals fall asleep faster and sleep better when taking 5mg or more of melatonin.

A study found that 3mg of melatonin helped to reduce jet lag in individuals during an 11-hour eastward flight. The researchers noted that melatonin accelerated the rate of re-entrainment by 15 min per day and alleviated the jet lag symptoms.

3. May Help Shift Workers

Night work is associated with disrupted circadian rhythms, fatigue, accidents, and various diseases. Melatonin may be a helpful solution as it works to regulate sleep and the circadian rhythm.

A clinical trial found that melatonin supplementation helped to increase sleep latency in individuals that worked night shifts. The researchers noted that sleep onset was significantly reduced while subjects were taking melatonin as compared with both placebo and baseline. No adverse effects of melatonin were reported.

Valerian Root vs. Melatonin: Similarities & Differences

When it comes to comparing melatonin and valerian root, there are many similarities between these two supplements.

Both melatonin and valerian help to promote sleep.

Melatonin works by signaling your brain that it’s time for sleep. It also helps to align your body’s circadian rhythm.

Valerian seems to work by dampening the activity of your central nervous system. This helps to ‘wind down’ your brain and prepares your body for sleep.

These two different mechanisms are helpful for increasing sleep quality.

There are differences between valerian root and melatonin, with the primary one being that valerian helps your body to stay asleep, while melatonin primarily helps your body to fall asleep.

Another difference is the fact that valerian has other benefits outside of sleep. It appears to be able to improve brain function and help in reducing anxiety.

Melatonin doesn’t have these properties, its primary use case is for sleep.

Valerian Root vs. Melatonin: Which Supplement Is Right For You?

Both supplements are helpful for sleep, but which is better when you compare valerian root vs. melatonin?

You can think of melatonin as a sleep supplement with the ability to normalize circadian rhythm.

Whereas valerian has the ability to increase sleep quality, it also appears to have an anxiolytic benefit.

So which is right for you?

If you primarily need help reducing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, then melatonin is your best choice.

If you need help staying asleep, and want to don’t want to wake up feeling groggy, valerian root may be a better option.

Can You Take Valerian Root and Melatonin Together?

No research has been conducted on valerian root and melatonin together.

However, both of these supplements are generally considered to be safe and tend to cause mild side effects, if any.

If you take valerian and melatonin together, start by taking low doses and see how your body responds.

Never take either of these supplements with sedative drugs as interactions are known to occur.

Potential Side Effects & Interactions:

As with all things, herbs have the potential to interact negatively with your body.

Valerian is generally well tolerated, especially at low-to-moderate doses.

There is one primary precaution with taking valerian root: it’s not recommended that you take valerian with central nervous system depressants (i.e. sedative drugs) and/or alcohol as it may increase their effects.

You can find a full safety profile review of valerian root here.

Melatonin is also generally well-tolerated and safe to consume.

A safety review study found that short-term use of melatonin is safe, even in extreme doses. 

Only mild adverse side effects, such as dizziness, headache, nausea, and sleepiness have been reported about melatonin.

As with all supplements, it’s best to run them by your personal doctor for feedback prior to ingestion.

Conclusion:

As you can see, both supplements are generally well-tolerated and safe to consume.

If you’re trying to decide between the two, consider taking a few weeks to experiment with each supplement for yourself before making your final decision.

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About Daniel Powers, MS

Daniel has a master's degree in herbal science from the Maryland University of Integrative Health. He has a passion for herbal medicine and how it can be used to support everyday health & wellness.

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