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Valerian for Sleep

Valerian root has been used as a sedative and anti-anxiety treatment for more than 2,000 years.

A review of 16 small studies suggests that valerian may help people fall to sleep faster. It also may improve the quality of sleep. Valerian becomes more effective over time, so it's best to take it every night for a short period of time.

Some people have stomach upset, headache, or morning grogginess with valerian. Taking valerian with sleeping medications or with alcohol can compound its effect, so don't use it with other sleep aids. Start with the lowest dose, then increase over several days' time. Valerian is considered safe to take for four to six weeks.

Kava for Sleep

The Kava plant is a member of the pepper family, and has been shown to help relieve anxiety. One review of six studies showed reduced anxiety among patients who took kava, compared with those who got a placebo. Another small study showed that both kava and valerian improved sleep in people with stress-related insomnia.

The American Academy of Family Physicians says that short-term use of kava is okay for patients with mild to moderate anxiety -- but not if you use alcohol or take medicines metabolized in the liver, including many cholesterol medicines. In fact, the FDA has issued a warning that using kava supplements has been linked to a risk for severe liver damage. Before taking kava, ask your doctor if kava is safe for you.

Lifestyle Tips for Better Sleep

Before you try sleep supplements, doctors suggest you try these steps to sleep better.

  • Keep noise and light to a minimum. Use earplugs, window blinds, heavy curtains, or an eye mask. Small night-lights in your bedroom and bathroom are a good idea.
  • Avoid large meals two hours before bedtime. A light snack is fine.
  • Don't drink caffeine (including tea and soft drinks) four to six hours before bedtime.
  • Regular exercise like walking will reduce stress hormones and help you sleep better. But don't exercise within two hours of bedtime. You may have more difficulty falling asleep.
  • Don't nap late in the afternoon.
  • Stop working on any task an hour before bedtime to calm your brain.
  • Don't discuss emotional issues right before bedtime.
  • Keep pets outside your sleeping area if you can.
  • Make sure your bedroom is well ventilated and at a comfortable temperature.
  • Learn a relaxation technique like meditation or progressive relaxation.


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