Sleep deprivation is a serious health issue.
Your body needs sleep – high-quality sleep – to remove toxins, produce certain hormones, and regenerate cells.
Sadly, the productivity-centric American culture means that most people are sleep deprived.
The CDC reports that one out of every three Americans suffers from chronic sleep deprivation. In communities of color, the figure is closer to half. (1)
While it's important to figure out what's causing your sleep troubles and address them, minerals and herbal supplements can also play a role in regulating sleep.
Plus, supplements carry a lower risk for dependency and negative side effects than prescription medications and over-the-counter sleeping pills.
Two of the most common dietary supplements for sleep are valerian root and melatonin. Let's break down valerian root vs. melatonin so you can make the best decision for your long-term sleep health.
What Is Melatonin and How Does It Work?
Melatonin isn't an herb, vitamin, or mineral. It's a hormone your body produces naturally to trigger sleepiness.
Melatonin is naturally produced in the body of healthy people to help them relax in the evening. While it won't put you straight to sleep like sleeping pills will, it prepares your body for relaxation.
Here's the problem. Your exposure to light and other factors, such as stress, can screw up your natural production of melatonin.
You can help your body produce more melatonin at the right times by:
- Opening your curtains as soon as you wake up. Natural light will tell your brain to stop releasing melatonin.
- Working near a large window where you're exposed to light throughout the day.
- Keeping the curtains shut and avoiding sunlight for a few hours before bedtime.
Another major factor that can throw off your natural melatonin is blue light. You may not even realize that some light sources emit a blue hue. These include:
- TV screens
- Laptops and computers
- Certain lightbulbs
You can avoid your exposure to blue light by avoiding electronic devices for a few hours leading up to bedtime. If that's not ideal, you can adjust your screens to turn on dark mode OR a blue light filter.
Melatonin supplements can fill in the gap until you're able to adjust your production naturally.
Research shows that melatonin binds to receptors in the brain that may slow nerve activity, which is how it might help you relax. Dopamine helps keep you awake but melatonin also binds to receptors in your eyes to slow dopamine and promote relaxation. (2, 3)
Studies show that melatonin supplements can help reset your natural sleep-wake cycle to promote sleep. Not only that, but the research shows melatonin can help you enjoy better sleep quality as well. (4, 5)
It's ideal for anyone struggling with jet lag or sleep problems from night shifts as well.
You can find melatonin sleep supplements in tablets, tinctures, gummies, and several other forms. Keep in mind that some sleep supplements may contain other ingredients, so check the label.
Other Benefits of Melatonin
Taking melatonin may also:
What Is Valerian Root and How Does It Work?
While melatonin is a hormone, valerian root is an herbal supplement.
Different cultures around the world have used valerian root for its sedative effects for over 2,000 years!
Valerian is a bush that produces pink or white flowers. The root of the plant has a strong earthy scent, and its oils contain compounds that may encourage restful sleep.
Research shows that valerian root interacts with gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors in the brain. GABA is important for keeping stress levels low and promoting relaxation. (11)
Valerianic acid, the active compound in valerian root, stops your brain from breaking down GABA. Since more GABA remains in your system, it follows that you should feel more relaxed and be able to fall asleep easier. (12)
Valerian root is well studied for its ability to help people fall asleep faster AND enjoy a better quality of sleep.
Studies have found that valerian may help children, young adults, and older adults sleep better. Another study noticed that valerian root helped people with insomnia enjoy better deep sleep 36% faster than usual. (13, 14)
Finally, valerian root may also help people withdrawing from long-term benzodiazepines regulate their sleep cycle and reset their circadian rhythm. (15)
Although valerian seems to work quickly, research shows that negative side effects are rare. Valerian doesn't seem to throw off your concentration or mental performance the next morning like many sleeping pills can.
Other Benefits of Valerian Root
Valerian root may also:
Valerian Root Vs. Melatonin: Sleep Aid Showdown
Valerian root and melatonin are different substances. One is a hormone and the other is a supplement.
If you haven't tried either before, start with one to see how it works.
It's best to avoid taking them together at first when you don't know how these sleep supplements may affect you.
But which should you try?
If you work night shifts, suffer from jet lag, get up before the sun rises, and find your amount of sleep has routinely fallen behind, melatonin might be the best choice. Melatonin might help "tell" your body when you want to fall asleep when your schedule is thrown off.
If you've already tried to regulate your sleep cycle and can't seem to catch a break from insomnia or poor sleep, valerian root can act as a single-dose sleep aid as needed.
Other Natural Sleep Aids
Valerian root and melatonin aren't the only sleep supplements available. Other amino acids, herbs, and minerals can help, depending on your needs. These include:
Keep in mind that everyone is unique. Try to address your sleep problems at their source with better sleep habits and use supplements to fill the gaps.
If nothing helps improve your poor sleep, it may be worth talking to a health care provider about a possible sleep disorder.