Valerian and kava improve stress-induced insomnia.




Phytother Res

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Consumer Data: Insomnia, Sleep Disorders Kava Valerian
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One of mankind's oldest complaints, insomnia is the chronic inability to fall asleep or to stay asleep. While everyone occasionally experiences a sleepless night now and then without harm, long-term insomnia can be debilitating. After yet another night of inadequate sleep, insomnia sufferers typically report impaired mental and physical abilities, diminished memory, reduced alertness, and slow reaction times.1 Chronic lack of sleep threatens the well-being, productivity, and safety of millions of Americans. Insomnia is not a disease unto itself but a condition associated with a number of different physical and emotional disorders. The incidence of insomnia is higher among people with chronic illnesses such as hyperthyroidism, kidney trouble, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer's disease. Pregnancy, alcohol intake, stress, and depression are also leading causes of insomnia.

By studying brain wave patterns, sleep researchers have identified four separate stages in a normal period of sleep. Stage 1 begins when we first fall asleep. Stage 1 is light sleep. Muscles relax and the heart slows down in stage 1. During stage 2,the heart rate increases. Stage 2 sleep is called REM sleep because of the rapid eye movements that occur during this stage. The autonomic nervous system is active in REM sleep, causing rapid breathing and increased stomach acid secretion. Stage 2 is the period when we dream. During deep sleep (stages 3 and 4), no dreaming occurs. In a normal sleep period, a person cycles from stage 1 to stage 4 in about 90 minutes.

A recent study was published that examined the role of kava and valerian in the treatment of stress-induced insomnia. In this pilot study, 24 stress-induced insomnia sufferers were treated with 120 mg of kava daily for 6 weeks. After the 6-week period and after 5 patients dropped out, they had 2 weeks without any treatment. For the next 6 weeks the remaining 19 patients received 600 mg of valerian daily. Stress was measured by social, personal, and life-events, and insomnia was measured by the time it took to fall asleep, hours slept, and waking mood. Total stress severity, and insomnia were considerably reduced equally by both herbs. 58% of the patients reported no side effects, 16% reported vivid dreams with the valerian, and 12% reported dizziness with the kava. The authors concluded that these were effective treatments in stress and insomnia, but further studies were suggested.2


1. Zand J, Spreen AN, LaValle JB. Smart Medicine for Healthier Living. Garden City Park, NY: Avery Publishing; 1999.
2. Wheatley D. Kava and Valerian in the treatment of stress-induced insomnia. Phytother Res 2001 Sep;15(6):549-51.