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Holistic Nursing Practice:

May/June 2004 - Volume 18 - Issue 3 - p 120-126


Valerian Use for Sleep Disturbances Related to Rheumatoid Arthritis

Taibi, Diana M. RN; Bourguignon, Cheryl PhD, RN; Taylor, Ann Gill EdD, RN, FAAN


Complementary therapies are becoming increasingly popular, particularly for symptoms such as sleep disturbance. The herb valerian may be useful as a mild sleep aid in clinical populations, such as persons with rheumatoid arthritis. This article reviews valerian to inform healthcare providers of potential uses and safety considerations.



J Pharm Pharmacol. 1999 May;51(5):505-12.

The scientific basis for the reputed activity of Valerian.

Houghton PJ.


Department of Pharmacy, King's College London.


The underground organs of members of the genus Valeriana (Valerianaceae), as well as related genera such as Nardostachys, are used in the traditional medicine of many cultures as mild sedatives and tranquillizers and to aid the induction of sleep. V. officinalis is the species most commonly used in northern Europe and still retains its official pharmacopoeial status although it is most commonly encountered as an ingredient of herbal medicines. This plant is still the subject of considerable research aimed at establishing the chemical and pharmacological basis of the activity which has been clearly shown in a number of animal and clinical studies. The constituents of the volatile oil are very variable due to population differences in genetics and to environmental factors. The major constituents include the monoterpene bornyl acetate and the sesquiterpene valerenic acid, which is characteristic of the species, in addition to other types of sesquiterpene. Some of these have been shown to have a direct action on the amygdaloid body of the brain and valerenic acid has been shown to inhibit enzyme-induced breakdown of GABA in the brain resulting in sedation. The non-volatile monoterpenes known as valepotriates were first isolated in 1966 and contribute to the overall activity by possessing sedative activity based on the CNS although the mode of action is not clearly known. The valepotriates themselves act as prodrugs which are transformed into homobaldrinal which has been shown to reduce the spontaneous motility of mice. More recent studies have shown that aqueous extracts of the roots contain appreciable amounts of GABA which could directly cause sedation but there is some controversy surrounding the bioavailability of this compound. Another recent finding is the presence of a lignan, hydroxypinoresinol, and its ability to bind to benzodiazepine receptors. Valerian is a good example of both the negative and positive aspects of herbal drugs. The considerable variation in its composition and content as well as the instability of some of its constituents pose serious problems for standardization but the range of components which contribute to its overall activity suggest that it may correct a variety of underlying causes of conditions which necessitate a general sedative or tranquilizing effect.



Phytomedicine. 2002 May;9(4):273-9.

Effect of valerian, Valeriana edulis, on sleep difficulties in children with intellectual deficits: randomised trial.

Francis AJDempster RJ.


Department of Psychology and Disability Studies, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University, Victoria, Australia. [email protected]


Serious sleep problems are common in children with an intellectual deficit (ID), and are often the source of much distress for both the child and caregivers. As yet, no satisfactory long-term treatment exists for intransigent sleep difficulties in children with an ID. Valerian, Valeriana spp., has been used for thousands of years to induce relaxation and sleep. Scientific investigation of valerian's sleep promoting ability in humans, whilst limited, has yielded promising findings. This initial study aimed to explore valerian's potential for assisting in the treatment of sleep problems in children with an ID. Five children with varying intellectual deficits and different primary sleep problems underwent eight continuous weeks of monitoring via sleep diaries, adhering to a double blind, placebo controlled and randomised design. Compared to baseline and placebo, valerian treatment led to significant reductions in sleep latencies and nocturnal time awake, lengthened total sleep time and improved sleep quality. The treatment was apparently most effective in children with deficits that involved hyperactivity. Although the findings are preliminary and in need of replication, there is evidence to suggest that valerian may be useful in the safe and effective long-term treatment of intransigent sleep difficulties in children with ID's, and therefore warrants further investigation.



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