Sleep is an essential and somewhat mysterious part of life. While scientists don't understand exactly why we need so much sleep, its restorative power is highly beneficial and known to keep us healthy and happy. Among other things, sleep helps to restore hormonal and immune systems, stabilise mood and cognitive functions, and rejuvenate the body and mind. When it comes to sleep, most people need seven or eight hours each night just to feel normal, with valerian root one of many herbal remedies that can lend a helping hand. Stress and anxiety often lead to sleep deprivation, which is a very real problem in modern society. People who don't get enough sleep are likely to suffer physically and emotionally, which can lead to a vicious cycle of insomnia and exhaustion. Instead of getting caught up in this pattern, healthy lifestyle and diet changes can help to break the cycle. Valerian root is a safe natural compound often taken to promote relaxation and support healthy sleeping patterns. Along with its use as a sedative and anti-anxiety supplement, valerian root may also help with weight loss and hormone issues in certain conditions.
What is valerian root?Valerian is a perennial flowering plant native to Europe and Asia. Also known as Valeriana officinalis, the rhizome root of this plant is often taken as an extract to promote sleep and relaxation. Valerian root has a number of sedative qualities, and is also taken orally to treat anxiety and psychological stress. Some of the active ingredients in valerian root function in a similar way to benzodiazepine drugs, which are often prescribed to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. Valerian has a long history as a herbal medicine, with records of its use stretching back to ancient Greece and Rome. The father of medicine himself, Hippocrates, described the therapeutic uses of valerian for the treatment of headaches, nervousness, trembling, and heart palpitations. During ancient Roman times, Galen prescribed it as a remedy for insomnia, with this plant also used over the centuries for convulsions, bruises, cough, and even the plague. Over the last few decades, valerian has become a popular ingredient in dietary supplements to reduce anxiety and promote sleep.
The importance of sleep and relaxationSleep is essential for every aspect of life. You need sleep to function physically, think clearly, and react appropriately to the world around you. Among other things, sleep helps to keep your immune system strong, your weight balanced, and your memory in tip-top shape. When you don't get enough sleep, either due to being too busy or a specific sleep disorder, every single aspect of your life is likely to suffer. Sleep is defined by inhibited sensory and reduced muscle activity, with distinct sleep phases based on brain wave activity, eye movements, and physical sedation levels. In order to understand how valerian root helps to promote relaxation and sleep, it's important to understand the four stages of sleep and the difference between REM and non-REM sleep cycles.
The 4 stages of sleepThere are four distinct stages of sleep, with each stage defined by deeper levels of physical relaxation and changes in brain wave activity. The first three stages are known as non-REM (NREM) sleep, and the final stage is known as REM sleep. REM stands for rapid eye movement. Valerian root helps with every stage of sleep, with its sedative qualities making it easier to relax and fall asleep in the first place, and its hypnotic qualities helping to maintain deep stage 3 and REM sleep.
- Stage 1 is the first and lightest stage of sleep, with this period distinguished by drowsy feelings, slow eye movements, and slowing brain wave activity.
- Stage 2 is defined by a slowing heart rate, lower body temperature, and sudden bursts of oscillatory brain activity mixed with K-complex EEG waveforms.
- Stage 3 involves deep sleep and very slow delta wave brain activity. It's rare for people to wake up during this stage, although sleepwalking and sleep talking may occur.
- Stage 4 or REM sleep is defined by vivid dreaming, fast eye movement, low muscle tone, and active brain waves. Getting enough REM sleep is essential for your general health and wellbeing.