Valerian Root vs. Melatonin: Which Is Better for Sleep?

Valerian Root vs. Melatonin: Which Is Better for Sleep?

Scientifically reviewed by: Michael A. Smith, MD

There’s not enough coffee in the world to make up for a bad night’s sleep, which is why many people keep handy supplements that support better rest. But there are so many options, so which ones are best for promoting a good night's sleep? Luckily, when it comes to sleep support, two of the most popular options, melatonin and valerian root, have your back (or side, however you choose to sleep at night!).

These supplements affect the body in different ways, however, and while some sleepers swear by valerian, for others, melatonin is a must-have sleep supplement. As in anything in life, your mileage may vary. We’ve broken down the valerian root vs melatonin comparison for you below—so you can make the best decision in order to get your best night’s sleep!

What is melatonin?

Man sleeping in dark room for increased melatonin

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in your body that is produced by your brain’s pineal gland, which regulates your body’s internal clock. The levels of this hormone let your body know when it’s ready for bed and when it’s time to wake up in the morning. If you want to get enough REM sleep to adequately rest and recharge all your vital systems, you need to secrete enough melatonin to stay asleep all night long.

Your melatonin levels vary depending on the time of day and the amount of light you receive; during evening hours when the sun is setting, your body produces more of it, while melatonin levels drop as the sun starts to rise in the morning.

How does melatonin work?

Woman in bed taking melatonin for circadian rhythm

Having the right amount of melatonin in your body at the right times ensures your circadian rhythm is not out of whack. While this term sounds like it could be some sort of dance, in fact, it has nothing to do with doing the cha-cha; your circadian rhythm is your natural regulator when it comes to the cyclical physical and mental changes your body and mind go through throughout the day.

This natural rhythm can be thrown off when you’re exposed to too much light at night, or due to jet lag from travel or working night shifts. Supplementing with melatonin before bed can help keep your circadian rhythm in check—so can staying away from blue light or other electronics that emit light during evening hours.

How much melatonin supplement should I take?

Sleeping older couple on melatonin regimen

Speak with a doctor before starting a melatonin regimen, as your health needs and concerns are unique. Be sure to read the label of any melatonin supplement properly and do not take more than the recommended dosage. You’ll want to start at a low dose and can increase your dose over time until you are getting a good night’s sleep.

How often should I take melatonin?

Woman talking with doctor about melatonin

Once you consult with your doctor about the right milligram dosage, create an action plan for how long to take melatonin, and whether you should aim to drop it from your routine after establishing better sleep habits. Eventually, you likely won’t need this sleep supplement to rest soundly; however, research suggests that melatonin has other health benefits. It’s a decision to sleep on, for sure!

What is valerian root?

Valerian root scooped with wooden spoon

Melatonin may not be right for everyone, and that’s where valerian can come in. The key difference when it comes to melatonin vs. valerian root is that melatonin is a hormone, while valerian root is an herbal supplement. It’s a time-trusted one, too; valerian’s use as a sleep-supportive nutrient dates back more than 2,000 years!

Valerian hails from a bush that blooms pink flowers. The root of the plant contains the oils and compounds trusted for a good night of deep sleep..

How does valerian root work?

Woman meditating in bed after valerian root supplement

There are many neurotransmitters in your brain, including one known as GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). GABA is responsible for regulating nerve impulses in your brain. A compound in valerian root appears to inhibit your brain from breaking down GABA. With more GABA in your system, you should ultimately feel more relaxed—and fall asleep faster.

Melatonin vs. valerian root: Which is better?

Couple sleeping after taking valerian root or melatonin

Comparing melatonin to valerian root is a bit like comparing those proverbial apples to oranges. One is a hormone, and the other is an herbal supplement. So, they both affect the body in different ways. To decide which to try, it’s important to think through why you’re having sleep trouble in the first place.

For those working late night shifts, world travelers suffering from jet lag, or those who find themselves rising before the sun on the regular, melatonin may help regulate your internal clock—so that you can achieve the sleep success you seek.

On the other hand, if it’s a worried mind or anxiety that’s making it harder for you to drift off to sweet dreams, a valerian root supplement might help you unwind.

With either option, consult with a healthcare professional first, especially if you find yourself awake at night more often than you’d like. You don’t want to take your sleep challenges lying down!

Can melatonin and valerian root be taken together?

Valerian root can be taken simultaneously with melatonin to tackle restless nights and inconsistent sleep patterns-it's a powerful 2-for-1 special!  Either of these nutrients may help you support your sleep wake cycle, so that you feel rested and recharged when you wake up in the morning.

Besides incorporating melatonin or valerian root, what else can I do to improve sleep quality?

Woman eating small meal for better sleep

Both melatonin and valerian root are steps in the right direction when it comes to getting a full and restful sleep, but they aren’t the only strategies. Food plays a big role in your health—including how well you sleep! Make sure that your diet is well balanced, such as the Mediterranean diet, packed with fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats. Eating smaller portions may help keep you full longer and away from the fridge for late night cravings that ultimately serve as a sleep disturbance..

A regular fitness routine can also bring you big gains in the sleep department, but make sure that you are avoiding vigorous exercise in the few hours before bed in order to keep your heart rate and blood pressure within a normal range. In order to get restful sleep, your body needs to be completely relaxed. If you have the urge to exercise right before bed, opt instead for simple stretches or yoga.