Valerian is a plant native to Europe that grows naturally in damp grasslands. Herbalists have used the root for treating insomnia for hundreds of years, and some research supports this use, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Valerian root may also have benefits for relieving anxiety and stomach cramps. The UMMC recommends consulting your doctor before giving Valerian to a child.
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Because Valerian is considered safe and gentle, it is a popular alternative to prescription medication for treating sleep problems, explains the UMMC. Valerian appears to help people fall asleep more quickly and to improve the quality of sleep. In addition, it may have fewer side effects than drugs used to treat insomnia, which tend to cause daytime drowsiness. Valerian is not fast-acting, however. It may take about a month to begin working, as noted by the UMMC.
How It Works
Valerian may work by increasing levels of a neurotransmitter called gamma aminobutyric acid, or GABA, similar to the way that benzodiazepine medications do. GABA has a calming effect and helps regulate nerve cells, explains the UMMC. The effect of Valerian on GABA is weaker than that of prescription drugs, making it a possible alternative for children with sleep difficulties.
Research With Kids
A study published in the June 2006 issue of "Phytomedicine" evaluated the effectiveness of an herbal preparation combining Valerian and lemon balm in 918 children under 12 years old. These children were experiencing restlessness and dyskoimesis, or difficulty falling asleep. The herbal preparation led to a distinct decrease in severity of all symptoms as rated by the investigators and the parents. Restlessness and sleep difficulty decreased from moderate or severe to mild or absent in most of these children. Nearly 81 percent experienced sleep improvement and about 70 percent were less restless.
Research with children is limited, so a professional health care provider should supervise Valerian root treatment in children, advises supplement manufacturer Clarocet. The Office of Dietary Supplements recommends that children under 3 years old should not take Valerian because risks are not known. In the "Phytomedicine" study, tolerability of the herbal preparation was determined as good, with no negative events attributed to the supplement.
Most dosages of herbal supplements are indicated for an adult weighing 150 lbs., according to the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders website. This should be adjusted to the specific child's weight. For instance, a child weighing 75 lbs. would receive half the adult dosage. Standard adult dosages of Valerian root for insomnia, as noted by the UMMC, are 1/2 to 1 tsp. fluid extract or 250 to 600 mg dry powdered extract taken up to three times during the day, with the last dose near bedtime. For anxiety, the adult dosage is 200 mg three to four times per day. Alcohol-free extracts are available.