From capsules to teas, valerian root is a popular ingredient in many drugstore sleep remedies. There is good scientific evidence that it may improve the quality of sleep and reduce the time needed to fall asleep, according to the National Institutes of Health, especially when taken nightly for four to six weeks. (After that, valerian may actually cause insomnia.)
When Laura, 36, of Atlanta, decided to wean herself off prescription sleeping pills, her doctor suggested she try valerian. The potent capsules—which smell awful but don't have a bad taste, she says—work for a week or two at a time, but then her body seems to get used to it.
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"It puts me to sleep fast, not for the whole night but for a few good hours," says the marketing executive. "But when it stops working, I have to give myself a break for a few weeks."
Valerian is considered safe when taken as directed, but is not recommended for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.