Melatonin and valerian root, two dietary supplements, are natural sleep aids you can purchase over the counter. Most people can safely take melatonin or valerian root to help improve their sleep patterns. As with other prescription sleep aids and other supplements, taking more than one at a time could pose potential health risks.
Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain. People's bodies produce melatonin, and it is also available as a dietary supplement. Supplemental melatonin is a manufactured version of the natural hormone. Melatonin is thought to play a role in regulating your sleep cycle, including the amount of time it takes you to get to sleep and how long you stay asleep. The supplement is often used to improve sleep patterns in the elderly, as well as individuals with jet lag or occasional insomnia.
Valerian is an herb that is also sold as a dietary supplement. Like melatonin, valerian root supplements have been traditionally used as a natural sleep aids. Some of the compounds found in valerian may have sedating effects in the brain. Studies reviewed by the National Institutes of Health have shown that valerian can help people fall asleep faster and wake up feeling more refreshed, with effects similar to more traditional sleep aids. Valerian is not regulated by the FDA, however, and studies regarding its effects have been limited as of spring 2011.
Both supplements are natural and available without a prescription, so it would seem you could safely take the two together. However, even natural products like melatonin and valerian can cause side effects and drug interactions. Both are considered to be nervous system depressants, producing a sedating effect as they promote sleep. Medline Plus warns against taking melatonin with any other type of sedative, because it may be unsafe. The NIH posts similar warnings on its valerian information page. In other words, the two should not be taken together. It is best not to combine either melatonin or valerian with any other over-the-counter or prescription sleep aids, or any products containing alcohol.
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You can use both supplements to improve sleep, just not at the same time. You could take melatonin one evening, and valerian another, but do not take them both on the same night. Always take sleep aids in the evening, shortly before bedtime, because they can cause drowsiness if taken during the day. As with any other sedative, do not attempt to operate heavy machinery and do not try to drive if you are taking either supplement. Always discuss the use of sleep aids with your doctor before taking them, even those that are considered natural.
Erica Jacques is an occupational therapist and freelance writer with more than 15 years of combined experience. Jacques has been published on Mybackpaininfo.com and various other websites, and in "Hope Digest." She earned an occupational therapy degree from Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Scotland, giving her a truly global view of health and wellness.