What is the role of alternative and herbal medications in the treatment of insomnia?

Updated: Sep 11, 2018
  • Author: Jasvinder Chawla, MD, MBA; Chief Editor: Selim R Benbadis, MD  more...
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Alternative and herbal medications have also been tried in the treatment of insomnia. Valerian root extract is the most widely used and studied of these agents. A 2006 meta-analysis of 16 randomized, controlled trials of valerian for the treatment of insomnia had conflicting results. [96] The pooled data did seem to show evidence of improved sleep; however, the authors noted a possible publication bias that may have contributed to this result.

A 2010 met-analysis of 18 randomized, controlled trials of valerian for the treatment of insomnia detected no publication bias. However, although the results suggested that valerian may be effective for subjective improvement of insomnia, its effectiveness has not been demonstrated with quantitative or objective measurements. [97]

A randomized, placebo-controlled trial by Taavoni et al found that valerian improves the quality of sleep in women with menopause who are experiencing insomnia. Patients in the treatment arm received 530 mg of concentrated valerian extract twice a day for 4 weeks. [98]

Other herbal remedies such as chamomile and St. Johns wort have not shown efficacy for insomnia. Furthermore, potential risks have been associated with the use of some OTC remedies, such as dogwood, kava kava, alcohol, and L-tryptophan. [99] For these reasons, the 2017 AASM guideline states that valerian and other alternative or herbal medications are not recommended for treatment of chronic insomnia. [6]

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