It is not unusual for some of your patients to develop an increase in difficulties with both mood and sleep during winter months.
They may be feeling the stress of pressing family obligations, tight finances, and less daylight. All of this can combine to produce depression, anxiety, fatigue, insomnia, or any combination of these. Worse, if your patients already have a psychiatric diagnosis, the winter months can exacerbate symptoms.
Of course, you will want to look at herbal supplements to help your patients improve their mood and sleep to help them get through this busy holiday season.
Some interesting research has pointed toward valerian root as an excellent means to help improve mood and sleep patterns.
Valerian is part of the heliotrope family and has been used for a variety of uses related to anxiety and nervous symptoms.1 These symptoms often include restlessness, premenstrual issues such as hot flashes, tremors, muscle and joint pain, and headaches and migraines.
Anti-anxiety effects in mice
A 2012 study published in the BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine journal examined the effect of a valerian compound on anxiety behaviors in mice.2 The researchers found that mice given either a 2.4-g/kg or a 4.8-g/kg dose of the compound for 10 days exhibited less anxious behavior, in terms of doing more active, spontaneous exploring new environments and less hiding in corners or remaining in darker areas of mazes.
Additionally, the valerian compound did not cause sedation in any of the mice.2
Anxiety and insomnia effects in human studies
A more recent article, published in the August 2014 issue of the Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, compared clinical uses for a number of herbal medications, including valerian root, that are commonly used to treat anxiety and insomnia in patients with bipolar disorder.3 The other herbal medications included lemon balm, passion flower, chamomile, hops, skullcap, ginkgo biloba, gotu cola, golden root, St. John’s wort, and kava.
The researchers did this by performing what is known as a meta-analysis, which compares findings from a number of smaller studies in order to look for patterns among the various findings.
Overall, valerian was found to have the strongest evidence for being effective in treating both anxiety and insomnia, earning grades of B and A, respectively.3 Furthermore, valerian root was found to be safe for use, with the only side effect being a tendency toward daytime sedation at higher doses.
Interestingly, some studies appeared to show that valerian root works at least as well as standard prescription medications for treating insomnia associated with bipolar disorder.3 The researchers concluded: “Although limited evidence exists in the treatment of bipolar disorder, current evidence suggest its [valerian root’s] possible beneficial effect on anxiety and insomnia of bipolar disorder, without significant side effects.”
The holidays can be very stressful for anybody. Unfortunately, they can be even more so for your patients who struggle with mental illness. With guidance from both you and their regular doctor, your patients may find that they can benefit from valerian root to treat their anxiety and insomnia, with fewer side effects than from standard psychiatric medications.
- Valerian overview information. Web MD. Accessed 12/11/2016.
- You J-S, Peng M, Shi J-L, et al. Evaluation of anxiolytic activity of compound Valeriana jatamansi Jones in mice. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2012;12:223.
- Baek JH, Nierenberg AA, Kinrys G. Clinical applications of herbal medicines for anxiety and insomnia; Targeting patients with bipolar disorder. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. 2014 Aug;48(8):705-15.