Friday, July 6, 2007

Valerian useless as a sleep aid

sleeping kids
I remember well when I was a kid and was put to bed too early in my view and complained I was not ready for sleep yet, my mother gave me valerian drops. This is more than fifty years ago. Since that time, millions of mothers have given valerian drops to their kids who have been reluctant to sleep. Millions of adults have taken it too, hoping it would help. Millions swear that it helps, but they all have been wrong and are wrong and will be wrong, according to a recent systematic review of 37 studies.

The good news is that all studies have found valerian to be safe. The bad news is that most of the studies have found valerian to be useless. Few studies have found an effect, but these have been of lower quality. All high quality studies show that the effect of valerian on sleep is not different from placebo either in healthy persons or in those suffering from insomnia.

My friend Jürg whom I reported this verdict does not agree. He swears on valerian and urged me to post his experience. Here it is: «Once I have discovered a small bottle with valerian tincture in our medicine chest. I asked my wife about it and when she told me that it is completely safe I poured a teaspoonful into my palm and took it, just out of curiosity. I forgot about it and two hours later I began to feel very tired and sleepy. So do not tell me that is is useless.»

I have no reason not to believe Jürg, but as an old skeptic I must add here that valerian is supposed to show an action within twenty minutes or so. And an old latin wisdom tells us that post hoc (after it) is not propter hoc (because of it).

Skeptic counter remark: Sleep is not a simple matter of drugs and chemistry, but of feelings and emotions. Placebo works on this level, and the feeling that valerian helps to sleep may help to sleep. It may be better to take a safe drug with no proven effect on the chemical level than a strong tranquilizer with negative side effects and addictive potential.

Related post: Drugs that shorten the end of life

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/soapbox_superstar/381791425/

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