Herbal Assistance: Valerian Root and Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea affects thousands of people all over the world. Central and obstructive sleep apneas are treatable, but not curable. The most effective treatment for sleep apnea is generally considered CPAP therapy, Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. Sleep studies are also an effective way to diagnose sleep apnea and understand the differences in individual apnea cases. CPAP therapy and sleep studies, while effective and informative, are expensive. Some medications are thought to help sleep apnea, but no medicinal cure has been found.
Many people suffering from apnea are turning to alternative forms of medicine to help deal with the disease. Herbal remedies and supplements have become a popular way to help ward off the negative side effects of sleep apnea: stress, insomnia, and daytime sleepiness. While herbs can be helpful, it is important to know that they will not eliminate sleep apnea. They can, however, make the symptoms easier to deal with.
Many different herbs are used by patients with sleep apnea, but Valerian is the most commonly referenced, and most medically supported, herbal supplement used for treating apnea cases.
What is Valerian?
Valerian, Valeriana officinalis, is a perennial flowering plant that blossoms during the summer. Valerian produces sweetly perfumed white or pink flowers. The plant has been introduced in North America, but is native to Europe and some parts of Asia. One of civilizations most commonly used herbs, Valerian use dates back to ancient Greek and Roman practices. In the sixteenth century, the blossoms of the plant became a popular perfume ingredient.
The root of the Valerian plant is most commonly used in the medical world as a sedative to treat insomnia and similar sleep disorders. Many people choose to use the plant because of its calming and relaxing properties; it is becoming a popular alternative to benzodiazepine because it does not have addictive properties.
How does Valerian help with sleep apnea?
When the respiratory center in the brain misfires, or an obstruction of the airway stops breathing from occurring, the body becomes starved of oxygen. The body reacts instinctively and enters survival mode, also commonly referred to as “fight or flight” mode. In this situation, the stress hormone Cortisol is released into the body; the amount of Cortisol in the body increases as the number of apneas through the night increase.
The calming effects of Valerian root are used to help combat stress and excitability. Because of the plant’s sedative qualities, it is popular for people who have trouble going to sleep because of anxiety or stress. In addition to speed of sleep induction, the overall quality of sleep is increased in patients who use the root. Valerian is the perfect plant for CPAP users who are not comfortable sleeping with their equipment, and it does not cause daytime sleepiness the morning after use.
What else is Valerian used for treating?
Although Valerian is most commonly used as a calming agent, it is used in many other remedies. It is used during waking hours to treat nervous tension, cramping in the abdominal region related to irritable bowl syndrome, gastrointestinal pain related to gas, and headaches. In 1994, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act was passed and allowed herbal agents to be sold as over-the-counter supplements. Valerian is now sold as a nutritional and dietary supplement in theUnited States.
How should Valerian be ingested?
Valerian supplements are most commonly ingested in tablet or capsule form (pill form). The supplement comes from the root of the plant. The root goes through multiple processing including dehydration before the final product is fully prepared and packaged into capsules. Taking 300-400 mg of Valerian about thirty minutes before bedtime is the most beneficial way to treat apnea with this supplement.
The root of the plant can also be taken in its crude herb form; the root of the plant does not have toxic properties. Typical dosage recommendations for crude root indigestion range from two to ten grams per day. Pure root consumption sometimes causes the user to experience a sense of euphoria, giddiness, and can lead to feelings of disorientation if ingested in excessive amounts.
What are the negative side effects of Valerian?
Valerian has become such a popular drug for treating sleeping disorders because it rarely induces negative side effects. Mild stomach aches are the most common complaint from Valerian users, and are reported mostly in cases of high dosage. Because the plant has tranquilizing properties, it may cause dizziness or drowsiness. Relatively risk-free in small doses, excessive doses of Valerian can have serious effects on the user. Chronic use can lead to a lack of focus, a dulling of mental focus, apathy, night terrors, and even depression.
When using an herbal supplement for the first time, it is important to be cautious; an allergic reaction is always a possibility. Allergic reactions to Valerian can range from hives to experiencing difficulty breathing.
Valerian should not be used with any other depressants like alcohol, opiates, barbiturates, or benzodiazepines because it depresses the central nervous system. Research has been conducted on the safety of supplement use during pregnancy, but not concrete data has been produced to say whether it is safe for expecting mothers to use. The concentration of chemicals and contaminants in Valerian are unregulated because they are a natural product, and therefore can not be easily determined. For this reason, pregnant women are discouraged from using the supplement.
Are there other herbs that benefit sleep apnea?
Chamomile is commonly used to help treat some of the effects of sleep apnea and is considered a muscle relaxant as well as an antispasmodic. The flowers of the chamomile plant have anti-inflammatory properties and are used to treat muscle inflammation. Airway obstruction causes friction in the throat which results in inflammation of the muscles; chamomile can help curb the effects of throat inflammation. Research suggests that it may help keep the trachea open as well. Tea containing chamomile is often used as to induce sleep.
Tea containing lemon balm is a fact-acting stimulant that promotes relaxation and can help produce a sedative, calm sleep. Lemon balm is an herb with leaves that taste like lemons.
Passionflower is another herb popular for its calming effects and is used to treat sleep disorders. Passionflower increases the level of a chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA controls the level of activity at which some brain cells operate, and higher GABA levels means lower brain activity; this makes relaxation easier.