Disclaimer: This article was crafted with the support of AI technology, followed by human editing for quality assurance.
Getting a good night’s sleep and reducing anxiety can be achieved by natural means, including using herbal sleep aids. Some of the most popular ones are Valerian Root and Kava Kava. Both have been traditionally used for reducing stress and promoting calm sleep.
Between the two though, which is better?
While Kava Kava is seen as more effective than Valerian Root at promoting sleep and reducing anxiety, it comes with a higher risk of side effects because of its interaction with medications and harsh effect on the liver. Taking Kava Kava works well for occasional relief from stress and insomnia. Provided you buy it from a reputable brand that uses roots, NOT leaves or stems which are toxic. In the overall context of benefits-to-risk ratio, Valerian Root is the clear winner.
About Valerian Root and Its Benefits
Valerian root is derived from the Valeriana officinalis plant. It’s one of the more popular folk remedies for sedation and sleep enhancement. As it turns out, there is some scientific merit to those claims.
Valerian contains compounds such as valerenic acid and valepotriates that promote anxiolytic and sedative effects in your brain.  The way Valerian root’s compounds do this is by increasing levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in your brain.  GABA is a neurotransmitter that calms your mind, helps regulate anxiety, and promotes relaxation.
Quite a few studies have looked into potential sleep-enhancing effects of Valerian root. A meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Medicine revealed that Valerian root can indeed improve sleep quality and reduce sleep onset (the time it takes for us to fall asleep) more reliably than a placebo, and without side effects.
What About Kava Kava?
Derived from the Piper methysticum plant, Kava has traditionally been used by cultures in Pacific islands for sleep problems and nervousness. The active ingredients in Kava are kavalactones, which, much like Valerian Root, are shown to affect GABA receptors in our brain, leading to relaxation and calming effects. However, Kava Kava seems to be more potent in doing so.
Sadly, as beneficial as Kava can be, it’s been associated with liver toxicity in rare cases. Its long-term safety is a topic of debate. Some evidence suggests that certain Kava Kava brands save money by using the leaves or other parts of the Kava plant (not the root). Interestingly, it’s Kava’s leaves and stems that are shown to harm the liver. [3, 4]
Provided you buy it from a reputable brand, we believe Kava Kava is better for occasional use, for those nights when you really need to ensure good sleep, or when you are feeling particularly anxious.
Comparison and Which is Better: Valerian Root or Kava?
Put simply, Kava is the better option if you just plan on using it occasionally. Its effectiveness at reducing anxiety symptoms is shown to rival that of some pharmaceutical drugs.
However, Valerian has a more concrete scientific backing for being healthy for daily use. It might not be as potent but you can take it daily without any major side effects. The same can’t be said for Kava Kava.
It’s best to check with your physician if you have a condition like a fatty liver or high liver enzymes, or are taking a lot of medications, before taking Kava Kava.
Valerian Root and Kava Kava are both shown to be effective (in varying degrees and depending on the person) at improving sleep and reducing stress. Between the two though, we prefer Valerian because research shows it’s safer for long-term use. Kava Kava, while effective for occasional use, is not our favorite.
If you’re going to opt for Kava Kava, make sure you buy from a reputable brand that supplies Kava root, not leaves or other parts of the plant which are shown to be the main reason for Kava’s liver toxicity. Its roots are generally seen as healthier and safer.
- Tammadon MR, Nobahar M, Hydarinia-Naieni Z, Ebrahimian A, Ghorbani R, Vafaei AA. The Effects of Valerian on Sleep Quality, Depression, and State Anxiety in Hemodialysis Patients: A Randomized, Double-blind, Crossover Clinical Trial. Oman Med J. 2021 Mar 31;36(2):e255. doi: 10.5001/omj.2021.56. PMID: 33936782; PMCID: PMC8077445.
- Yuan CS, Mehendale S, Xiao Y, Aung HH, Xie JT, Ang-Lee MK. The gamma-aminobutyric acidergic effects of valerian and valerenic acid on rat brainstem neuronal activity. Anesth Analg. 2004 Feb;98(2):353-358. doi: 10.1213/01.ANE.0000096189.70405.A5. PMID: 14742369.
- Teschke R. Kava hepatotoxicity–a clinical review. Ann Hepatol. 2010 Jul-Sep;9(3):251-65. PMID: 20720265.
- Teschke R, Sarris J, Schweitzer I. Kava hepatotoxicity in traditional and modern use: the presumed Pacific kava paradox hypothesis revisited. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2012 Feb;73(2):170-4. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2125.2011.04070.x. PMID: 21801196; PMCID: PMC3269575.