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June 2010


Treating primary insomnia

The efficacy of valerian and hops

Volume 39, No.6, June 2010 Pages 433-437

Shanah Salter

Sonya Brownie


To evaluate the efficacy of valerian and hops in the treatment of primary insomnia.


The AMED and MEDLINE databases were searched for primary sources of literature published between 1950 and 2009, using keywords: herbal medicine, medicinal plants, herbal, Valeriana officinalis, valerian, Humulus lupulus, hops, sleep, insomnia.

Studies were included if they evaluated the efficacy of valerian or hops in improving primary insomnia in adults: sixteen studies met the inclusion criteria. Twelve of these found that the use of valerian, on its own, or in combination with hops, is associated with improvements in some sleep parameters (eg. sleep latency and quality of sleep). However, these results need to be interpreted cautiously as there were significant differences in design between the studies.


Further randomised, double blind, placebo controlled trials are needed before such herbal treatments can be confidently recommended for the treatment of primary insomnia.

Sleep disorders are common in the general population and may be associated with considerable economic costs as well as psychological and social disruption, and reduced wellbeing.1–4 The conventional definition of a sleep disorder and the one this article will adopt, is any disturbance of a person's normal pattern of sleep that affects their ability to function.5 Primary insomnia is the most common of the sleep disorders;5 it may be acute or chronic6 and is characterised by difficulty falling or staying, asleep; nocturnal awakenings; early morning awakenings; nonrefreshing sleep; or a combination of these symptoms.7 It is more prevalent in females and in older people.7 For the purpose of this review, a sleep disorder will include any subjective complaint of sleep due to primary insomnia, as defined above.

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