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our story   ·   04. Sep 2021

meet our first sofi formulation: valerian

sofi 1, sleeplessness 0

The journey of personalised plant-based health at sofi begins with the roots of a plant used widely within ancient medicine; a plant with powerful therapeutic properties related primarily to the easing of tension and anxiety, and the promotion of sleep. 

Named after the word ‘valere’ —  the Latin verb meaning, ‘to be well’ — Valerian features some 150 plant compounds thought to specifically target the molecular mechanisms involved in the development of sleeplessness and insomnia and has been extensively studied for both its benefits and safety with regular use. 

For this reason, the Valerian plant is our pilot: the first plant formulation we have chosen to activate on our sofi system and the remedy we’re launching with our Pioneers - both for better sleep and for better calm!

With over 200 different species of Valerian, each with varying levels of compounds involved in the regulation of receptors related to sleep, it’s our number one aim to identify the particular compounds that work best for you — and that’s ‘you’ in the individual sense, not just the general one. 

Valerian has significant safety data, including European monographs for safety and efficacy data, with few reported side effects (1). Our objective with this program is to identify which variant of our valerian formulations is acceptable for the broadest group of users over the longest period and to journal feedback from our pioneers on their journeys.

In order for sofi to get this far, however, there’s a lot of research we initially had to analyze and exhaustively explore (no pun intended).

And because a range of different receptors have been identified as chemical modulators of the mechanisms required for the improvement of both sleep and anxiety, we were careful not to overlook a single thing. 

Here’s what we know…

valerian for sleep and better calm

There are two key pathways implicated within the research on Valerian that explain its support as a potential phytotherapy for sleeplessness and/or anxiety. Namely, those are GABA and 5-HT (the chemical name for the neurotransmitter, serotonin). 

The GABA neurotransmitter is the major inhibitory molecule of the Central Nervous System (CNS) and plays an essential role in maintaining the balance between neuronal excitation and inhibition (2).

What this means is that agonists to the GABAa receptor — aka any chemical that binds and activates the receptor in order to produce a biological response — have the ability to decrease excited neurons in the brain, and trigger the sedative effects associated with sleep, reducing the experience of stress, anxiety, and fear as a result. 

In other words, plants with properties found to activate these GABAa receptors have the potential to support and even replace synthetic over the counter sleep medicines such as barbiturates and benzodiazepines (3).

Valerian is one of these plants, providing a herbal hypnotic and natural remedy for insomnia and those suffering from anxiety-induced insomnia, in particular. As a medicinal plant, Valerian modulates GABAA receptors, with valerian acid one of its active compounds (4). 

Evidence suggests that the type of extraction from the valerian plant directly affects the activity level on both GABA-synthesizing and GABA-metabolizing enzymes, resulting in potentially different sleep outcomes (5). At sofi, we are using chromatography to fingerprint each specific batch of valerian extract and document the concentration of active compounds.

The role of the neurotransmitter, 5-HT, has also been investigated as it relates to the development of sleep disorders, and thus holds the potential to inform treatments for both acute and chronic insomnia.

The effects of 5-HT, as well as chemical antagonists to 5-HT receptors, have been found to range from a reduction in the latency and onset of anxiety, to an increase in the duration of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, in some cases (6).

Consequently, research supports the relationship between plant compounds that actively target 5-HT pathways and a regulation of the mechanisms used to combat insomnia, and mitigate the experience of stress (7).

Studies that assess the therapeutic benefits of using Valerian extract for treating individuals suffering from sleeplessness have found promising results. One randomised clinical trial involving the repeated short-term use of the plant saw a significant decrease in the amount of time it took for participants to fall asleep (referred to as sleep latency), in addition to better sleep maintenance overall and an improved subjective experience of sleep (8).

In this sense, not only did participants sleep more easily and consistently according to their brain activity, but they also felt better about their sleep and experienced reduced anxiety throughout the day, too. 

At sofi, this is our main priority. We believe that plants are the oldest technology in human health and can play a much more significant role in our well-being than they currently do.

With the arrival of our first sofi formulation, and the launch of our Pioneer Program, we’ll be combining your individual feedback on our plant-pods, with digitally-recorded data on the active compounds and ratios that work best for you. 

Take a deeper dive into the brain-science of sleeplessness and chronic insomnia by visiting our article on the subject here, and click here to learn more about sofi subscriptions, and begin making unique discoveries with plants at the level of N-of-1.


  1. Shi Y, Dong JW, Zhao JH, Tang LN, Zhang JJ. Herbal Insomnia Medications that Target GABAergic Systems: A Review of the Psychopharmacological Evidence. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2014 May;12(3):289–302.
  2. Cho SM, Shimizu M, Lee CJ, Han DS, Jung CK, Jo JH, Kim YM. Hypnotic effects and binding studies for GABA(A) and 5-HT(2C) receptors of traditional medicinal plants used in Asia for insomnia. J Ethnopharmacol. 2010 Oct 28;132(1):225–32.
  3. Hu, Z., Oh, S., Ha, T. W., Hong, J. T., & Oh, K. W. (2018). Sleep-Aids Derived from Natural Products. Biomolecules & therapeutics26(4), 343–349.
  4. Felgentreff F, Becker A, Meier B, Brattström A. Valerian extract characterized by high valerenic acid and low acetoxy valerenic acid contents demonstrates anxiolytic activity. Phytomedicine. 2012 Oct 15;19(13):1216–22.
  5. Leach MJ, Page AT. Herbal medicine for insomnia: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sleep Med Rev. 2015 Dec;24:1–12.
  6. Hu, Z., Oh, S., Ha, T. W., Hong, J. T., & Oh, K. W. (2018). Sleep-Aids Derived from Natural Products. Biomolecules & therapeutics26(4), 343–349.
  7. Sarris J, Panossian A, Schweitzer I, Stough C, Scholey A. Herbal medicine for depression, anxiety and insomnia: a review of psychopharmacology and clinical evidence. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2011 Dec;21(12):841–60.
  8. Morin AK, Jarvis CI, Lynch AM. Therapeutic options for sleep-maintenance and sleep-onset insomnia. Pharmacotherapy. 2007 Jan;27(1):89-110.

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