Essential oils are one of the safest and gentlest ways to naturally enhance your sleep. They provide a calming effect on the nervous system to help you feel relaxed. Aromatherapy or the practice of using essential oils is even being incorporated into hospital programs to help treat patients with insomnia, pain, nausea, and anxiety (1).
Although most essential oils are inhaled, research shows that some can penetrate through the skin to the bloodstream when applied topically. Once in the blood, essential oils have a medicinal effect similar to prescription medicines but without the unwanted side effects. Here’s how to pick the best essential oil for sleep.
Using essential oils to treat illnesses dates back thousands of years. It was the first form of medicine for many cultures. Since then, pharmaceutical drugs have taken over the majority of the world as the primary form of treatment for many diseases. But many people with health ailments are turning back the clock and using essential oils to naturally treat their symptoms.
Essential oils are made up of volatile oils or the fragrant part of a plant. They contain unique cells located under the peel, bark, leaves or stems of many plants that become fragrant when they are crushed and released into the air. Essential oils are created when these essences are extracted from the plant using natural methods that do not harm their medicinal benefits. They can be distilled with steam or mechanically pressed. The extraction process must be done carefully to prevent damaging the oil. When these oils are made with chemicals, they are not considered to be pure essential oils (2).
Each essential oil contains a special blend of active ingredients or compounds within the plant that dictates how it should be used. For example, some essential oils have antibacterial and antifungal properties that can be used to treat infections while others have a calming effect on the mind. Research shows that some essential oils can help boost the immune system and others can help with digestion (3).
If you’ve ever missed a night of sleep, you have undoubtedly felt it the next day. Deep sleep is a restorative form of sleep you can’t afford to miss out on. It helps you recover from the day, restore critical cognitive functions, detox brain cells, and improve your memory. It’s also the sleep stage responsible for boosting your immune system. Lack of sleep has been associated with many chronic diseases, including depression, anxiety, and even heart disease. According to ten studies, lack of sleep also increases your risk of type two diabetes (19).
Research shows that missing even one night of sleep can affect your health. You become less alert and more prone to accidents. The longer you stay awake, the more your body will try to force you into a deep sleep. Microsleeps occur as a result of not getting enough rest at night. They are characterized by brief periods of sleep in which the person’s eyes might be open, but their brain isn’t processing any information. Imagine how dangerous it is to drive during this condition!
Many people turn to prescription sleep aids to help them sleep at night, but they may include some potentially dangerous side effects. Essential oils are safe when used as instructed and have been shown to help people with mild sleep problems. According to a 2014 study, people who inhaled essential oils improved their mild sleep disturbances. There were also no reported side effects from the oils used (4).
Lavender essential oil is the most commonly used essential oil for sleep due to its proven relaxing effect on the mind. According to a 2012 study, lavender essential oil calms the nervous system to allow for better sleep. Results showed that lavender oil helps reduce heart rate, blood pressure, and skin temperature. Test subjects reported feeling more relaxed and refreshed than subjects who inhaled a base oil (6).
Lavender works by stimulating brain waves that are responsible for memories and emotional response. Research shows that lavender oil improves mild insomnia and helps promote a better quality of sleep (7). It reduces anxious and depressive symptoms in women with postpartum depression (8) and may even help you ease the stress associated with going to the doctor. According to a 2013 study, lavender essential oil reduced anxiety related to visiting medical settings, such as the intensive care unit, the dentist's office and surgery facilities (7).
A 2016 Japanese study found that inhaling yuzu essential oil can help lower stress levels and heart rate in just 10 minutes. The effects last up to 30 minutes. Yuzu is a yellow citrus fruit that looks like a lemon (9). Bergamot essential oil can also be used to relieve anxiety and stress. A 2015 study found that five out of six clinical trials showed that bergamot essential oil reduced heart rate, stress, and blood pressure (10). Bergamot has also been shown to reduce chronic pain, which is especially useful if sore muscles or joints keep you awake at night (11).
Many essential oils can help you sleep by promoting relaxation and helping you calm down at night. Research shows that ylang ylang essential oil helps decrease blood pressure and can help you relax by calming the nervous system (12). Clary sage essential oil provides antidepressant effects that have been shown to reduce anxiety associated with going to the dentist (13) (14). Lastly, Jasmine has a sweet scent that provides a calming effect on the nervous system (15), and cedarwood has a sedative effect when inhaled (18).
Valerian root has proven sedative and calming properties, but many people don’t use it as an essential oil because of its offensive odor. According to a 2015 study, valerian root improves sleep quality without producing any negative side effects (20).
Although lavender essential oil is the most researched essential oil for sleep, the best option for you is the one that you like best and one that works well for you. Each essential oil has a distinct scent that may provoke different sensations in you than it does someone else. While your loved one might have success with lavender oil, you might find eucalyptus to be more calming. Finding one that helps you feel most relaxed is best even if it isn’t commonly used as a sleep aid.
There are many ways to use essential oils for sleep. Inhaling them is one of the easiest methods. It can be done just about anywhere when you need to calm down quickly. Carry a small bottle of essential oil in your purse or leave one on your desk at work. When you feel stressed, take it out and give it a quick sniff.
Diffusing essential oils in your home is a good way to turn your house into a sleep sanctuary. You can invest in an essential oil diffuser at any home goods store and use it in your bedroom. Diffusers are designed primarily for diffusing essential oils. Avoid using a vaporizer as this may harm your filter and ruin it for future use. Follow the directions on your diffuser. Most of them will ask you to add water to a basin and then include the essential oil of your choice. Plug it in and turn it on before you go to bed. If your diffuser doesn’t have a timer, avoid falling asleep while it’s on or you may burn it up.
If you don’t have a diffuser, you can use the steam from boiling water to saturate your home. Start by boiling a large pot of water on the stove and add a few drops of your favorite essential oil. You may need to add more essential oil as the water gets low. Although this method of diffusing essential oils doesn’t work as well as a diffuser, it can be used when you’re in a pinch. While diffusers can be left unattended, steaming a pot of water requires constant attention and shouldn’t be used if you plan to go to sleep. The scent of the essential oil also doesn’t tend to travel around your home as well as it would in a diffuser.
Some essential oils are transdermal, which means they can penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream. One study found that topical application of lavender essential oil may be able to get into the bloodstream within five minutes after massaging it into the skin. Applying lavender oil topically and inhaling it at the same time can help enhance its effects (16). If you decide to use essential oils topically, make sure you dilute it with water or a carrier oil to avoid skin irritation.
Choose the essential oil that’s most appealing to you. If you can’t find a mix you like, try making your own at home by blending two or more essential oils with a carrier oil. Try the following blends to help reduce stress before bed:
Add a few drops of each essential oil into a bowl. Dilute with water or a carrier oil and dab behind the ears before bed. Carrier oils are usually vegetable based. They are used to dilute the powerful effects of the oil, so they don’t irritate your skin. Commonly used carrier oils include grapeseed, olive, coconut and jojoba oils. Your skin may be just fine without oil. Experiment with a blend that works for you. Avoid ingesting essential oils or using them near your eyes.
The best essential oil for sleep might be different for you than it is for someone else. If you’re new to essential oils, start with a proven scent such as lavender. You can apply it topically or inhale it whenever you feel stressed. Incorporating essential oils into your nighttime routine can help you sleep better. Use a few drops in a hot bath or diffuse essential oils in the air while getting ready for bed.