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More than one-third of American adults don’t receive the recommended seven or more hours of sleep each night. With the essential oils market growing rapidly in the U.S. and worldwide, many people have learned about essential oils and are eager to find out if they are truly helpful when you can’t sleep.
Essential oils are oils derived from plants, usually by crushing and steam distilling parts of the plant. A variety of essential oils have been used as medical treatments since ancient times. Aromatherapy involves inhaling essential oil scents or vapor in hopes of obtaining positive health effects. Research demonstrates that because smell affects sleep, incorporating certain essential oils into your bedtime routine may help people sleep better.
Learn about the best essential oils for sleep to determine which ones you want to bring into your bedroom environment.
Lavender, a purple flowering shrub, seems to be the plant with the essential oil that is most commonly studied by scientists. This essential oil calms the nervous system, primarily due to the chemical compounds linalool and linalyl acetate found within it. Many studies demonstrate lavender’s positive effect on sleep in a variety of people:
Lavender can be put on a pillow to be inhaled during the night or combined with other oils and used for massage, as it is easily absorbed by the skin. Combining lavender aromatherapy with sleep hygiene techniques improves sleep more than lavender alone.
Bergamot is a fragrant herb native to North America, often grown to attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies. Research suggests bergamot may help with a variety of ailments. Sometimes, bergamot is ingested in extract form or as a juice. Bergamot essential oil may also be inhaled or diffused throughout a room.
When bergamot essential oil is experienced as aromatherapy, it may lower blood pressure and improve mental health. These calming properties might be why bergamot is thought to improve sleep. However, many sleep studies involving bergamot use essential oil mixtures rather than bergamot oil alone, making it difficult to determine the precise effects bergamot essential oil has on sleep.
One such study of healthy women found that a mixture of bergamot and sandalwood essential oils improved sleep quality in 64% of study participants. Another study of people in cardiac rehabilitation found that sleep quality significantly increased after exposure to an aromatherapy mixture of bergamot, lavender, and ylang-ylang.
There are two types of chamomile plants: Roman and German. These plant varieties are similar, although they have different combinations of active ingredients and, as a result, potentially different effects. Roman chamomile essential oil is more known for reducing anxiety, while German chamomile is known for relieving pain. If a person experiences anxiety or pain that interferes with sleep, reducing those symptoms could in turn improve sleep.
The effect drinking chamomile tea has on sleep is more commonly studied, but people do engage in chamomile aromatherapy for sleep as well. Roman chamomile, lavender, and neroli is an essential oil blend for sleep that has been scientifically studied. This blend reduced anxiety and improved sleep quality in a study of patients staying in an intensive care unit.
If you would like to reduce anxiety as part of your sleep hygiene routine, chamomile is considered to be one of the best essential oils for sleep and anxiety. In one study, inhaling a mixture of chamomile and lavender essential oils reduced anxiety in nurses. There was an even greater reduction when aromatherapy was paired with music. In another study, Roman chamomile aromatherapy reduced anxiety in pregnant women.
The sedative effects of cedrol have been studied in both animals and humans. Inhaling an essential oil mixture that contains cedrol has been demonstrated to improve sleep quality in both young, healthy adults and older adults with dementia, likely because it activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Researchers recommend using cedarwood oil for at least 20 nights to see effects. Cedarwood oil, along with other essential oils, may increase total sleep time and reduce early morning awakenings.
Cedarwood oil appears to be versatile, improving sleep in a variety of different types of people. One study focused on women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s living in Japan, Norway, and Thailand. Cedrol had a sedative effect across groups, even though women in different countries had different baseline levels of anxiety and average sleep times.
Native to southern Europe, clary sage is an herb. Although it isn’t the same plant as the popular dried herb sage, it is often used similarly for flavoring foods. Some people may also use clary sage essential oil for its sleep-promoting properties. Studies show that clary sage oil has an antidepressant effect and reduces cortisol levels. Since cortisol impacts circadian rhythms and appears to be tied to alertness, reducing cortisol may promote sleep.
Clary sage may also improve sleep by reducing anxiety. In one study, clary sage oil inhalation appeared to reduce stress in medical patients by lowering their blood pressure and respiratory rate. If anxiety interferes with your ability to sleep and you enjoy the smell of herbs, clary sage oil might be a good option for you.