Essential Oils That Can Help You Sleep Better

If you're dealing with insomnia or other sleep difficulties, essential oils may offer some relief. Extracted from flowers, leaves, and other plant parts, essential oils each have the unique scent of the plant.

Essential oils and herbs on a wooden table
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Scientists have yet to determine how or why aromatherapy might help relieve sleep problems. One theory is that inhaling essential oil molecules (or absorbing them through the skin) may activate brain chemicals involved in controlling sleep.

To date, there is very limited scientific support for aromatherapy's effects on sleep. Preliminary research, however, shows that certain essential oils may help promote relaxation and, in turn, encourage sounder sleep.

This article discusses which essential oils may help with sleep, which essential oils to avoid, and how to use them safely.

Lavender

The most frequently used essential oil for sleep, lavender essential oil (Lavandula angustifolia) may have some benefit in easing sleep problems.

For example, a study of 159 women who recently gave birth found that eight weeks of treatment with lavender aromatherapy helped improve sleep quality.

The participants put four drops of 10% lavender oil (combined with sesame oil) on a cotton ball. The cotton ball was then placed in a container. They took 10 deep breaths (from 20 centimeters away from the container) and placed the container beside their pillow until morning. The procedure was done four nights a week for eight weeks.

In another study, people with heart disease in an intensive care unit were given 2% lavender oil as aromatherapy for 15 days. The use of lavender oil aromatherapy improved sleep quality and reduced anxiety.

Cedarwood

Cedrol, a component in cedarwood essential oil, has been found in preliminary studies to produce a sedative effect.

In a study involving older adults with dementia, essential oils were placed on towels around participants' pillows every night for 20 days. The essential oils included Japanese cypress, Virginian cedarwood, cypress, and pine oil. Total sleep time was longer in those using the essential oils, with less early morning awakening.

Bergamot

In a 2016 study, researchers examined the use of various essential oils, including a blend containing bergamot and sandalwood. The oils were used in a personal aromatherapy device to improve sleep.

Researchers gave 65 participants the devices. Afterward, they found that 94% used them to help with sleep and 92% said that they would continue using them. Of those who used the device, 64% reported an improvement in sleep quality.

Essential Oils to Avoid for Sleep

Some essential oils have been found to increase alertness:

  • Petitgrain essential oil increased alertness and attentiveness in a study on work performance and stress.
  • Rosemary had a stimulating effect in a study looking at its impact on the body. This included increased blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate.
  • Sandalwood oil inhalation was found to raise pulse and blood pressure.

Side Effects and Safety

Some people experience an allergic reaction to essential oils. Testing is recommended before using any new oil. You can do that by applying a few drops of diluted oil to the skin on your inner arm, covering it with a bandage, and checking for skin irritation over the next 48 hours.

Since essential oils are extremely potent or concentrated, you should always take caution when using aromatherapy. To start, make sure to blend your essential oil with a carrier oil before applying it to your skin. Some commonly used carrier oils include jojoba and sweet almond oil. The essential oil should never be applied directly to the skin or used in excessive amounts.

Furthermore, essential oils should never be taken internally without the supervision of a health professional. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, be sure to speak with your healthcare provider before using essential oils.

Talk to your healthcare provider if you have difficulty sleeping or if you're considering the use of aromatherapy in the treatment of a sleep disorder.

How to Use Essential Oils for Sleep

There are many ways to use essential oils:

  • Massage your neck, shoulders, and any other areas with a relaxing essential oil blend.
  • Shake a drop of a sleep-promoting essential oil onto a cotton pad and place it by your pillow in the evening for an hour.
  • Unwind with an essential-oil-enhanced bath before bedtime.

Summary

Some studies show that essential oils such as lavender, cedarwood, and bergamot can help improve sleep. Be careful when using essential oils for aromatherapy since they can be very potent. Always dilute the essential oil in a carrier oil before using it on the skin. Check with your doctor if you're having sleep issues or questions about how to use aromatherapy.

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