Which Essential Oils Can Help You Sleep Better?

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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.

While scientists have yet to determine how or why aromatherapy might help alleviate sleep problems, it's thought that inhaling essential oil molecules (or absorbing essential oils 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. Here's a look at essential oils that are commonly used for sleep:

Lavender

The most frequently used essential oil for sleep, lavender essential oil (Lavandula angustifolia) may be of some benefit when it comes to easing sleep problems. For instance, a 2015 study of 159 postpartum women found that eight weeks of treatment with lavender aromatherapy helped improved sleep quality (compared to a placebo).

The participants using lavender oil dropped four drops of 10 percent lavender oil (combined with sesame oil) onto a cotton ball which was then placed on a cylindrical container. They took 10 deep breaths (from 20 centimeters away from the container) and then placed the container beside their pillow until morning.

The procedure was done four nights a week for eight weeks. The other group followed the same procedure but used just the sesame oil.

In a study published in Nursing in Critical Care in 2017, 60 people with heart disease who were in an intensive care unit were given 2 percent lavender oil (for inhalation) or no treatment 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. For instance, a study involving 178 women found that the miosis rate (a pupil diameter measurement used to reflect nervous system activity) increased after cedrol inhalation, suggesting that cedrol has a sedative effect.

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

Bergamot

For a study published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice in 2016, researchers examined the use of essential oils (including a blend containing bergamot and sandalwood) in a personal aromatherapy device to improve sleep. After giving 65 participants the devices, the researchers found that 94 percent used them to help with sleep and 92 percent said that they would continue using them. Of those who used the device, 64 percent reported an improvement in sleep quality.

Essential Oils to Avoid for Sleep

Some essential oils have been found to increase alertness, such as:

  • Vetiver was found to increase total waking time and reduce slow wave sleep time, according to a preliminary animal study.
  • Petitgrain essential oil increased alertness and attentiveness in a study on work performance and stress.
  • Sage essential oil was found to increase alertness, according to a study on cognitive function.
  • Sandalwood oil inhalation was found to elevate 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.

Since essential oils are extremely potent, you should always take caution when using aromatherapy. To start, make sure to blend your essential oil with a carrier oil (such as jojoba or sweet almond oil) before applying it to the skin. It 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 doctor before using essential oils.

Learn more about using essential oils safely, and talk to your doctor if 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. One approach is to massage your neck, shoulders, and any other areas with a relaxing essential oil blend.

You could also 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, or unwind with an essential-oil-enhanced bath before bedtime.

Sources:

Dyer J, Cleary L, McNeill S, Ragsdale-Lowe M, Osland C. The use of aromasticks to help with sleep problems: A patient experience survey. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2016 Feb;22:51-8.

Karadag E, Samancioglu S, Ozden D, Bakir E. Effects of aromatherapy on sleep quality and anxiety of patients. Nurs Crit Care. 2017 Mar;22(2):105-112.

Keshavarz Afshar M, Behboodi Moghadam Z, Taghizadeh Z, Bekhradi R, Montazeri A, Mokhtari P. Lavender fragrance essential oil and the quality of sleep in postpartum women. Iran Red Crescent Med J. 2015 Apr 25;17(4):e25880.

Takeda A, Watanuki E, Koyama S. Effects of Inhalation Aromatherapy on Symptoms of Sleep Disturbance in the Elderly with Dementia. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2017;2017:1902807.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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