15 Essential Oils for Sleep: Backed by Science

Posted by Dr. Ian Stern on

Dr. Ian Stern Dr. Ian Stern Dr. Ian Stern

What if you could extract the beautiful aroma and the very essence of any plant and capture it in a bottle? Furthermore, what if the medicinal properties and benefits of the plant were also preserved in every drop of this powerful potion? Sounds like magic, doesn’t it?

However, these powerful gifts from nature captured in a bottle exist and are gaining popularity every day. They are called essential oils, and they have been used in ayurvedic and folk medicine since ancient times.

Essential oils and plant extracts, which originated in Ancient Egypt, India, and China, and were absorbed by the Ancient Greeks. Hippocrates used them in his holistic teachings and a great physician during the Renaissance, Paracelsus, used them to cure leprosy.

Since then not only have essential oils gained popularity, but their benefits have been backed by science and proven by numerous studies. Nowadays essential oils are widely available and mostly affordable. 



In aromatherapy, essential oils are typically inhaled or diluted and applied topically. Both of these methods allow the body to absorb the therapeutic components of essential oils through the bloodstream.

When inhaled through the nose, tiny nerves send immediate signals to the brain and immediately affect the systems that moderate our minds and bodies. When applied topically, they enter the bloodstream through the pores and hair follicles.

In this article we’ll explore the various essential oils that can help us relax and sleep better. In today’s often stressful world, many suffer from insomnia and various sleep disorders, as well as the often accompanying anxiety and depression. Essential oils can help with all of these and more. A body of research shows that essential oils can provide relief for disrupted sleep and improve sleep quality in adults.


Essential Oils for Insomnia and Relaxation

Essential oils can help you by triggering and strengthening your body’s natural processes. Certain oils with calming, euphoric scents prompt the brain to release neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, endorphins, and noradrenalin, which promote a sense of well-being, relaxation, and better sleep.

1. Lavender

Lavender oil has been used for centuries for its sedative effects. Since ancient times it has been used in folk medicine in herbal pillows, applied topically, and through inhalation. Numerous studies confirm the use of lavender oil to help calm the nervous system and provide relaxation.

Lavender oil can be applied directly to the temples or pressure points. A relaxing massage with lavender oil before bed can be extremely effective. Unlike some other oils, it does not need to be diluted. You may also add about 10 drops to your nighttime bath or use it in a diffuser to spread the pleasant aroma in your bedroom. 


2. Vetiver

Vetiver oil is known as “the oil of tranquility.” It has a deeply calming, grounding, and soothing aroma. It is derived from the aromatic roots of the Vetiveria Zizanioides. With its numerous health benefits and complex, woody scent, it has been used for centuries in everything from cosmetics, perfumes, as a natural antioxidant, antiseptic, tonic, aphrodisiac, etc. Vetiver is cultivated in tropical regions around the world, and is indigenous to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Malaysia.

Its sedative properties have made it ideal for use in relieving restlessness, nervousness, and irritability. It eases problems of the mind to promote restful sleep, and as a nice bonus, it stimulates the libido. Use it in massages, rub a few drops on your feet as you go to bed, or put a few drops in a diffuser. Vetiver oil also pairs wonderfully with lavender, and its sedative effects are proven in numerous studies. 


3. Roman Chamomile

Chamomile is one of the most ancient medicinal herbs known to mankind. Thousands of years ago it was believed to be a gift from Ra, the Egyptian Sun God. The Anglo-Saxons considered chamomile one of the nine sacred herbs. For centuries chamomile preparations have been used for everything from gastrointestinal disorders, hay fever, menstrual cramps, as well as insomnia. Chamomile is widely regarded as a mild tranquillizer and sleep-inducer.

Studies showed that chamomile extracts exhibit a somewhat hypnotic activity. A 2006 study showed that the aromatherapy benefits of Roman chamomile oil encouraged the release of hormones that helped reduce stress and trigger drowsiness.

There are various ways to use Roman chamomile to help you fall asleep. The most common way is by drinking chamomile tea. You may also place a few drops of Roman chamomile essential oil in your bath, rub it directly on the skin (fist dilute it in a carrier oil, such as grapeseed oil), or use an oil warmer or diffuser to spread the fragrance around your room. 


4. Rose

Poor sleep can also be an indication that you just need to relax and smell the roses. Rose oil is known to calm the nervous system as well as act as a tonic to relieve symptoms of depression. That is, if you don’t become anxious about its cost, since rose oil is one of the more expensive essential oils on the market today. However, it also is incredibly potent, with numerous health benefits.

Rose oil is a powerful aphrodisiac. Cleopatra soaked in aromatic baths of rose petals to entice her lovers. It’s also very relaxing and has been shown to relieve anxiety, stress, and depression in numerous clinical trials. Using rose oil in aromatherapy, massage, and baths may make you feel grounded, balanced, and content, setting the ground for better sleep at night. It also pairs well with lavender, jasmine, and chamomile oils. 


5. Jasmine

This delicate flower with beautiful white petals, which typically open at night or early morning, have an exotic, warm, and sensuous scent that has been sought after for centuries. While rose is considered the queen of essential oils, jasmine is the king. Like rose oil, it can be quite costly as well as a powerful aphrodisiac. However, unlike the rose, which is very feminine, the scent of jasmine is more universal.

Ancient Egyptians used jasmine oil for headaches, nervous disorders, and to promote restful sleep. A 2002 study found that people who sleep with jasmine scents experience a more productive sleep, enabling them to wake up more refreshed and alert than after sleeping the same amount on other nights. A 2010 study found that smelling jasmine oil was just as effective at calming the nerves as a sleeping pill. 

Essential Oils to Ease Stress and Anxiety

Stress and anxiety make it harder to fall asleep. You lie down in bed to get the rest you need for the next day only to have a thousand thoughts racing through your mind. After a while, realizing that you can’t fall asleep, your anxiety increases further as you start to worry about not being able to function the next day. Then you feel more stressed the next day. Sound familiar?

It’s a vicious cycle, since the brain chemicals connected with deep sleep are the same ones that tell your body to stop the production of stress hormones. When you’re exhausted from not sleeping well, your body keeps pumping stress hormones, making it harder to fall asleep again the next night. Luckily, there is plenty you can do to lower stress, and there are several essential oils that can help lower cortisol and reduce anxiety. I’ll list some of these below. 


6. Marjoram

Marjoram is referred to as the herb of love. In folklore it was linked with prophetic dreams, and thought to help people find their perfect love. In both the ancient Greek and Roman societies, the bride and groom wore crowns of marjoram during the wedding ceremony.

It has been used for healing for thousands of years. Dioscorides used it to treat various nervous disorders. Marjoram essential oil has been shown to reduce the stress hormone cortisol and hypertension. It is known as a vasodilator, which helps to relax and widen blood vessels.

To support heart health and reduce stress, use 5-10 drops of marjoram oil in a diffuser or a portable inhaler, or dilute in a carrier oil and use in a relaxing massage. 


7. Ylang-Ylang

Cananga odorata is a plant native to the Philippines and Indonesia, and its flowers are sourced to make the ylang-ylang oil. Several studies confirm that ylang-ylang oil has a relaxing effect, lowers blood pressure and skin temperature, and relieves stress. It has been used to treat anxiety for centuries.

When combined with a carrier oil, such as almond or avocado, ylang-ylang oil can be applied directly to the skin. You may also use it in a diffuser, vaporiser, inhaler, or add a few drops to your relaxing nighttime bath. 


8. Valerian

Valerian is another herb that has been used since ancient times to calm the nerves and promote sleep. Upon first use it may not be the best-smelling essential oil, but some consider it an acquired scent. Regardless, it can be very effective in helping you calm down, unwind, and prepare for sleep.

Valerian root has a deeply calming effect. Rub it on the soles of your feet before bed or diffuse it alone or in combination with clary sage and lavender oils. A warm foot soak with a few drops of this oil can also help you catch those much needed Zzz’s at night. Although further studies are needed, a preliminary study showed that valerian root significantly reduced anxiety.  


9. Neroli

Neroli essential oil is derived from bitter orange trees. It is also known as orange blossom. It has a very pleasant, sensuous aroma that is used often in perfumes. Studies have shown that neroli essential oil may help lower cortisol, a stress hormone, as well as blood pressure.

Its limonene content may also positively impact the autonomic nervous system, which controls breathing and heartbeat. It is often used to reduce stress and anxiety. Place a few drops in a diffuser to spread the beautiful aroma around your bedroom. Add to that a relaxing massage with diluted neroli and lavender oil, and intensify the calming effects even further.


10. Cedarwood

Used in Ancient Egyptian, Tibetan, and Native American communities, the warm and comforting scent of cedarwood has been known to reduce stress and relax the body. It may decrease hyperactivity and increase concentration. For these reasons, traditionally it was used in meditative practices.

When used in aromatherapy before bedtime, studies show that it provides a sedative effect. It may reduce harmful stress and ease tension, which in turn promotes the body’s rest, helps to clear the mind from racing thoughts, and subsequently encourages the onset of quality sleep.


Essential Oils for Snoring

It may seem funny, but snoring can be a serious problem. Not only can snoring keep your partner awake, but it may cause sleep disturbances for the snorer as well. It may also be an indication of sleep apnea, which can pose serious health risks if left untreated.

Snoring occurs when air cannot easily move through your nose or throat. If anything interferes with or alters your breathing, such as allergies or other inflammation or congestion, it results in a restriction of airflow. As your body struggles to breathe while you sleep, a vibration occurs in the surrounding tissues, and this is known as snoring.

Believe it or not, there are other natural solutions to snoring besides a nudge from your annoyed partner. There are several essential oils that can help you breathe more freely, clear up allergens and pollutants from the air, and minimize or, in some cases, even completely resolve the issue.


11. Peppermint

Peppermint has antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties. It often appears in chest rubs to relieve congestion. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, it can also calm tension headaches. And it is used to treat sinusitis. Dilute in a carrier oil and rub a few drops on your chest before bed.

You can also use it in a diffuser. However, since its scent is somewhat invigorating, you may find it helpful to pair with another more relaxing oil, such as lavender, before sleep.   


12. Thyme

In Ancient Greece, thyme essential oil was used to fight infectious diseases. It fights bacterial and viral infections. Thyme also helps alleviate symptoms of asthma and bronchitis. It has strong anti-inflammatory effects. To help with respiratory health and decongestion, steam inhale or diffuse a few drops of thyme oil mixed with pine oil and eucalyptus oil to help with respiratory health and decongestion.

13. Sage

Sage was known as the “sacred herb” by the Romans. In the Middle Ages, it was referred to as “Sage the Savior” for its various medical benefits. It is a great air purifier and decongestant. A 2015 lab study found sage oil to be a natural antimicrobial agent.

Sage can help fight sinusitis, congestion caused by bacteria, or just the common cold. It may also help to improve your circulation. In addition, it is believed to help clear the mind of negative thoughts and ease bad moods. It blends well with lavender, ylang-ylang, lemon, neroli, and vetiver oils.

To help you sleep better at night, diffuse about 15 drops of neroli oil, 5 drops of sage, and 2 drops of ylang-ylang oil. You can also rub some sage essential oil, diluted in a carrier oil, on your feet before bed.


14. Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus has strong anti-inflammatory properties. Research shows it can help break up the mucus in the back of your throat. It can also help alleviate inflamed tissues in the sinuses.

The best way to use it might be the old-fashioned method. Add 10–15 drops of the oil to a bowl of boiling water, place a towel over your head and breathe in the vapors for 5 to 10 minutes. While the steam from the bowl helps thin mucus, the eucalyptus oil acts as a decongestant. A pocket inhaler is also a great option. Add about 15 drops of the oil, hold the inhaler below your nose, and inhale slowly from one nostril at a time, holding the breath for 2 seconds on the inhale. Eucalyptus oil is also great in a diffuser to purify the air of harmful elements.

15. Pine

Pine essential oil is great for the lungs. It is often used to treat asthma. It is thought to open the vessels in the respiratory system. It also has antimicrobial properties. It can alleviate allergies, colds, and respiratory infections. Like peppermint oil, it is somewhat invigorating, so you may want to combine it with another oil such as lemon, marjoram, or eucalyptus. Use in a diffuser or dilute in a carrier oil such as coconut and apply to chest, temples, and feet. 


How to Use Essential Oils for Sleep

There are around five million receptor cells in your nose. They are linked to the limbic system, which governs emotions. In a study at the Sleep Disorders Centre of the University of Heidelberg, men and women who were exposed to the smell of flowers before sleep had more pleasant dreams than those who were exposed to the smell of sulphide or to no smell at all.

Essential oils not only provide a wide range of health benefits, but most of them also smell very nicely. Adding them to your bedtime routine may not only help you sleep better, but also act as a natural air freshener for your home. Quality sleep is extremely important to stay energized, fit, healthy, able to meet the challenges of life head-on, and living a fuller life overall.


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