Although sleep was once a perplexing phenomenon, we now understand that the benefits of adequate rest are undeniable. Sleep is essential for maintaining our immune systems, cognitive function, and repairing our bodies from everyday wear and tear.

In fact, inadequate sleep over the long term can significantly increase your risk for unwanted chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes. That said, an estimated 40% of Americans are not consistently getting the recommended minimum of 7 hours of sleep each night.

In fact, in our increasingly stimulating environment, it can be difficult to wind down due to factors like stress and exposure to TV or cell phone screens before bed. Sufferers of insomnia or poor sleep quality may have come across essential oils for their promise of improving sleep.

However, it is often difficult to know what types of essential oils will be most effective.  In this article, various essential oils for sleep are reviewed. The effectiveness of essential oils in combination with other lifestyle factors that affect sleep is also considered.

Product FAQ

Before we delve into the best essential oils for sleep, we will address some common questions and concerns that arise on the topic.

1. What Are Essential Oils?

For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, you are likely to have come across essential oils in various products you have used without realizing it. Essential oils are a concentrated liquid derived from various plant products including herbs, flowers, and leaves.

essential oils

For centuries, essential oils have been regarded as having medicinal or healing properties. They have deep roots in ancient eastern cultures and Ayurvedic medicine. At the very least, essential oils have a pleasant scent for those who use them.

2. What Do Essential Oils Do?

As you begin researching the use of essential oils for sleep, you may be surprised by the wide variety of recommended uses. Proponents may recommend using essential oils for sleep or relaxation, wound healing, skin improvement, migraine relief, antibiotic and anti-fungal purposes, and healing of various other ailments.

healing oil applied

Typically, the action of the essential oil will depend on how it is administered. Ongoing scientific research must be conducted and evaluated to help us fully understand the safety and efficacy of essential oils.

3. How Do Essential Oils Work?

Essential oils act primarily through the sense of smell, which is closely tied to emotions and memory. Many people have experienced a time when a familiar smell, your grandmother’s famous peach cobbler, for example – evoked a strong and emotional memory. This response to smells occurs because our olfactory nerve (the part of our nervous system that response to smells) runs directly to the amygdala, the memory and emotional center of our brain.

oils and herbs blended

This process is unique to the sense of smell, as all other senses (touch, sound, taste, sight) run first through the thalamus of the brain and bypass the amygdala.

4. Where Can You Buy Them?

Essential oils were previously only found at pharmacies or local holistic or health food stores. However, as essential oils have become more common, you can likely find them in national retailers including grocery stores.

man outside the shop

Essential oils are also widely available on the internet. If possible, avoid brands labeled “fragrance oil” or “perfume oil” as these may show they were made using synthetic ingredients, do not carry the same health benefits, and may cause an adverse reaction. Searching for labels like “organic” and “non-GMO” may further indicate a better-quality product. Keep in mind that the ingredients and purity of essential oils are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

5. How Should They Be Used?

Essential oils are versatile and can be administered in a variety of different ways. Users should experiment to help determine which method of use is most beneficial to them individually. Consider the following:

  • Combine a few drops of essential oils with water into a diffuser
  • Rub into affected areas – joints, temples, chest, or anywhere else you need relief
  • Put a small amount in your hands or on your wrists to inhale the scent throughout the day
  • Use in a hot bath along with baking soda or Epsom salt
  • Dilute a few drops in a spray bottle with water for use as an air or fabric deodorizer
  • Avoid directly ingesting essential oils unless first discussed with a trusted healthcare provider

Keep in mind that when applying essential oils topically, it is important to first determine whether the specific oil you are considering is safe for your skin. Essential oils should not be applied directly to the skin. Rather, they should be diluted in coconut oil, shea butter, jojoba oil, or a similar medium.

If you are unsure, try a patch test first. This involves applying a minimal amount to a small area of the skin and waiting to ensure no negative reaction occurs. Keep an eye out for any ingredients you have a known allergy to as these will need to be avoided.

How We Reviewed

We compared 10 different essential oils for sleep based on factors such as proposed benefits, availability, and quality of scientific evidence, cost, and evaluation of potential side effects.

10 Essential Oils for Sleep

  • Lavender
  • Frankincense
  • Roman Chamomile
  • Vetiver
  • Jasmine
  • Vanilla
  • Sandalwood
  • Marjoram
  • Bergamot
  • Cedarwood
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Lavender is often one of the first options to come to mind when exploring essential oils for sleep and has shown some promising outcomes in scientific studies. Additionally, lavender has a lovely floral scent that may be responsible for evoking peace and calm.

PROS

  • One of the most heavily researched oils regarding its effect on sleep
  • Can be safely applied to skin
  • Commonly reported to improve quality of sleep while increasing alertness into the next day
  • One study showed a reduction in blood pressure following lavender inhalation

CONS

  • Should not be consumed internally without first consulting a doctor

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The widely popular frankincense essential oil comes from the olibanum tree. The oil is revered for its promise of powerful healing properties and is also one of the commonly used essentials oil for sleep.

PROS

  • May help eliminate anxiousness and stress – both of which are counterproductive to sleep
  • Frankincense may also help improve breathing – beneficial for sufferers of sleep apnea

CONS

  • Common side effects of frankincense include skin rashes, upset stomach, and acid reflux

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For anyone who has tried a cup of warm chamomile tea before bedtime, the light scent of Roman Chamomile essential oil can have a similar comforting effect.

PROS

  • Reported to evoke feelings of calm and relaxing
  • Blends nicely with lavender, leading to a synergistic effect of two relaxing scents
  • Often used in beauty products for hair and skin
  • May help reduce nightmares

CONS

  • Limited research studies exist to prove its effectiveness

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Vetiver is an unassuming plant indigenous to India, but packs a powerful punch of 100 plus active chemical compounds.

PROS

  • Many claim this oil helps reduce mental chatter to facilitate sleep
  • May help fight insomnia

CONS

  • Scent may not be as pleasant compared to other floral essential oils such as lavender and chamomile
  • May have a stimulant effect on some people, which would be counterproductive for sleep

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Derived from the jasmine flower, the sweet and floral aroma of jasmine essential oil is undeniably pleasant. However, the benefits of jasmine extend beyond the sense of smell and have become a commonly recommended essential oil for sleep.

PROS

  • Considered a natural means to combat depression and anxiety
  • One study found jasmine to be more effective at promoting sleep than the widely accepted lavender essential oil

CONS

  • Research remains inconclusive, as one study found that jasmine essential oil alone may promote arousal, but can be used in combination with lavender essential oils for sleep

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The smell of vanilla essential oil might remind you of your favorite cookie recipe or a bowl of delicious ice cream.  Perhaps these treats are called “comfort foods” for a reason.

PROS

  • Said to have sedative effects on the body
  • May help reduce blood pressure
  • Known for its anti-inflammatory properties

CONS

  • May also affect hormones such as estrogen

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Often described as “woodsy” or “grounding”, sandalwood has been recognized as a therapeutic agent in Eastern medicine for centuries.

PROS

  • Reported to have a sedative effect on the central nervous system
  • May increase duration and quality of sleep

CONS

  • One of the most expensive essential oils on the market

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As a common herb used for cooking, marjoram may also have benefits outside of the kitchen. The herb is said to ease sore muscles and relieve stiff joints. The herb also may help alleviate insomnia and digestive issues. One should be careful not to use too much over time, as some studies have shown the herb may lead to kidney or liver damage. However, if used temporarily in moderation, marjoram can be extremely helpful in relieving sore muscles and joints as well as alleviating insomnia and digestive issues.

PROS

  • Helps ease sore muscles and reduce stiff joints
  • Relieves insomnia caused by pain
  • May alleviate digestive complaints

CONS

  • May lead to kidney or liver damage over time

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Bergamot is a lesser-known citrus fruit although it likely deserves a stronger reputation given its potential health benefits which include reducing heart rate and blood pressure. In doing this, bergamot also reduces feelings of stress and anxiety in many individuals.

PROS

  • Helps reduce heart rate and blood pressure
  • Promotes restfulness
  • May help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety

CONS

  • Photosensitive – if it is applied topically, bergamot can increase your risk for sun damage

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Derived from the cedar tree, cedarwood essential oils have many proposed benefits including anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Many people report a positive effect on mood following the use of this oil.

PROS

  • Promotes sleep by assisting the production of melatonin and serotonin
  • Less costly essential oil than some

CONS

  • May lead to nausea, vomiting, and damage to the digestive system if ingested

Final Thoughts

Much of the scientific research on essential oils for sleep is preliminary and sometimes inconclusive. Thus, additional research is needed on the subject. This is especially true given that various essential oils may have different effects on different people. However, it is difficult to deny the large number of essential oil users who report benefits of increased relaxation and improved sleep.

Lavander

It appears lavender is the most widely researched essential oil for sleep while other oils need more evidence to support their use. Given there are limited reported side effects to using lavender essential oil, this is likely a safe compliment to those seeking natural remedies for sleep. If you are considering the use of essential oils, it is important to first consult with your healthcare provider to ensure it will not interfere with any medications or existing health conditions. Also, understand essential oils are not FDA regulated and should be used with reasonable caution.

You can start with just a small amount of oil to ensure you do not have a negative reaction.

Other Factors Affecting Sleep

It is important for anyone suffering from insomnia or sleep disturbances to consider other lifestyle modifications to improve sleep.  This can include:

  • Limit caffeine in the afternoon and avoid after 2 pm if possible
  • Maintain a regular physical activity routine
  • Strive for a regular sleep schedule – waking up and going to sleep at the same times every day
  • Eliminate late night eating (as digestive discomfort can interfere with sleep quality)
  • Ensure your sleeping environment maintains a cool temperature
  • Reduce exposure to screens (television, cell phones, computers) at least one hour before bed or use “nighttime mode”
  • Consider meditation or deep breathing before sleep

Essential oils can provide a nice complement to the above sleep hygiene techniques, but have different effects on different people. It may take time to find what works for you individually. However, with some patience and experimentation, you will be able to enjoy the benefits of essential oils soon enough. We hope this article has informed you on both the benefits and cautions of essential oils for sleep and hope you find the perfect essential oils for you as a result!

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