The 12 best essential oils for sleep (and how they work)
So, you’re struggling to fall asleep at night?
You’re not alone. Around 70 million Americans suffer from some kind of sleep disorder. On top of that, about 4% of adults say that they rely on prescription pills to help them drift off at night.
Insomnia is more than just a nightly annoyance — it can have a significant impact on your quality of life too. The harder it is for you to get to sleep, the more likely you are to experience issues like trouble concentrating, low mood and stress the next day.
While some people need specific treatments for their sleep disorders, others want an extra push to help them relax and unwind when it’s time to go to bed. If you’re in need of some extra assistance with your slumber, but you don’t want to be dependent on prescription drugs or over-the-counter medication, you’ve come to the right place.
It turns out that there are natural solutions to your sleeping problems, and they come in the form of herbal and botanical extracts called essential oils.
Essential oils use aromatherapy to unblock the sinuses, relax the nervous system, and get your body ready for sleep. All you need to do is figure out which essential oils are best for sleep in your situation.
Here’s your guide to the best essential oils for sleep.
What is the best essential oil for sleep?
The first thing you need to know is that there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to essential oils that help you sleep.
Aromatherapy can have a positive impact on anyone’s sleeping cycle.
You’ve probably noticed the impact that your sense of smell can have on your memory and emotions before. The human brain is wired directly to the brain’s centres for memory and emotion. That’s why the smell of cinnamon can instantly get you in the mood for autumn, or the scent of freshly cut grass makes you think of spring.
Smell is unique among our senses because it’s the only thing that produces a direct response from the emotion and memory centre. However, while everyone responds to smell on a deep, emotional level, not all smells will affect all of us in the same way. Some people will think that scents like bergamot and sandalwood are the best essential oils for sleep and anxiety, whereas others will find that these scents make them feel more alert and awake.
The key to success is experimenting to find out what essential oils help you sleep. Even if you end up trying dozens of different aromas, you won’t need to worry about the common side effects that occur with other solutions to sleeping disorders.
Unlike medications and over-the-counter drugs, the best essential oils for sleep and anxiety are natural remedies that don’t cause unwanted symptoms like headaches or daytime drowsiness. Additionally, essential oils don’t cause the same issues with dependence or addiction that some users can experience when they take sleeping pills for an extended period of time.
So, which essential oils are best for sleep?
We’ve searched the web and conducted extensive research to find the fragrances most conducive to a peaceful night of restful slumber. Here are our top choices of the essential oils that are most likely to help you drift off tonight.
Let’s start with probably the most obvious choice in good essential oils for sleep. Lavender essential oil is one of the most widely studied options when it comes to relaxation and the treatment of stress. One study found that aromatherapy using lavender oil can significantly calm the nervous system, reducing heart rate, blood pressure, and skin temperature. Lavender oils can even assist in altering the brain waves to induce a more relaxed state.
Lavender isn’t just great for relaxation; it’s also one of the best essential oils for stress and sleep too. Lavender aromatherapy can reduce depression and anxiety in women with postpartum depression and has been found to reduce anxiety in a host of medical settings.
So, how does lavender work? Well, according to scientists, the soothing scent stimulates the brain pathways responsible for emotional response. Lavender has a direct impact on the limbic system, and studies using EEG technology and brain imaging have found significant changes in the brain following lavender aromatherapy treatments.
Aside from being incredibly useful according to most studies, lavender also benefits from being a very safe treatment, except for those with allergies to the flower. If you’re applying it to your skin, however, you’ll need to be cautious, as this substance can sometimes have estrogenic effects.
Chamomile is another well-known option in the list of the best essential oils for sleep. The chances are that you’ve already used this herbal substance before in tea form to help you relax or unwind after a long day. For centuries, chamomile has been commended as one of the best plants for inducing feelings of peace and calm. This substance is also regarded to be one of the best essential oils for sleep and insomnia.
Chamomile works in a very special way to tackle the issues associated with poor sleep. When used as part of an aromatherapy treatment and inhaled by a patient, the vapors from chamomile reduce something called ACTH. ACTH is a hormone induced by feelings of stress, which can keep the brain active and make it harder for you to fall asleep. By reducing your exposure to stress-based hormones, chamomile can have a sedative effect on the mind.
Like lavender, chamomile is a safe option for most people. However, when you’re wondering which essential oils are best for sleep, it’s best to discuss your options with your doctor. Chamomile may be associated with the stimulation of early contractions in pregnant women. Because of this, most doctors won’t recommend using chamomile if you’re expecting.
3. Lemon or yuzu
Most people assume that citrus plants like lemon or yuzu are more likely to be associated with focus and wakefulness than sleep. However, if you’re looking for a way to reduce your feelings of stress or anxiety before bed, then lemon and yuzu could be the perfect choice. One study conducted in Japan found that the citrus scent of these plants can reduce your anxiety and lower your heart rate within as little as ten minutes.
Often, the most traditional way to use lemon or yuzu for sleeping and insomnia is to add a couple of drops of the essential oil to a bath before you go to bed. The hot bath combined with the scent can be deeply relaxing. However, some people do find citrusy scents to be stimulating, and responsible for increasing heart rate, so you’ll need to experiment to see if it works for you.
Another citrus fruit worth trying is citrus bergamot — a fruit somewhere between a lemon and a bitter orange. Bergamot has been used in traditional medicine for many years to relieve anxiety and tension. Five out of six clinical studies into bergamot essential oils and aromatherapy found these to be one of the best essential oils for sleep. Bergamot oils can potentially reduce blood pressure, heart rate, stress, and chronic pain. Some EEG based studies have even found that bergamot can even change your brain wave patterns too.
Ylang-ylang is a sweet and flowery substance that’s commonly mentioned in lists discussing good essential oils for sleep. These oils are extracted from the flower of tropical trees found in Southeast Asia. The aroma of ylang-ylang has been shown to decrease blood pressure significantly and induce relaxation in various clinical studies.
One study into the best essential oils for sleep and anxiety found that ylang-ylang aromatherapy calmed the nervous system by reducing blood pressure and heart rate. The report suggested that this particular flower is useful for rest because it helps to put you in a better mood when you’re settling into bed — making slumber easier to achieve.
One point to keep in mind when you’re using ylang-ylang for insomnia is that it’s important to use this substance with a carrier oil like sweet almond, or avocado. Many people find ylang-ylang oils to be very potent, which means that they can commonly irritate the skin and cause itchiness.
When it comes to discussing what essential oils help you sleep, jasmine often appears in conversations about relaxing teas and beside plants. Although jasmine has a moderately sweet aroma, many people also find it to be very relaxing. In one study, the fragrance of jasmine tea was deemed to be enough to settle the mind and encourage relaxation.
Although the effects of jasmine on sleep are less researched than options like lavender and chamomile, the research we do have is positive. Jasmine has been shown to be a fairly promising elixir for sleep in numerous trials. One researcher discovered that people sleeping in rooms infused with the smell of jasmine slept more peacefully.
The same study also pointed out that the people in the research felt more alert later in the day after sleeping with the help of jasmine too.
6. Clary sage
Most people are familiar with the herb “sage” as part of their selection of common kitchen staples. However, although clary sage is related to the common sage herb, it’s a very different plant. Notably, this particular kind of sage is one of the best essential oils for sleep, thanks to its natural sedative effects. Clary sage promotes a calming experience that helps people to fall asleep and stay asleep for longer too.
Research into which essential oils are best for sleep has found that clary sage can reduce the level of hormones associated with stress in your system. This could mean that smelling this aroma before you go to bed will help your body to relax and prepare for a better quality of slumber.
Some studies even suggest that clary sage essential oils are effective in helping people to relax during dental and medical procedures too. If this substance can help you relax when you’re in a dentist’s chair, it’s sure to have an impact on your insomnia also.
Valerian is a root that shows up regularly in discussions about the best essential oils for sleep and anxiety. Available in the form of extracts, teas and diffusible oils, valerian is great at regulating the natural circulation of hormones throughout the human body. This unique natural substance reduces the activity of nerve excitement conduction in the brain, limiting tension and shortening the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.
If you’re looking for a way to fall asleep faster and achieve a deeper quality of sleep, then valerian could be the ideal choice. The medicinal effect of the oil from these flowers dates all the way back to Roman and Greek times. For centuries, cultures have relied on valerian to help them fall asleep quickly and wake up feeling more energised.
Although valerian isn’t as well known as lavender and chamomile yet, it’s used regularly in many circles to deliver relief from nervous tension, restlessness and more. What’s more, valerian doesn’t cause any unwanted hangover effects or drowsiness either.
Neroli is another go-to option when it comes to choosing good essential oils for sleep. Once again, this substance isn’t as well known as some of the other essential oils that help you sleep like chamomile — but that doesn’t make it any less effective. Neroli oil comes from the flower of a bitter orange tree, and it has a warm and spicy scent.
Often, neroli works best when it’s combined with other natural oils like lavender and chamomile. Studies suggest that this substance can be very calming, and may even help to lower blood pressure levels, particularly in women.
This essential oil has a sweet and refreshing taste, which means that it’s excellent for adding to your teas and elixirs as part of a common nighttime routine. Neroli oil also has a history of use for things like depression and stress.
9. Sweet marjoram
Sweet marjoram is a plant less likely to be used as one of the best essential oils for sleep and anxiety, and more likely to be used for things like health management. Over the years, this substance has been commonly relied upon to fight off issues like indigestion and infection. Some people even rely on marjoram to deal with the common cold.
However, research into this plant suggests that it could be more versatile than we thought. For instance, studies indicate that it may be particularly good for people who work in challenging schedules. A study published by the Complementary and Alternative Medicine group found that sweet marjoram could be used in massages with nurses working on a rotating night shift. In this case, the results showed a significant improvement in the sleep quality of the nurses using the essential oil.
Cedar-wood probably isn’t one of the first options you think of when you’re looking into which essential oils are best for sleep. However, one of the primary components in cedarwood essential oils, cedrol, has been found during preliminary studies to create a sedative effect.
One study involving around 178 women found that the pupil diameter measurement called the miosis rate increased after cedar-wood aromatherapy. This miosis rate reflects nervous system activity, suggesting that cedrol could have a sedative effect.
Another study into adults with dementia found that essential oils including cedar-wood could improve total sleep time in patients. Additionally, the people using the essential oils were less likely to wake up earlier than normal in the mornings.
There’s a reason that so many people love the scent of rose. Even if you haven’t invested in essential oils that help you sleep before, there’s a good chance that you have some rose essential oils located somewhere in your health and beauty products. This substance is common throughout a range of perfumes, moisturizers and night creams.
Rose essential oil is more than just a sweet and relaxing scent; it’s also been proven to relieve symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress in a wide variety of people. According to one study published by the Red Crescent medical journal, rose aromatherapy reduces anxiety by minimising sympathetic stimulation.
You can add a couple of drops of rose essential oil to your bath water for a deeply relaxing bathing session before bed. Alternatively, try using it as part of your nighttime beauty routine if you prefer creams to oils.
Finally, you’re probably familiar with the frankincense essential oil from biblical stories, and nativity plays. However, there’s a lot more to this diverse substance than you might think. Frankincense has been used throughout the centuries to treat a wide range of issues and ailments, from physical conditions to problems with mental illness.
The complex base of frankincense as an essential oils makes it an excellent ritual addition to your nighttime routine. If you want to implement a new wellness habit and sleep ritual that will help to ground you and prepare you for sleep, then frankincense is a great choice.
You can also combine frankincense oils with some of the other best essential oils for stress and sleep. For instance, some people use frankincense with catnip to help calm the nervous system and help the body unwind in time for a more restful evening of sleep.
Which essential oils are best for sleep?
As you can see from our list above, there are a lot of great essential oils that help you sleep available on the market today. Some people will prefer to stick with traditional options like lavender and chamomile, whereas others will create their own elixirs using a blend of different substances.
The critical thing to remember is that finding the best essential oils for sleep and anxiety isn’t always easy. It will take some time before you find the solution that’s best for you. Additionally, because a lot of essential oils are extremely potent, you’ll need to be cautious when using your aromatherapy strategies as well. Don’t take any oils internally without the approval of a health professional, and make sure you blend your oils with a carrier oil before applying them to your skin.
Another thing to keep in mind is that while there are some essential oils specifically suited to encourage better sleep, others can make it more difficult to drift off. For instance, vetiver increases total waking time and reduces slow-wave sleep time according to some studies. Additionally, sage essential oil can also increase alertness (we’re not talking about clary sage here), according to a study into cognitive function.
Do your research before you start using any essential oils in your bedtime ritual. Once you find the solution that works best for you, stick to it as part of your regular nighttime routine.