So you're having trouble sleeping. Join the club. Approximately one-third of adults complain of insomnia… but not all of us want to have to go on Ambien or some other pharmaceutical in order to fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake up feeling rested. (So simple, so elusive.)
Essential oils can totally help—and not in a hippie-dippy pseudoscience way. In an actual scientific way. After all, there's a reason people have been using them for centuries to help with everything from sleep quality to immunity—and now we actually have studies to back up their efficacy. "Essential oils are among the oldest medicines practiced by humans," comments Sarah Horowitz, master perfumer at Skylar, a brand of luxury all-natural perfumes. "They have shown to improve quality of sleep, reduce anxiety, assist in alleviating depression, and relaxing the nervous system as well as pain."
The following 11 essential oils are empirically proven to improve sleep. As for how to use them, there are lots of ways (diffusers, pillow sprays, etc.), but this is Horowitz's favorite method: "I recommend closing your eyes, and inhale the specific essential oil for what you are working on—in this case, sleep/relaxation—and repeat your affirmation. As you breathe deeply, your mind will create a memory around this and connect this scent with this affirmation. So if you are working on relaxing, you can close your eyes, inhale the lavender, and say 'I am relaxed.' Repeat this exercise—the deep breathing, the soothing scent, and the repeated mantra all combine to soothe the mind as well as the body."
But lavender is not the only essential oil that can help with sleep. Keep scrolling for a comprehensive list of zzz-inducing essential oils.
We have to start with lavender, which is perhaps the most popular oil for sleep, as it's connected with lowering blood pressure and heart rate, decreasing anxiety, and improving mood. "Lavender oil is rich in linalool, a terpene which has been associated with calming the central nervous system and providing a sedating effect conducive to sleep," comments Ron Gray of CBD wellness brand Papa & Barkley.
"It's also analgesic and antibacterial," adds Amy Leigh Mercree, holistic health expert and author of The Mood Book: Crystals, Oils, and Rituals to Elevate Your Spirit. Use it in your diffuser, place a few drops on your pillow, or place a few drops on your hads, and rub it into your temples. "Lavender is the one of the only essential oils that is suggested to be applied without a carrier oil to dilute it," says Mercree.
The warm scent of cedar can calm your mood by inspiring a feeling of contentment. Blending cedarwood with lavender, frankincense, and holy basil creates a wonderfully relaxing scent.
"Chamomile has been considered a prized plant for centuries for its calming effect," says Alison Deyette, lifestyle expert at Mattress Firm. "It's why it's on the top of the list of non-caffeinated hot teas to drink before bed. It’s considered one of the most popular oils for fighting insomnia, helping relieve headaches, and even reducing menstrual cramps."
How does chamomile work for sleep? "When chamomile essential oils are inhaled as part of aromatherapy, the vapors help reduce plasma adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which is a stress-induced hormone," explains Saman Faramarzi, ND, founder of SAFA Wellness. "Other compounds in chamomile are thought to bind to neurotransmitter receptors to help provide sedative effects, but these compounds have not been identified."
Side note: Chamomile may stimulate contraction in pregnant women, so Faramarzi does not recommend expecting moms to drink chamomile tea or use chamomile essential oils.
Geranium essential oils have been shown to help with everything from anxiety to PMS. "While the exact physiological effects are still yet to be identified, multiple clinical studies show a decrease in blood pressure and anxiety scores," says Faramarzi. "As a lot of sleep issues stem from anxiety, once you treat a root cause of it, you can help alleviate the symptoms, which in this case, includes difficulty sleeping."
"The medicinal effects from the oil from these pretty pink flowers dates back to ancient Greek and Roman times," says Deyette, who adds that valerian can help you fall asleep faster and improve sleep quality, helping you to wake up more energized. "Approximately one-third of adults complain about insomnia, and while valerian may not be as widely known as chamomile or lavender, it’s been used regularly to give relief from restlessness, nervous tension, and help you wake up refreshed with no 'hangover' effect."
It's not just a pleasant perfume note; ylang ylang can also be a sleep aid. "Studies show that ylang ylang help lower blood pressure and pulse rate as well as the stress index (measured through alpha brain waves)," says Faramarzi. "It seems that ylang ylang helps to reduce your autonomic nervous system's response, which helps relax you and put you in a better mood to sleep."
Make sure to combine ylang ylang with a carrier oil like avocado, sweet almond, jojoba, or coconut oil before massaging it into the skin, as it is potent and can irritate.
Another delicious perfume ingredient that can help with sleep: Neroli oil is extracted from the blossom of a bitter orange tree and has a sweet honey and spicy scent. "When it's combined with chamomile and lavender, one study suggested it has a calming effect," Deyette reports. "Another study found it helped reduce stress and lower blood pressure in women."
We normally associate citrus with feeling awake, but this oil, derived from an Italian fruit, actually has a calming effect. "The essential oil signals to your system that it’s time for bed by slowing your heart rate and lowering your blood pressure," says Deyette. "Plus, it reduces anxiety and stress."
Though it has been studied less than lavender and chamomile, jasmine is shown to be another promising sleep elixir. "A researcher from Wheeling Jesuit University found that people who slept in rooms where jasmine was diffused in the air slept more peacefully and reported that they felt more alert later in the day then when sleeping in a room diffused with lavender, or one with no added aroma at all," comments Shannon Davenport, certified aromatherapist and founder of Esker, a non-toxic, eco-friendly bodycare brand.
Sandalwood & Frankincense
"Frankincense and sandalwood have also been shown to help with sleep problems for cancer patients in the UK," says Davenport.
Experiment with combining a few of the oils above and see which works best for you and your sleep routine.