Best Essential Oils for Sleep
Essential oils are an herbal extract from plant flowers, leaves, twigs, roots, buds, stems, and seeds. The oils have been used since ancient times as holistic medicine and even today, essential oils are a natural remedy for better sleep.
Mild sleep disturbances hinder quality sleep, but aromatherapy can reduce stress, heart rate, and blood pressure, making it easier to relax and fall asleep. Some of the most popular essential oils we discuss for better sleep include lavender, valerian, and Roman chamomile oils.
Lavender oil is one of the most heavily-researched essential oils. Its many benefits for sleep include increasing slow-wave sleep (aka deep sleep) by lowering the heart rate and relaxing muscles and containing sedative properties.
Lavender oil is a natural remedy for anxiety because it has an anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) effect and can minimize mild symptoms of depression. For chronic pain sufferers who are consequently unable to sleep, using lavender oil soothes the pain for long enough to get some rest.
Clary Sage Oil
Rose oil is a floral-scented oil capable of reducing stress and anxiety. It also improves your mood, making it easier to relax and drift to sleep.
Valerian may improve sleep quality because it has a sedative effect to help you fall asleep faster. It also inhibits the breakdown of GABA, a sleep-inducing neurotransmitter. Valerian oil also eases restlessness and nervousness, so overthinkers can get some sleep.
Ylang-ylang oil is from the fruit of Canaga trees, a tree native to Indonesia. The oil causes a soothing sensation, minimizing stress and fostering deep sleep.
Roman Chamomile Oil
Roman chamomile oil has been used for centuries in ancient herbal medicines. It calms anxious and depressive symptoms, reduces adrenocorticotropic hormone (a stress hormone), and has a sedative effect for better sleep quality. However, Roman chamomile oil is not safe for pregnant women because it can stimulate contractions.
Sweet Marjoram Oil
Sweet marjoram oil commonly improves colds, infections, and indigestion, but it also helps you calm down and sleep. Doctors recommend sweet marjoram oil for mild insomnia sufferers. After a group of rotating night shift nurses started using sweet marjoram oil, they noted improved sleep quality.
Jasmine is a floral-scented essential oil with a molecular structure similar to certain sleep medications. It reduces anxiety—possibly even more effectively than lavender—and improves sleep quality, minimizes restlessness, and improves daytime alertness. Jasmine oil also minimizes the symptoms of insomnia.
Sandalwood is an earthy essential oil with sedative properties, including reducing wakefulness and increasing the amount of non-REM sleep per night. Researchers find sandalwood also eases anxiety, making it easier to relax and have a good night’s sleep.
Bergamot oil is a citrusy oil, but unlike other citrus fruit oils, it has calming properties. The oil can lower blood pressure, slow the heart rate, and reduce stress and anxiety levels. If you apply bergamot oil during the day, avoid going outside as bergamot is photosensitive.
The Effect of Essential Oils on the Brain
Scents can evoke memories, moods, and emotions because the olfactory system is directly linked to the memory and emotion centers of the brain.
Olfactory signals go to the brain’s limbic system, including the amygdala, the section of the brain in charge of memories and emotions. Adversely, other sensations, such as touch, sight, and sound, go to the thalamus, which controls sensation and motor signals. As a result, you process olfactory information much faster and more intensely than other senses.
By inhaling distinct fragrances, your olfactory receptors send signals to your brain and with calming essential oils, your brain prepares you for sleep. Using essential oils as part of your bedtime routine conditions your body to associate them with sleep, so you’ll start getting tired naturally after smelling the oils.
Some essential oils are adaptogens, meaning people react to them differently. Take bergamot—it’s a citrusy essential oil. Bergamot can be refreshing and revitalizing for some people, waking them up, but for others, it’s sleep-inducing. So, it can take some trial-and-error before you find an essential oil you enjoy.
How to Use Essential Oils for Sleep
You can use essential oils in various ways and receive the same health benefits.
With all essential oils, you must dilute them with a mild-scented carrier oil—plain vegetable oils such as jojoba, grapeseed, sweet almond, and avocado oil work best. Use one teaspoon of your carrier oil for every drop of essential oil, but you can also purchase pre-diluted essential oils to avoid the hassle.
Applying essential oils directly onto your skin is soothing and you can use a rollerball for easy application. Some good areas to apply essential oils are on the wrists, soles of the feet, palms, temples, back of the neck, and under the nose.
You can also use essential oils as a massage oil for further relaxation and pain relief.
With any topical application, always spot test the essential oil on your skin before frequent usage. Apply a small, diluted drop of essential oil onto your wrist and then let it sit for 24 to 48 hours. Some reactions you should look out for include skin irritation, rashes, hives, and burning. If you experience no reaction during that time, you’re safe to continue using essential oils.
Diffusers emit essential oil scents into your home. Mix 2 to 3 drops of essential oils with water and add it to your diffuser. Use your diffuser in a well-ventilated room to prevent oversaturation.
Lighting aromatherapy candles create a peaceful ambiance but also releases the scent of the essential oil throughout your bedroom. You can also add a few drops onto your pillow or clothing before bed so the scent lingers during the night.
Taking a warm bath 60 to 90 minutes before bedtime and adding a few drops of oil to your bath is an easy way to use your essential oils and get to sleep. With or without essential oils, warm baths also ease muscle and joint pain, promote restful sleep, and improve blood circulation.
Risks Involved With Essential Oils
Introduce essential oils into your bedtime routine with caution and use them as intended—do not swallow topical essential oils and do not use edible essential oils topically. Avoid using topical essential oils near the eyes, nose, and mouth.
If you ingest more than the recommended oral dosage, you can be poisoned, with tea tree and eucalyptus oil most commonly poisoning users. Also, failure to dilute your essential oil before usage can be toxic as the oils are too potent by themselves.
Certain oils are photosensitive, leaving you at risk of burns and skin cancer if you apply them topically and then go into the sun. Citrus oils, such as bergamot oil and sweet orange oil, are the most photosensitive essential oils.
Always keep essential oils out of the reach of children and animals in your home and throw away oils older than 3 years old.
Can diffusers cause mold?
Diffusers can build up mold, making them unsafe to use as mold is incredibly toxic. Change the water and essential oil mixture in your diffuser every 24 hours and use cleaners such as rubbing alcohol, vinegar, and citric acid between uses. When you’re not using your diffuser, ensure it’s 100 percent dry and store it in a dry area of your home.
Which essential oils should not be ingested?
Different essential oil labels will detail whether or not the oil is safe to ingest, but some inedible essential oils include:
- Douglas fir
- White fir
Can coconut oil be used as an essential oil?
Pure coconut oil can be used as a carrier oil, but it’s not an essential oil. When using coconut oil as a carrier oil, be sure to get pure and natural coconut oil versus refined coconut oil so the oil doesn’t diminish the benefits of the essential oils.
Is it safe to sleep with a diffuser running?
No, even if your oils are properly diluted with water and your room is ventilated, you shouldn’t use a diffuser throughout the night. Diffusers should be used for thirty minutes at a time, one to three times a day. Instead of using a diffuser at night, spray diluted essential oils onto your clothing or bedding for a similar, relaxing effect.
Can you use essential oils for children and infants?
It’s always best to speak to your child’s pediatrician before using essential oils for them. Children and infants have thinner skin and less developed immune systems and livers compared to adults, leaving them at a higher risk of essential oil poisoning.
Some unsafe essential oils for children include peppermint, ylang-ylang, lemongrass, rosemary, and wintergreen.
Follow the safety guidelines when using essential oils for your children and use a weaker oil concentration. A .5 to .25 percent dilution is recommended for children—a .5 dilution means one drop of essential oil to two teaspoons of carrier oil and a .25 dilution means one drop of essential oil to four teaspoons of carrier oil.
Having been used as medicine since ancient times, essential oils still prove to be a useful alternative medicine. Experiment with different oils or oil blends to see what your body and sleep quality responds to best. Always take proper precautions when using essential oils, including spot-testing, avoiding sunlight when applied topically, and not ingesting inedible oils.
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.