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Anyone who’s smelled fresh cookies baking in the oven knows that scents have a strong influence on how we feel. When we smell something, our olfactory nerve sends signals directly to our limbic system and amygdala, the parts of our brain responsible for our memory or mood. That’s why certain scents can instantly make us feel brighter, or recall a favorite memory.
Aromatherapy is a form of alternative medicine that relies on the powerful sense of smell. Practitioners use the essential oils from plants to heal the mind, body, and soul. Essential oils can be used for a variety of purposes, from boosting mood to relieving migraines, but in this article we’ll focus on how they can be used to calm and relax the mind and body, preparing you for sleep.
If you’re already sold on the power of essential oils as a tool for relaxation and sleep but need the equipment, take a look at our selection and reviews of the best essential oil diffusers.
Lavender calms the nervous system by lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and skin temperature – all processes which take place during the body’s natural transition to sleep. Lavender essential oil alleviates mild insomnia and reduces anxious thoughts by altering your brain waves in order to produce a more relaxed state.
Well-tested and affordable, this Lavender oil from Plant Therapy is among our top choices for essential oils to help you sleep.
Although they’re related, clary sage is different than regular sage and better for sleep. Additionally, one study found clary sage essential oils had antidepressant effects for menopausal women.
Together with its sleep-inducing properties, the rigorous testing and sustainable production of this Eden Gardens products places this oil among our favorites.
Once a staple fragrance of upper-class ladies, sweet marjoram is one of the most pleasant and classy scents around. There are multiple forms of marjoram, sweet marjoram being recommended specifically for insomnia due to its calming qualities.
This oil from Healing Solutions is distinguished as a top pick by its sustainable and natural production.
There are several types of chamomile, but Roman Chamomile oil is known as the best for relieving insomnia and anxiety. Research has even shown that the light floral oil can reduce nightmares.
This, coupled with its versatility and quality, puts this Aviano product among our top picks for best essential oils for sleep.
Bergamot is a citrus fruit that got its start in Italian folk medicine. Unlike most citrus oils, which are stimulating, bergamot is calming.
Multiple studies have found bergamot essential oil both induces the physiological changes that accompany sleep – like reduced heart rate and blood pressure – as well as reduces the thoughts that keep people up at night, like feelings of stress and anxiety. However, bergamot is photosensitive and makes your skin more sensitive to the sun, so topical applications should be avoided before going outside.
Peppermint essential oil is anti-inflammatory. Before bed, rub a drop on the bottom or inside part of your nose, or try steam inhalation. This product is quality, undiluted and free of synthetic ingredients, making it among our favorites.
Roman chamomile essential oil reduces insomnia, relieves anxiety and depression, and can even minimize symptoms of colic. This oil is probably the most traditional oil to aid babies to sleep, its use dating back at least centuries. Further, we love the quality and purity of this product from Aviano.
In addition to being one of our top picks for sleep in general, we also chose Plant Therapy’s Lavender Oil as one the best essential oils for baby sleep. This product can be easily diluted for use with kids. Plus, it Lavender is known to reduce Colic, a type of pain often suffered by babies.
Choosing scents that promote relaxation can help get our bodies into a restful state ready for sleep. Essential oils also just smell nice and can be a pleasant way to enhance the sleeping experience. Making essential oils part of your bedtime routine can also help train your mind to associate the specific scent with falling asleep.
Many people prefer to use essential oils because they’re natural and don’t create the common side effects associated with many sleep medications, such as daytime drowsiness or more serious health risks. For example, a 2010 study found smelling jasmine to be just as effective at calming the nerves as a sleeping pill or sedative, but without any adverse side effects.
Many essential oils are adaptogens, which means they adapt to the person taking them and have different effects on different people. For instance, vetiver oil relieves insomnia for some people, while creating a feeling of refreshment and alertness for others during times of exhaustion. Of course, some oils are known precisely for their activating effects, like energizing tangerine or lemongrass, and should be avoided as a sleep aid.
The best essential oils for sleep fall into two main categories: oils that stave off insomnia by calming the mind and reducing anxiety, and oils that alleviate snoring and sleep apnea by clearing the airways.
Overall, more research is still needed regarding essential oils and sleep. However, the studies done thus far do suggest that using essential oils before bedtime can help alleviate mild sleep problems.
There are many ways to use essential oils for sleep. Some of the most common include:
Topical application of essential oils can be especially beneficial, since the oils will actually permeate your skin due to their transdermal properties. As a result, not only will you smell them through your olfactory nerve, but they’ll also enter your bloodstream more quickly. However, if you have sensitive skin or allergies, you should avoid applying topically altogether, or otherwise diffuse the oil with a carrier oil such as organic coconut oil, grapeseed oil, or olive oil.
Children also should avoid topical application, use more diluted amounts than adults, and shouldn’t begin using essential oils until they are at least 6 months old.
You can buy essential oils at pharmacies, health food stores, online, and large retailers.
It’s key to purchase oils that are advertised as “pure” or “100%” essential oils and list the oil’s botanical Latin name. Ones that say “perfume oil” or “fragrance oil” often use synthetic ingredients, so while they smell nice, they don’t provide the same benefits and may even contain other additives more likely to irritate your skin. If possible, look for organic oils with a non-GMO or “Therapeutic grade” label, meaning they don’t have toxins and only use pure chemicals.
Only using pure essential oils free of additives or synthetic ingredients is especially important when using essential oils to help your baby sleep. Check both the oil and the carrier oil’s lists of ingredients to ensure they don’t contain anything your baby is allergic to, such as peanut oil. Although it can be safe for adults, you should never apply undiluted essential oils directly to your baby’s skin or allow them to ingest the oil.
You should not use essential oils before your child reaches 6 months, and you should always consult your pediatrician first. Before regular use, apply a small dime-sized or smaller amount to your baby’s arm or leg and wait 24 hours to see if there is a reaction. If there is, don’t use the oil.
Essential oils for babies should always be diluted using a carrier oil. The carrier oils help ensure the essential oil doesn’t irritate your baby and is more evenly distributed. Just as adults react differently to different essential oils, so do babies, but on the whole they are more sensitive. The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy recommends a dilution ratio of .5 to 2.5 percent, and avoiding some oils overall.