The 4 Best Essential Oils for Sleep, According to Research
It's rare we meet someone who doesn't have any trouble sleeping. If you're out cold within minutes, congratulations (and please do share your secrets). But for the rest of us, a good night's rest can be harder to come by. While some lifestyle changes can be straightforward to implement—avoiding caffeine and alcohol, as well as other stimulating foods—achieving a Zen-like state of mind can be a little trickier.
Whether it's work, family or financial stress, it's possible that worry and anxiety are negatively impacting your sleep. An anxious mind makes it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. Can essential oils help you sleep? Here's what the research says.
Do Essential Oils Help You Sleep?
In short, signs point to yes! Essential oils really might be able to help you drift off to sleep. A 2014 review looked at 15 studies where essential oils were tested as a sleep aid in participants and concluded, "A majority of the study findings suggested a positive effect of essential oils on sleep." In fact, the oils were shown to have a hypnotic effect on participants, helping reduce mild to medium sleep disturbances.
Another study, published in 2017, showed that the use of essential oils by participants "promoted secretion of serotonin and endorphins, resulting in activation of the parasympathetic nervous system." The authors explained, "Endorphins have sedative effects, while serotonin binds to enzymes during the night to produce melatonin." (You may be familiar with melatonin as an over-the-counter nighttime sleep aid, commonly sold as gummies.)
The Best Essential Oils for Sleep, According to Experts
Research overwhelmingly proves that lavender is the best essential oil for sleep. In a one study, participants reported feeling more "vigor" after being dosed with lavender scent during the night—and their quality of sleep was measurably improved, with both men and women experiencing deep or slow wave sleep.
Although you may associate sage with holiday cooking, its scent may also be a good ally for sleep. A 2013 study showed that inhalation of oil from a related herb, clary sage, was linked to a "significant decrease" in participants' blood pressure.
A meta analysis published in 2020 showed that valerian root, a centuries-old cure for sleeplessness, may improve sleep quality, although it's worth noting that the best results came with regular use, rather than as a one-time intervention sleep aid.
If you're still struggling to get quality sleep despite avoiding afternoon caffeine, limiting alcohol and reducing your consumption of sleep-disrupting foods, stress could be to blame—and chamomile may help. A 2013 study measured participants' sleep quality, anxiety and blood pressure after inhaling an essential oil blend of chamomile, lavender and neroli. The results were so positive that the study's authors concluded, "Aromatherapy is effective in maintaining sleep despite a stressful situation." In other words: Your essential oil diffuser really can help you overcome anxiety and get a better night's sleep.
It's important to note here that the research shows these essential oils might help decrease stress and provide calming. They won't knock you out like an OTC or prescription sleeping pill (such as diphenhydramine). Instead, they promote restful sleep by reducing the disturbances and hurdles you may encounter at bedtime. Other practices, such as avoiding stimulants and blue light—like from a laptop or cell phone—before bed can also be helpful tools in your kit.
How to Use Essential Oils for Sleep
You can benefit from essential oils for sleep by simply inhaling them. Because scented oils are potent, it's best to avoid putting them directly on your skin or sniffing them straight from the bottle. Instead, dilute them in a carrier oil (the American Sleep Association recommends almond or apricot) or lotion and rub them into your skin.
Diffusers are also a great way to infuse a whole room with calming essential oils at bedtime. Essential oil diffusers are inexpensive and many are cleverly designed. You can even find essential oil diffusers with timers, so they'll automatically shut off once you've drifted off to dreamland.