Are you having trouble trying to get to sleep? Or do you have a restless sleep? You’re not alone.
Some people convert to using essential oils after finding one that helped them achieve that beautiful, elusive dream–deep, restful sleep.
I envy those who fall asleep when their head hits the pillow. My husband is one of them and has even fallen asleep in the middle of conversations in bed!
I’m the opposite and usually take a long time because of thoughts mixing around in my mind.
Essential oils in different forms have often been used to promote sleep for those with insomnia.
A 2019 study (6) completed a systematic review of research that focused on using essential oils to improve sleep.
The review found at least 23 randomized, controlled trial studies in adults which concluded generally positive effects of essential oils for improving sleep quality.
For those who have trouble falling asleep or have poor quality sleep, here’s a list of five oils that are often suggested to promote sleep.
The research: Numerous studies, positive overall. Research has shown that certain components of lavender, especially linalool, can have a sedative effect and promote sleep in healthy adults.
Lavender was found in a 2014 literature review (8) to be the most frequently studied oil linking it to sleep onset, duration, and/or quality.
One study concluded that topical application through massage with lavender was more effective than inhalation of lavender.
Many studies (7) using lavender tested the effects of lavender on quality of sleep for certain populations (e.g. elderly, dementia, heart disease patients, students, children in hospitals, postpartum women, etc) and reported positive effects.
Some studies concluded that mild insomnia appears to improve more than severe cases.
A few studies have shown no effect in certain populations, such as for children with autism attending a residential school (7).
User experience: Very popular, mostly positive. Lavender oil generally gets pretty rave reviews for various uses, especially to aid in sleep. However, some people report that lavender actually has the opposite effect and will keep them awake.
The research: Limited, promising. A few studies have shown that inhalation of cedrol, which is the main component of cedarwood, can cause sedative effects in humans or animals.
One study (13) found that cedrol improves sleep in young women while another found positive sleep benefits for elderly with dementia.
One study (5) linked increased sedative effects in rats. Overall, the number of studies appears to be few.
User experience: Popular, mostly positive. Cedarwood has a lot of anecdotes online for promoting relaxation and calm.
People who use cedarwood to help with sleep appear to prefer using it in blends more than by itself; cedarwood and lavender are a popular combination.
The research: Limited, mixed. One component of chamomile, apigenin, has been linked as a possible cause for providing sedative effects.
A few studies showed positive results on sleep quality for elderly people using chamomile extract or tea (1).
Another study of postpartum women who reported poor sleep quality reported improvement after drinking chamomile for two weeks.
One study showed no effect for adults with chronic insomnia (14).
A larger number of studies exist showing positive benefits for other bodily systems, but a sparse number of studies exist using straight up chamomile essential oil.
User experience: Popular, mostly positive. Many anecdotes online show that Roman chamomile is often suggested and sometimes used as an essential oil to promote sleep, especially in blends.
In non-oil form, chamomile extracts have been used world-wide for centuries and is a common tea that many people use before bedtime with the belief that it aids in relaxation.
Whether those teas use an extract versus essential oil depends on the brand.
The research: Limited, emerging. There are some theories as to how valerian may cause a sedative effect in humans, but some factors are still unknown for a definitive answer.
Studies suggest that no single component is responsible; multiple components may be responsible for valerian’s possible sedative effects instead (10).
A systematic review of trials in 2006 (2) concluded that “valerian might improve sleep quality without side effects.”
A separate literature review in 2010 concluded that valerian appeared to have positive outcomes for subjective symptoms of insomnia (4).
Many studies appeared to have limitations in methodology (10).
User experience: Modest, mixed. Many users online report positive outcomes on sleep with valerian, mostly when used in blends.
However, many also complain about the pungent odor which likely decreases the popularity factor (“stinky feet” or “moldy cheese” is often mentioned to describe the odor). The frequent use of valerian in blends may be to balance out the odor.
The research: Very limited. Sparse, if any, research exists which studied the effects of bergamot essential oil in isolation on sleep.
The closest study combined both lavender, bergamot and ylang-ylang and found significant improvement in sleep quality for cardiac patients (9).
Instead, more research exists showing positive outcomes linking bergamot to reduce anxiety in animals (3).
A promising study showed that inhalation of bergamot essential oil appeared to reduce stress and anxiety in healthy women (12).
Theoretically, reduction of stress and anxiety should help people sleep better.
User experience: Popular, mostly positive. Bergamot is popular with many online users, though for mixed reasons. Some people use it for relaxation and calming effects.
Others call it uplifting and energizing. It appears very popular in blends. Additionally, the very popular Earl Grey tea is made up of dried bergamot extract and black tea leaves.
Remember that limited research does not necessarily mean poor outcomes, just that there are few and that more research studies need to be completed.
What are your go-to oils for sleep? What’s your experience with these oils?
1. Abdullahzadeh, M., Matourypour, P., & Ali Naji, S. (2017). Investigation effect of oral chamomillia on sleep quality in elderly people in Isfahan: A randomized control trial. Journal of Education and Health Promotion. 2017; 6: 53. Published online 2017 Jun 5. doi: 10.4103/jehp.jehp_109_15
2. Bent, S., Padula, A., Moore, D., Patterson, M., & Mehling, W. (2006). Valerian for Sleep: A systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. The American Journal of Medicine. 119(12), 1005-1012. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjmed.2006.02.026
3. De Sousa, D., Hocayen, P., Andrade, L., & Andreatini, R. (2015). A Systematic Review of the Anxiolytic Effects of Essential Oils in Animal Models. Molecules. 20(10), 18620-18660. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules201018620
4. Fernandez-San-Martin, M., Masa-Font, R., Palacios-Soler, L., Sancho-Gomez, P. et al. (2010). Effectiveness of Valerian on Insomnia: A meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials. Sleep Medicine. 11(6), 505-511. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sleep.2009.12.009
5. Kagawa, D., Jokura, H., Ochiai, R., Tokimitsu, I., & Tsubone, H. (2003). The sedative effects and mechanism of action of cedrol inhalation with behavioral pharmacological evaluation. Planta Medica. 69(7), 637-41. DOI: 10.1055/s-2003-41114
6. Kim, M., Jun, J., & Hur, M. (2019). Effects of aromatherapy on sleep quality: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Korean Academy of Nursing. 49(6), 655-676. https://doi.org/10.4040/jkan.2019.49.6.655
7. Koulivand, P., Ghadiri, M., & Gorji, A. (2013). Lavender and the Nervous System. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2013;2013:681304. https://doi.org/10.1155/2013/681304
8. Lillehei, A and Halcon, L. (2014). A systematic review of the effects of inhaled essential oils on sleep. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 20(6), 441-451. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2013.0311
9. McDonnell, B., & Newcomb, P. (2019). Trial of Essential Oils to Improve Sleep for Patients in Cardiac Rehabiliation. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 25(12), 1193-1199. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2019.0222
10. Valerian Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Valerian-HealthProfessional/
11. Srivastava, J., Shankar, E., & Gupta, S. (2011). Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with a bright future. Molecular Medicine Reports. 3(6), 895-901. https://doi.org/10.3892/mmr.2010.377
12. Watanabe, E., Kuchta, K., Kimura, M., Rauwald, H.W. et al. (2015). Effects of Bergamot (Citrus bergamia (Risso) Wright & Arn) Essential Oil Aromatherapy on Mood States, Parasympathetic Nervous System Activity, and Salivary Cortisol Levels in 41 Healthy Females. Complementary Medicine Research. 22(1), 43-49. https://doi.org/10.1159/000380989
13. Yamamoto, Y., Shirakawa, S., Nagashima, Y., Ohsu, H., Tojo, S., et al. (2003). The effects of cedrol on sleep. Japanese Journal of Physiological Anthropology. 8(2), 69-73. https://doi.org/10.20718/jjpa.8.2_69
14. Zick, S., Wright, B., Sen, A., & Arnedt, J. Preliminary examination of the efficacy and safety of a standardized chamomile extract for chronic primary insomnia: a randomized placebo-controlled pilot study. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 11, 78 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6882-11-78