The Best Scents for Sleep
Essential oils are fragrant compounds derived from the leaves, bark, flowers, and peels (1) of various aromatic plants. Aromatherapy is a complementary approach to healing that uses the scents of essential oils to improve emotional, physical and spiritual health (2). Every essential oil has a unique chemical composition, impacting its smell and how it affects the body and mind.
The benefits of essential oils can be enjoyed through products infused with the desired fragrance. Essential oils are often contained in products like lotions, cosmetics, soaps, and bath products. You can also learn to use essential oils directly in your home. Here are common ways to use essential oils for aromatherapy at home:
- Try a Diffuser: A common way to use essential oils is to place a few drops in a diffuser. Room diffusers fill a space with scent by spreading the fragrance of essential oils through the air.
- Drop Essential Oils into a Bath: A warm bath provides a great opportunity to enjoy the scents of essential oils. The National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy suggests combining two to 12 drops of essential oils (3) with one teaspoon of a dispersing agent (like a bath gel) to help the essential oil dissolve in the bath water.
- Apply Lotion and Massage Oil: Aromatherapy massage involves the use of essential oils that are diluted in a carrier oil and rubbed onto the skin. Carrier oils, like sweet almond oil, are plant oils that have little or no scent and are utilized to dilute essential oils, which are often too concentrated to apply to the skin on their own.
Most commonly available essential oils appear to be safe and beneficial when used appropriately, but some studies have found potential negative effects (4) associated with their use. Even though safety testing has shown few side effects of aromatherapy (5), it’s always best to talk to a healthcare provider if you have any concerns before getting started.
Best Scents for Relaxation
Over 3,000 essential oils have been identified (6), but only around 300 are used in aromatherapy. For anyone hoping to unwind, aromatherapy promotes relaxation and a good night’s sleep. In research, aromatherapy has proven benefits in lowering stress (7), decreasing anxiety (8), reducing depression (9). and improving sleep quality (10).
Here are some of the best essential oils known for fragrances that promote relaxation:
Lavender has been used for hundreds of years (11) in perfumes, soaps, flavorings, and medicines. An abundance of research confirms the calming and sleep-inducing properties of lavender essential oils. Lavender has been shown to reduce stress levels and pain intensity (12), improve mood (13), and even increase sleep quality (14). It may also be one of the best essential oils for reducing anxiety (15).
Roses are ancient plants with fossils in America dating back 30 million years (16). Rose essential oil is one of the most expensive essential oils on the market because it takes so many rose petals to create a small amount of essential oil. In order to enjoy the floral perfume of rose without the cost, many people use rose water in place of the essential oil. Rose water typically contains between 10% and 50% rose essential oil.
Rose essential oils and diluted rose water are particularly suitable for relaxation. Rose water has been shown to reduce anxiety (17). Essential oil from rose can also reduce the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) (18) and improve sleep (19).
Chamomile, a member of the daisy plant family, is one of the most common medicinal herbs (20) used today. Chamomile is an incredibly versatile herb, used in everything from teas and beer to lotions and essential oils. In research, chamomile has demonstrated a plethora of benefits, including improved sleep quality and reduced anxiety (21). Multiple studies have shown that aromatherapy with chamomile essential oils reduces anxiety during childbirth (22).
Geranium is a shrub native to South Africa, with a long history of use in perfumes, soaps, and detergents (23). Essential oil derived from geranium has a sweet, floral scent and is sometimes used commercially as a substitute for more expensive rose scent (24). Geranium oil may be used to alleviate anxiety and depression (25) and may also act as a sedative and anti-inflammatory (26).
Jasmine essential oil is derived from the fragrant flowers of the jasmine shrub. The jasmine plant is a member of the olive family and has a long history of being used as a perfume and a tea. In aromatherapy, jasmine is used as both an antidepressant and an aphrodisiac.
Sweet marjoram is native to the Mediterranean and is related to both oregano and mint. With a sweet, herbaceous scent, aromatherapy with sweet marjoram essential oil is traditionally used to treat pain, gastrointestinal problems, and respiratory issues (27). Today, the scent of sweet marjoram is intended to promote relaxation in several ways, including decreasing anxiety, alleviating pain, and reducing the symptoms of insomnia.
Bergamot essential oil is derived from the peel of the bergamot orange, a citrus fruit native to the Calabria region of Italy (28). Essential oils from bergamot are used in perfumes, as a flavoring, and by the pharmaceutical industry. In Italian folklore, bergamot is used for fever, infections, pruritus (itchy skin), and sore throats. Uses of bergamot essential oil in aromatherapy include improving mood, reducing stress, and helping people fall asleep (29).
A recent study measured the effects of inhaling bergamot essential oils on cortisol levels in healthy women. Researchers found that inhaling bergamot essential oil reduced cortisol levels, stress, and anxiety (30).
Citrus essential oils, like bergamot, can cause skin damage (31) if not used properly and require some special precautions. Bergamot oil can cause photosensitivity, meaning that it makes the skin more susceptible to irritation. Avoid using bergamot essential oils in lotions and massage oils and talk to a doctor or dermatologist if you have concerns.
Finding Your Own Essential Oil Blend
Essential oils can be used alone or in blends. Blending essential oils allows you to create your own unique fragrance and take advantage of the combined effects of multiple oils. A common blend for relaxation is lavender and chamomile, which has been found to reduce anxiety and promote sleep (32).
Everyone has their own response to different smells, so trying a few different scents or blends of essential oils can help you find the most relaxing ones for you.
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