Essential Oils for Sleep That'll Have You Dreaming In No Time
There's a reason you feel like the most zen version of yourself when you enter a spa stocked with diffusers. Essential oils have been studied for their potential to ease stress and anxiety, among other benefits—and those relaxing qualities might make essential oils useful at bedtime. Some studies have uncovered essential oils' potential to help you fall asleep, get deeper sleep, and sleep for more hours. (Related: The Best Essential Oils You Can Buy On Amazon)
Another big selling point: Essential oils don't carry some of the potential negative effects of other sleep aids. "We tend to use antihistamines [e.g. Benadryl or Aleve PM], and studies are telling us that, with long term use, they can cause shrinking of the brain and memory issues as we get older," says Eudene Harry, M.D., medical director for the Oasis Wellness and Rejuvenation Center. "The other thing that we tend to use a lot are benzodiazepines [e.g. Dalmane and Restoril], and those are showing a potential to interfere with our balance as we get older. Some studies show increased risk of falls with using those kinds of sleep aids." Existing studies on essential oils are all small, but so far they haven't shown any adverse effects in people who aren't allergic, says Dr. Harry. In addition, essential oils don't have the same hangover effect as other sleep aids—they're less likely to leave you feeling drowsy when you wake up.
If you plan to try essential oils to help you sleep, don't just choose a vial at random. Some oils (such as wild orange) are more energizing than calming. Plus, there's a lot to unpack when it comes to picking high-quality essential oils. We'll set you in the right direction; Here are the best essential oils for sleep and where to find each.
Which Essential Oils Are Best for Promoting Sleep?
Lavender is probably the first plant that comes to mind when you think "essential oils for sleep." Of all essential oils, lavender has the most research backing up its positive impact on sleep, says Dr. Harry. (Related: The Benefits of Using Essential Oils, According to the Latest Research)
"Researchers have done EEGs and functional scans with lavender, so they have a bit more information and it seems to work for most people," says Dr. Harry. (Both electroencephalogram (EEG) tests and functional MRIs detect brain activity.) In several studies using EEG tests, people who inhaled lavender exhibited brain activity indicating relaxation and comfort.
Other studies explored how lavender oil can impact sleep duration and self-reported sleep quality. Surprise: It's shown a positive effect. Long story short, if you want to take the most proven essential oil for sleep, lavender is the way to go.
Best Lavender Essential Oils for Sleep
For a pure lavender essential oil that's certified organic, try Thrive Market Organic Lavender Essential Oil (Buy It, $18, thrivemarket.com).
An option that's diluted for direct skin application, Aura Cacia Lavender Essential Oils Roll On Bottle (Buy It, $8, target.com) will come in handy when it's time to wind down. (FYI, you shouldn't apply undiluted essential oils directly to your skin–here's more on that and other common essential oil mistakes.)
There's a reason chamomile tea is often marketed as "sleepytime tea." In addition to increasing body temperature, chamomile promotes a healthy nervous system and acts as a sleep aid. Non-tea-drinkers can get in on the action with chamomile essential oil, which research suggests can improve sleep. In herbal medicine, chamomile essential oil is known for its mild tranquilizing and sleep-inducing effect.
If your skin is prone to inflammation, you'll appreciate an alternate use for chamomile oil: "It's taken as a sedative, but I use it a lot in practice for skin that needs to be calmed: acne, eczema, rosacea; it's a great topical," Maura Henninger, N.D., a naturopathic doctor and member of the Care/of scientific advisory board, previously told us. That's why chamomile is a common ingredient in skin-care products intended to soothe skin.
Best Chamomile Essential Oils for Sleep
German Chamomile is known for having high levels of chamazulene (an anti-inflammatory compound) compared to other chamomile varieties. Try Plant Therapy German Chamomile Organic Essential Oil (Buy It, $27, amazon.com).
Roman Chamomile, like Mountain Rose Herbs Roman Chamomile Essential Oil (Buy It, $37, mountainroseherbs.com) has a stronger, apple-like scent.
If you haven't heard of sweet marjoram, you probably know its close relative, oregano. Both herbs are used to flavor food, but sweet marjoram is the source of one of the best essential oils for sleep. Some specialists consider it to be second only to lavender. (Related: 4 Essential Oils That Could Help Your Seasonal Allergies)
Sweet marjoram oil contains the compounds linalyl acetate, linalool, and a-pinene, which calm and relax. One study on sweet marjoram explored its potential for combating the sleep-disrupting effects of working a rotating night shift. Nurses who received an aromatherapy massage that incorporated sweet marjoram oil reported better sleep quality and showed less sleep disturbance compared to a group who rested but didn't receive massages. Whether or not you're lucky enough to get chosen for an aromatherapy massage trial, sweet marjoram might improve your slumber.
Best Sweet Marjoram Essential Oils for Sleep
Dilute Mountain Rose Herbs Sweet Majoram Essential Oil (Buy It, $15, mountainroseherbs.com) with a carrier oil to create your own sweet marjoram massage oil.
For an organic pick that's surprisingly affordable, go with Aura Cacia Organic Sweet Marjoram Essential Oil (Buy It, $15, amazon.com).
Valerian root has been used to treat insomnia since Ancient Greece (at least!). According to a review of existing studies, valerian has shown the potential to improve sleep quality without causing any negative side effects. Across the studies, subjects who took valerian supplements had an 80 percent greater chance of reporting improved sleep compared to subjects who had taken a placebo. Those subjects consumed valerian, but there's some (limited) evidence that the benefits also extend to aromatherapy. In one study with rats, valerian aromatherapy outshone lavender, clove, jasmine, lemon, peppermint, pine, sandalwood, and ylang-ylang when it came to sleep duration.
There's a catch: A lot of people find valerian's scent to be off-putting. "Some people find valerian essential oil aromatherapy to be soothing," says Dr. Harry. "It's not the most pleasant-smelling one, but it does have some studies on it in terms of sleep." So unless you're feeling adventurous, test out a sample before buying or choose an essential oil blend for sleep that contains valerian.
Best Valerian Essential Oils for Sleep
Edens Garden Valerian Essential Oil (Buy It, $28, amazon.com) is pure valerian oil, and the company posts all of its gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC/MS) test results online for transparency. GC/MS tests show the levels of each component in the oil. If you're up for a little research, you can look at GC/MS results to choose oils that are high in sleep-promoting compounds (like the aforementioned linalool and linalyl acetate) and free of synthetics.
If you're hesitant about the earthy smell, try Dermachange Sleepy Time Oil (Buy It, $8, amazon.com) which combines valerian with other better-smelling soothers like lavender, ylang-ylang, and chamomile.