Sleep Aromatherapy: My Go-To Essential Oils for a Better Night’s Rest
by Elizabeth Denton
We all have a night of restless sleep every now and then but did you know insomnia affects almost one third of the population? It's not surprising that essential oil blends for sleep are gaining popularity. They smell great, but it goes beyond that; many essential oils have a relaxing effect on your body, quieting your wired, stressed-out brain and helping you drift off to sleep. They can even help lower your blood pressure. Whether you put oils into a diffuser, a body lotion or diluted and applied to the skin, try one of my favorite blends and reap the benefits of this ancient practice.
Lavender, Vetiver, and Ylang Ylang
I’m a night owl and have trouble relaxing my body enough to sleep before midnight. I lay in bed and my mind races to chores not done, my plans for the busy next day and messages that could be popping up on my silenced phone. That’s when I reach for this sleepy blend: five drops of lavender oil, four drops of vetiver and one drop of ylang-ylang. Some enjoy two or three drops of ylang-ylang but I prefer a less woodsy scent. Each goes into my diffuser, and I can feel the calming effects within 30 minutes. Here’s why this blend is so effective.
Lavender is one of the most versatile oils and a component of multiple essential oil blends for sleep. It’s been used medicinally for thousands of years for anxiety, depression, and headaches, to name a few. Lavender can also reduce body aches and pains, such as menstrual cramps. Most recently, a 2005 study showed the plant boosts “deep or slow-wave sleep,” leaving subjects feeling more rested in the morning.
Before I became familiar with how to use essential oils for sleep, I only knew about vetiver’s use as a topical skin treatment for acne. In fact, vetiver is also used to help people unwind and de-stress. It’s even been shown to help those suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. Vetiver can overwhelm other oils in a blend, so with this plant, a little goes a long way.
Ylang ylang rounds out the sleepy blend. It contains linalool, a compound found to have stress-relieving properties. When not used in my diffuser, I like to add ylang-ylang to jojoba oil and drop it into a warm bath. Like most essential oils, ylang-ylang should be applied to the skin only in a carrier oil—not by itself at full strength.
Roman Chamomile and Bergamot
You probably know chamomile tea can help people feel less anxious and fall asleep, so it makes total sense the essential oil would have a similar effect on me in this calming blend. In fact, roman chamomile essential oil can be more effective for sleep than tea. When you inhale the oil, such as from five drops in a diffuser, it can reduce anxiety levels and improve quality of sleep overall. In a 2006 study, subjects had increased calmness due to its natural sedative effects.
I like to add five drops of bergamot into a diffuser with the roman chamomile. I find the spicy citrus plant puts me in a positive mood, reducing anxiety, and relaxing my wandering mind. I’m not the only one: bergamot is a well-known mood booster. I used to worry this sunny outlook would give me more energy at night, but in fact, it actually helps quiet my nervous mind enough to fall into a deep sleep.
Lavender, Bergamot, and Frankincense
Lavender and bergamot are stellar alone for their calming properties, but when I’m feeling especially wide awake, I add five drops of frankincense oil into the blend to boost its sedative effects. There’s a reason I feel this way. Frankincense has been shown to reduce your heart rate and lower levels of chronic stress. Like ylang-ylang, frankincense is also effective in the bath to calm your body pre-bedtime.
My favorite thing about essential oil blends for sleep is the way they make me feel rested in the morning, as opposed to groggy from insomnia medications. But even though they’re natural, you still need to take care and never apply directly to the skin or ingest them without speaking with your doctor.
That’s why I love my oil diffuser. I know I’m safely gaining all the restful properties of the plants. These are three of my favorite blends, but there are dozens of others that also work for people. Play around with essential oils to find what works best for you to finally get the full night’s rest you’ve been dreaming of.
Elizabeth Denton is a Los Angeles-based writer, editor, and consultant.