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Best Essential Oils for Sleep

Malena Piper


Essential oils offer a unique, natural alternative to other sleep aids, such as over-the-counter medicines. An ancient practice, the use of essential oils to help promote mental and physical health dates back centuries. Even Hippocrates, a physician from ancient Greece, believed in their benefits.

There have been various studies on the ability of essential oils to promote better sleep. A majority of the findings in a 2014 study on the hypnotic effects of essential oils suggested that the inhalation of them may be helpful in assisting sleep, and no side effects were observed. Another study of 113 people from various lifestyles found lavender essential oils improved duration and quality of sleep in all participants.

When inhaled, essential oils stimulate the olfactory nerve in the nose, which sends signals to the brain. These signals particularly impact the limbic system – the emotional center of the brain. This means that essential oils can trigger a soothing emotional reaction, helping you gently drift off to sleep.

How can essential oils help you? In this article, we will explore what essential oils are, which essential oils to choose to best help you sleep, and how to use them effectively.

What Are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are compounds extracted from plants, such as lavender or other flowers. Essential oil therapy, often referred to as aromatherapy, is the practice of using certain scented oils to enhance physical and mental wellbeing. Essential oils are effective because our sense of smell, unlike our other senses, is directly wired to the brain’s memory and emotion centers. This means the scent of essential oils can cause emotional responses, such as the sensation of feeling calm and relaxed.

How Do Essential Oils Work?

Essential oils are often able to relieve stress by affecting the emotional center of your brain. Information regarding smell goes directly to the limbic system of the brain, where emotions are processed. The limbic system also controls motivation, behavior, and long-term memory. This is why smell is more closely associated with emotions and memories than other senses; they travel through other parts of the brain first. As a result of this “detour”, other senses lack the direct connection that the sense of smell has with the limbic system.

What Essential Oils Should I Use For Sleep?

Essential oils affect some people differently than others, so you will need to determine which ones meet your specific needs. Researchers recommend using a blend of essentials oils versus only using one; this will give you a combination of benefits from the varied oils.

The following are a list of 10 essential oils recommended for sleep and stress reduction. There are other essential oil options you may consider, however, the ones we recommend most for sleep are shown below.


The most highly recommended essential oil for sleep is lavender, as it has a wide range of benefits and uses. Studies (such as this one from 2016) on lavender have shown it can serve as a sleep aid and a mild pain reliever. The scent of lavender is very pleasant; it has floral and berry notes, with woody undertones.


With its long history of use for relaxation and stress relief, vanilla works well for sleep because it has a sedative effect. A study in 2013 showed that vanilla had an antidepressant effect on mice, and can also improve sleep as insomnia has been linked to depression. Vanilla may also have comforting memories associated with it for some people, as it smells just like fresh-baked cookies.


Jasmine has been shown to improve both overall sleep quality and restless sleep by helping you to fall asleep faster. Aromatic compounds in jasmine act as a sedative, promoting sleep. It can also reduce anxiety by producing calming effects. Jasmine has been used in other medical practices, for the purpose of boosting the immune system or reducing fever. This essential oil has a pleasingly sweet, floral scent.


Valerian is known to help increase the release of the neurotransmitter GABA, a naturally occurring amino acid in your brain that helps to induce sleep. This essential also contains many compounds that increase activity in the amygdala. This can help to create soothing emotions, lulling you to sleep naturally. Valerian has a powerful earthy fragrance and may smell too strong for some users.

Clary Sage

A natural sedative, clary sage has been shown to reduce levels of cortisol, a hormone that is often associated with stress. It has also been shown to have antidepressant properties, and this may help you to sleep if you suffer from depression. Clary sage smells sweet and herbal, with hints of lavender and wood.

Ylang Ylang

A wonderful essential oil if you’re feeling stressed from the previous day, ylang-ylang has a soothing effect that helps to relieve anxiety. Ylang ylang has been shown to lower blood pressure and heart rate; both of these occur during the first stages of sleep. With a light, sweet, slightly fruity, and floral scent ylang-ylang is a favorite of many essential oil users.


Chamomile also has anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects that help to improve your sleep. This essential oil also has a sedative effect, thought to be caused by a compound found in chamomile called apigenin attaching to benzodiazepine receptors in the brain. Chamomile contains a calming herbal, sweet, and apple-like aroma.


If your nose is stuffy, peppermint works well to clear your nasal passages because of its anti-inflammatory properties. Also due to its anti-inflammatory effect, peppermint is able to clear your nasal passages. It may also be useful for those who are unable to sleep because of snoring or sleep apnea. Peppermint has a cool, sharp, and refreshing scent.


Sandalwood is yet another essential oil that helps to promote sleep through stress and anxiety relief, and may also have a sedative effect. However, while it does provide relaxation, sandalwood has been shown to increase alertness and wakefulness in some. As a result, we recommend trying a small amount your first time. Sandalwood has a lovely deep, woody odor and often smells like a mix of sweet floral and balsamic accents.


Many types of citrus scents have been shown to have effects such as relieving anxiety, lowering depression, and having an easier time falling asleep. Similar to sandalwood, this essential oil may be stimulating or sleep-inducing, depending on the person, so try a small amount at first. While you likely already know the scent of oranges or lemons, all citrus tends to have a strong, crisp fragrance.

How Can I Use Essential Oils?

Below we have listed different five methods for applying your essential oils, as well as the specific benefits of each one. The versatility of essential oils is one of the factors that make them effective for a wide variety of people. We recommend exploring the options below and finding the one that best suits your needs.

Add Essential Oils to Your Bath

Not only will adding essential oils to your bath give the effect from the oils themselves, but taking a warm bath at night can also help you to relax. To add to your bath, mix 5 to 20 drops of essential oil to a carrier oil, depending on the dilution rate. (You can generally find the essential oil’s specific dilution rate on the packaging.)

Suitable carrier oils include jojoba, grapeseed, almond, and argan oil. Make sure to dilute your essential oil with a carrier oil before adding it to your bath, otherwise, it could potentially irritate your skin.

Apply Directly To The Body

The topical use of essential oil is one of the most popular methods available, as it is easy to do, and makes you smell beautifully fragrant at the same time. To use this method, apply diluted essential oil directly to pressure points for a soothing effect. Possible pressure points include behind the ears and wrists, soles of feet, neck, forehead, hands, and chest. You can also lightly massage the area to promote muscle relaxation.

Do not apply undiluted oils directly to your skin, as they are highly concentrated and may irritate or cause damage to your skin. You can dilute essential oils yourself by using 1 drop of essential oil for every 1 tsp of carrier oil, such as jojoba oil. Do a patch test first to make sure you don’t have a negative reaction. We recommend applying your mixture to a small area on your arm and waiting 24 hours before applying again.

Use An Essential Oil Diffuser

Using an essential oil diffuser will circulate the oil around the area of your room, creating aroma from all sides. Diffusers typically mix essential oils with water, making the vapor safe to breathe in. To operate, follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Create Your Own Essential Oil Mist

You can spray your own essential oil mist around your room for an overall effect, or spray on your linens or the underside of your pillow so that the scent lingers as you fall asleep. Do not spray your mist directly on top of your pillow as this may irritate your skin. To make your own mist mixture, mix every ½ cup of water with 4-5 drops of essential oil, then place in a spray bottle on the mister setting. If the scent is too strong, you can use fewer drops of oil.

Make Your Own Essential Oil Steam

Similar to creating your own mist, breathing in steam with essential oils will also create a soothing effect because of the warmth. The steam will help to clear your nasal passages and help to prevent snoring. To make your own essential oil steam, add a few drops of your chosen essential oils to a pot of boiling water, and lean your head over to pot to breathe the steam in. Wear a towel over your head to help trap the steam.


How do I know which essential oils are right for me?

The effects of essential oils may vary from person to person. As a result, you will need to experiment to see how various essential oils affect you. Blends are recommended versus single scents because you will be able to experience more benefits from the mix.

Can I use essential oils while pregnant?

Some essential oils are safe during the 2nd and 3rd trimester. However, not all essential oils are harmless during pregnancy. You should not use any during your 1st trimester due to the possibility of causing uterine contractions or affecting development during early stages. Due to the potential risks, we do not recommend using essential oils while pregnant.

Can I use essential oils for my child or infant who can’t sleep?

It is possible to use essential oils safely on children. However, children are more likely to be affected by highly concentrated essential oils due to size, age, and other potential variables such as allergies. While it can be safe to use essential oils on children, you must use precaution and ensure to dilute your essential oils, as well as do a test patch first. It is not recommended to use essential oils on infants under three months old due to their highly sensitive skin, even in diluted forms.

Where do essential oils originate from?

Essential oils have been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. In fact, Egyptians were shown to have used aromatic oils as early as 4500 B.C. Other cultures revealed to have used essential oils for medicine include Rome and ancient China.

I still can’t sleep, what should I do?

If you still are unable to sleep, you may simply need to develop some new sleep habits, including:

  • Sticking to a bedtime schedule
  • Avoiding blue light and screens at night
  • Exercising for at least 30 minutes during the day

If after trying these or other common methods you are still unable to sleep, or you feel you may have something more serious, visit your sleep specialist or doctor. It is possible that you may have an underlying sleep disorder.


If you find you often have trouble falling asleep at night, essential oils may be the right choice for you. While there are many more studies to be done on essential oil’s effects, many have shown that essential oils can provide vital relaxation and stress relief when trying to fall asleep. Essential oils offer many wonderful benefits, although they are not a cure-all if you have an underlying sleep disorder. Explore your options, and try different blends, to find the mix that works for you. Afterward, enjoy your good night’s rest.

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