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Essential oils have a wide range of uses. Many people swear by the benefits of these concentrated plant extracts for anxiety and stress relief, improved mood and concentration, pain relief, clearer skin, and more. People also commonly use essential oil compounds to promote relaxation and sleep.
You may not be conscious of it, but sleep is one of the most important ways you spend your time. Without enough quality sleep, your brain and body don’t get the time they need to rest, recover, and prepare for the day to come.
If you experience insomnia or find yourself regularly lying awake for other reasons, you’ll eventually start to notice some effects of sleep deprivation. Over time, sleep loss can have a serious impact on your health.
Not everyone finds essential oils helpful. Still, people who prefer to avoid over-the-counter sleep aids often find that aromatherapy, or the therapeutic use of these compounds, offers a natural way to improve sleep.
Read on to learn more about essential oils known to benefit sleep and relaxation and get tips on using them safely and effectively.
Essential oils are derived from various parts of plants. Since many plants produce them, the vast array of available options can leave you somewhat overwhelmed.
If you’ve already started looking into aromatherapy, you might have noticed that certain oils appear to have several uses. How to determine which one will work for you?
Certain oils might have a slightly different effect from person to person, but for the purposes of this article, we focused on essential oils generally recognized to promote relaxation and sleep. Here’s how we narrowed down the options:
- Essential oil type. We included essential oils known to have benefits for relaxation and sleep.
- Expert interviews and research. Word of mouth can have benefits when it comes to choosing products like essential oils, but we also reviewed scientific evidence to get more insight on whether these essential oils actually seemed to have proven benefits for sleep. We also talked to Jo Sahlin, a licensed massage therapist in Olympia, Washington, who has experience in aromatherapy.
- Availability. We included essential oils available to purchase online from trusted retailers.
- Quality and transparency. Reputable brands that sell quality oils should offer a certificate of analysis or safety data sheet, on their website or upon request. We listed essential oils from brands that provide this documentation.
Prices for essential oils can range widely, depending on the oil itself, its quality and where you make your purchase. Oils are generally sold by milliliters (mL) in small bottles. They’re highly concentrated, so you only need a few drops.
We’ve given prices for the oils we recommended, broken down as follows:
- $ = under $10
- $$ = $10–$20
- $$$ = over $20
Eden Botanicals High Elevation Lavender Essential Oil
- Price: $$ (15-mL bottle)
- Main uses: Relaxation, calm, and anxiety relief
The benefits of lavender, in plant or oil form, are widely recognized. This herb is often included in perfumes, soaps, lotions, and even teas, so there’s a good chance you’ve encountered it before. Many people enjoy its floral fragrance, and the appealing scent alone can help the relaxation response take effect, Sahlin explains.
Lavender essential oil can also help ease anxiety, promote relaxation, and calm the mind before bed. Several scientific studies have explored the use of linalool, the main component in lavender, for anxiety relief and sleep.
- According to
2014 research, aromatherapy with lavender essential oil may help ease minor sleep difficulties with few unwanted side effects.
small 2017 studyfound evidence to suggest that several essential oils, including lavender, appeared to help improve sleep and reduce early morning awakening in older adults with dementia.
- According to a
2017 study, lavender essential oil helped relieve anxiety and improve sleep quality in intensive care patients with heart disease.
If you’d like to give lavender essential oil a try, we recommend this high elevation lavender. Reviewers describe it as fragrant and pure. Even if you sometimes find the scent of lavender a bit harsh, this particular oil might still work for you. Some people who say they often find blends of lavender too harsh call this one natural, sweet, and crisp.
Eden Botanicals Roman Chamomile Essential Oil
- Price: $$$ (5-mL bottle)
- Main uses: Sleep, anxiety relief, and pain relief
Getting a good night’s sleep can prove difficult when you have a hard time relaxing and setting aside the day’s worries, but if you’ve ever drifted off after a soothing cup of chamomile tea, you might already have some firsthand knowledge of chamomile’s benefits for relaxation and drowsiness.
Sahlin explains that you’ll encounter two different varieties: German and Roman chamomile. “Roman chamomile is recognized as a mild sedative, so it may have slightly more benefit for sleep. It’s also gentle enough that it’s safe for children.”
Note that essential oils are meant for external use only, so you won’t want to put them in your bedtime tea.
- According to a
2013 study, an aromatherapy blend of lavender, Roman chamomile, and neroli essential oils helped ease anxiety and improve sleep for intensive care patients. Research from 2010suggests that chamomile can help calm nervousness and anxiety and may help promote calm before bed. Chamomile may also help reduce nightmares.
Reviewers love the mild fragrance of this Roman chamomile essential oil, saying it helps promote calm and relaxation before bedtime and works well in a nighttime bath.
Vitruvi Bergamot Essential Oil
- Price: $$ (0.3 fluid ounces, or about 8 mL)
- Main uses: Improved mood, anxiety, and stress relief
You’ll recognize the scent of bergamot if you’ve ever had a cup of Earl Grey tea. Bergamot orange peel, or extract, is what gives the tea its unique fragrance and flavor. This essential oil has several potential benefits, including pain and inflammation relief.
Citrus essential oils, generally speaking, tend to get more use as energy boosters than relaxation agents. Still, there’s some evidence to suggest bergamot essential oil can help improve sleep quality:
- According to a
small 2015 study, some cancer patients reported getting better sleep after aromatherapy. Participants could choose between two different blends, one of which contained bergamot and sandalwood essential oils.
2019 studylooked at sleep quality in 42 cardiac rehabilitation outpatients. Patients who slept with cotton balls infused with lavender, bergamot, and ylang ylang at the side of their bed reported getting better sleep and waking up less frequently.
Reviewers praise the calming, refreshing fragrance of Vitruvi’s bergamot essential oil. This oil may work best for sleep when blended with other relaxing oils, including clary sage, ylang ylang, or melissa (lemon balm).
You’ll definitely want to avoid using this oil on your skin, unless heavily diluted, since it can increase your sensitivity to sunlight. (We’ll get into more safety considerations below.)
Eden Botanicals Virginia Cedarwood Essential Oil
- Price: $ (15-mL bottle)
- Main uses: Skin conditions, anxiety and stress relief, and sleep
If you prefer a natural, woodsy fragrance to floral or citrus scents, cedarwood essential oil may offer a better option for relaxation, reduced stress, and better sleep. A few different types of cedarwood essential oil exist, and some, like Virginia cedarwood essential oil, come from trees that are actually junipers.
Limited evidence supports the benefits of cedarwood oil for insomnia:
Animal research from 2003suggests cedrol, a primary component in cedarwood essential oil, may have a sedative effect. Research from 2017suggests an aromatherapy blend of Virginia cedarwood, cypress, Japanese cypress, and pine oil could help improve sleep quality in older adults with dementia.
- According to an
animal study from 2018, Virginia cedarwood essential oil appears to help relieve anxiety and stress.
Reviewers describe the fragrance of Virginia cedarwood oil as smooth, warm, and slightly sweet, saying it inspires nostalgic memories of an heirloom chest or a cedar closet. Avoid using it directly on your skin, since it may increase photosensitivity.
Mountain Rose Herbs Valerian Essential Oil
- Price: $$ (5-mL bottle)
- Main uses: Sleep, relaxation, and anxiety and tension relief
Another prominent player in sleepytime tea blends, valerian is widely recognized for its calming, sedative effect. Beyond helping you feel grounded and tranquil enough to drift off to sleep, valerian essential oil might also improve the quality of your sleep.
- Animal research from 2006 suggests using valerian essential oil in aromatherapy before sleep may help improve both sleep quality and time spent asleep.
small 2012 studysuggests valerian aromatherapy or acupressure has benefits for improving sleep quality and length of time asleep for patients in intensive care.
One drawback of valerian? Not everyone finds the pungent scent appealing. You might prefer to blend it with another essential oil, such as lavender or cedarwood, for a more pleasant fragrance.
Vitruvi Ylang Ylang Essential Oil
- Price: $$ (0.3 fluid ounces, about 8 mL)
- Main uses: Anxiety and stress relief, relaxation, pain relief, and improved mood
This essential oil has a strong, sweet floral fragrance that some describe as almost fruity. If you prefer a lighter, delicate fragrance, you may find ylang ylang a little heavy, even cloying.
While research doesn’t specifically point to its benefits for insomnia relief, evidence suggests it has many other benefits, including relief from anxiety and stress and improved relaxation.
- Results of a small 2006 study suggest aromatherapy with a blend of lavender, bergamot, and ylang ylang essential oils may help reduce anxiety, stress, and blood pressure.
- According to a
small 2014 study, using ylang ylang in aromatherapy treatments may help ease anxiety and promote self-esteem.
This essential oil may irritate sensitive skin, so it’s best to use with caution and avoid applying directly to your skin. It’s also toxic to cats and dogs, so keep aromatherapy materials out of their reach.
When purchasing ylang ylang essential oil, you may notice it comes in different scent potencies. Reviewers say this option has a light and sweet but still potent scent. Many recommend blending it with other oils, such as cedarwood, lavender, and lemon.
Other oils to consider
There’s less evidence to support the benefits of these oils for sleep and relaxation, but anecdotal reports suggest many people still find them effective, especially when blended with other essential oils:
Sahlin recommends marjoram, neroli, and clary sage essential oils, in particular. Clary sage may also help relieve depression.
If you’ve never used essential oils before, you might wonder how to get started. Do you just open the bottle and take a whiff?
You sure can, but you have other options, too. And remember, when smelling any new product, it’s always wise to waft the fragrance rather than inhale directly.
Essential oil diffusers offer a simple way to try aromatherapy for sleep.
If you already have a diffuser, or you’re planning to purchase one, simply add a few drops of your preferred sleep oil or custom oil blend to the diffuser as bedtime approaches.
This diffuser can run in your bedroom as you sleep, or you can set it up to run as you begin to relax and wind down before bed. It’s recommended to use diffusers only intermittently, so you might want to consider a diffuser with a timer if you plan to leave it on at night.
Keep diffusers away from pets and small children. If you live with other people, especially children and pets, make sure you only diffuse oils they can safely inhale. When in doubt, always talk to your child’s healthcare professional or your veterinarian.
If you prefer not to inhale essential oils through a diffuser, you can give yourself some DIY aromatherapy by adding a few drops of essential oil to a handkerchief, washcloth, fabric scrap, or cotton ball. Let it dry and then keep it nearby as you relax before bed. You can even tuck it into your pillowcase or leave it by your bedside.
You might hear a recommendation to add a drop or two of certain oils, like lavender, to your pillowcase. This may be safe, strictly speaking, for certain oils, but Sahlin cautions that this could irritate delicate facial skin. Instead, once you’ve done a patch test, try adding the drops to your pillow and then covering it with a clean pillowcase.
If a warm bath is part of your nighttime routine, you can ease yourself toward drowsiness with an essential oil bath.
“Heat will activate the oils and contribute to the feeling of drowsiness,” Sahlin explains.
She recommends diluting 3 drops of essential oil with 1 tablespoon of liquid soap or a carrier oil. Swirl the diluted oil into the bath before getting in. Avoid adding essential oil directly to the bath without first diluting it, since this can cause skin irritation.
“If you don’t have a bathtub, try a large bowl for a relaxing foot bath. If you don’t have access to essential oils, you might try lavender or chamomile tea bags in your bathwater instead,” Sahlin suggests.
Many people find self or partner massage relaxing, even without the added benefit of oils.
For a relaxing essential oil massage before bed, mix a few drops of your preferred oil with a tablespoon of skin-safe carrier oil.
“Massage the diluted mixture onto your chest, soles of your feet, shoulders, back of your neck, or any tense areas,” Sahlin recommends. “When using oils topically by massaging them into your skin, you may see a longer-lasting effect as your skin absorbs the oil throughout the night.”
A note about dosage and dilution
Many essential oils can’t be applied directly to your skin. It’s always safest to dilute essential oils with a carrier oil if you plan to use them on your skin.
- For a massage blend, combine 1 tablespoon of your preferred carrier oil with 2 to 3 drops of essential oil. Avoid touching the undiluted oil.
- You can add essential oils to a diffuser without diluting them. Your diffuser will have instructions for safe use.
- You don’t need to dilute oils before adding them to fabric or cotton balls for evaporated inhalation. Just be careful not to touch the oil until the cloth has dried.
When choosing essential oils for sleep, you’ll want to consider a few additional factors beyond the type of oil. Here’s what to keep in mind as you shop:
Quality and transparency
Some, but not all, essential oil brands will have a certificate of analysis, safety data sheet, or both for the essential oils on their website. These documents break down the components in the oil and outline any potential hazards or safety risks. They confirm that the essential oil you purchase contains exactly what it’s supposed to, and nothing more.
Transparent essential oil retailers will stand behind the quality of their product by making this documentation readily available. If you can’t find these documents on the essential oil product page, you should be able to request them from the retailer. Mountain Rose Herbs, a trusted retailer of essential oils, will email any product documents you request, for example.
Other important guidelines:
- Check the label. Look for ingredients, country of origin, and the plant’s full name in Latin. Pure essential oils will have no ingredients added.
- Look at the bottle. Essential oils should come packaged in dark glass bottles to ensure their quality over time.
- Purchase from known retailers. Avoid buying essential oils from unknown sources, especially when the company doesn’t offer a certificate of analysis or any safety data information.
Since different plants may cost more to grow, harvest, or extract, essential oils vary widely in price. Between reputable brands, the price for a specific oil usually won’t vary too much, unless one brand offers a particularly high quality of oil. Essential oils made from higher grades of lavender, for example, may cost a little more than standard lavender essential oil.
Let’s say you’re shopping around for bergamot essential oil. The price for a 5-mL bottle may vary by a few dollars among several reputable retailers, but it’ll probably stay within the same general price range.
If you find a very low price, proceed with caution and look for a certificate of analysis to make sure the oil is pure. You might save a bit of money, but cheaper essential oils may come diluted with unnecessary ingredients. Some of these components might even make them less effective.
You can purchase essential oils in different amounts, depending on your needs.
Some retailers offer small bottles of certain oils at a lower price, often just a few dollars. This gives you the option to try the scent and determine whether it works for you before you commit to a larger purchase.
Other brands may also allow you to request a sample of a particular essential oil when making a purchase.
Don’t forget your carrier oil
If you’re planning to use essential oils topically, you’ll need to dilute them with a carrier oil first, as mentioned above. Using a carrier oil helps reduce the chance of skin irritation.
You can purchase a carrier oil specifically to use with your essential oils, but you might already have a solid option at home. Try jojoba, sweet almond, grapeseed, olive, or sunflower oils.
While essential oils can have a lot of benefits, they also do pose some safety risks.
These tips can help you use essential oils safely and effectively for sleep:
- Many essential oils come from nontoxic plants, but that doesn’t mean they’re safe to eat. Their high concentration makes them unsafe for consumption, so take care to avoid ingesting them and only use them externally.
- Some essential oils for sleep, like bergamot and cedarwood, may increase sensitivity to sunlight. Always check whether an oil is considered phototoxic before applying it to your skin.
- Always keep essential oils away from your eyes.
- Read up on an essential oil before you make your purchase. If you have sensitive skin, allergies, or underlying health conditions, you may want to talk with your doctor before trying essential oils.
- If you plan to add oils to a diffuser, make sure those oils are safe for any roommates, children, partners, or pets.
- If you’re pregnant, it’s best to talk to your doctor before trying essential oils, even if you’ve used them safely in the past.
- Always dilute essential oils before using them on your skin. The rate of dilution might depend on the strength and type of your oil, but 1 teaspoon of carrier oil for each drop of essential oil is a general guideline.
Always make sure to do a patch test before trying a new essential oil. Here’s how:
- Dilute the essential oil in a carrier oil. For patch tests specifically, some recommendations suggest using 1 drop of essential oil for 30 drops of carrier oil. Other guidelines recommend testing a stronger concentration than you plan to use.
- Apply a small amount of the diluted oil to your inner elbow or forearm with a cotton ball or swab.
- Cover the area with a bandage to keep it clean and dry for 1 to 2 days.
- Alternatively, apply the oil directly to the bandage and then attach the bandage to your forearm.
- If you don’t experience any redness, swelling, itching, or other skin irritation after 24 to 48 hours, the essential oil is likely safe for you to use.
While essential oils can’t replace medical treatment from a trained healthcare professional, they may have some benefits as a natural remedy. Many people use them to fall asleep faster and get better sleep.
To use essential oils safely and maximize their benefits for insomnia or any other condition, always follow safety precautions. It’s also a good idea to talk with your healthcare professional before giving them a try.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.