We can all benefit from plant power, whether you’re in deep space or right here on Earth.

Imagine you’re in deep space, with nothing to look at but the blinking lights of the command center and a sky full of distant stars. With no sunrise or twilight to look forward to, it might be a bit difficult to fall asleep.

Plus, being the only one out there would probably get a little lonely. That’s where plants come in.

The cosmonaut Valentin Lebedev said his plants on the Salyut space station were like pets. He deliberately slept near them so he could look at them before he drifted off to sleep.

He’s not the only one. Nearly every space program has used greenhouses as a way to improve the living space of their astronauts.

Plants can be beneficial for physical and mental health in a variety of ways. New research from Beihang University in Beijing, also known as Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, shows that having just a few houseplants in your home can also help you sleep better.

According to the new study, interacting with plants before going to sleep can help improve sleep quality for people living in isolated environments, including deep space.

The research could have a significant impact on the way future space programs structure living spaces for astronauts, and could lead to plants being prioritized more in the future.

Calming colors

Color is partly responsible for the calming quality of plants.

During the study, participants were asked to interact with plants in their room before going to sleep. The researchers investigated the effects of three different plant species:

Researchers took saliva samples and monitored participants’ sleep, concluding that green plants (coriander and strawberry) had the most positive effects on the sleep cycles and emotional well-being of the participants.

This suggests that the green color of plants produces a soothing effect.

Soothing smells

The research also showed that the fragrance of edible plants like coriander and strawberry may help with mood regulation and relaxation. The results demonstrated that emotion and sleep are closely linked.

Previous research supports this theory, suggesting that the fragrance of natural plants and flowers can help regulate the nervous system and help you fall asleep faster.

This is one of the reasons aromatherapy is used to improve sleep quality.

Other studies have shown that the smell of certain edible plants can even increase dopamine levels, also known as the happy hormone.

Less stress

Researchers found that just 15 minutes of interaction with green plants may help:

  • reduce cortisol (stress hormone) concentrations
  • reduce sleep latency (the time it takes you to fall asleep)
  • improve sleep integrity by reducing the number of micro-awakening events (the number of times you come out of deep sleep during the night)

These factors all add up to a better, more restful night’s sleep, helping you wake up feeling refreshed.

You’ll get the most benefit from your houseplants by keeping them in the room where you sleep. There are also ways you can boost their sleep-improving qualities.

Try to interact with your plants regularly

On top of having plants in your room, you can also try connecting with them, especially before bed. You can do this by watering them, touching them, or smelling them.

Aim to spend 15 minutes with your plants before you go to sleep to help you feel calmer, especially if you’ve had a stressful day.

Use your plants as part of an evening meditation practice

Caring for plants can be a form of movement meditation as you mindfully go from plant to plant while you water and prune.

You can also use your plants as part of a meditation practice before you go to sleep. Even something as simple as brushing your hand against a leaf and smelling the scent can be a form of meditation. Aromatic herbs and geranium plants are especially good for this.

You can also try sitting with your eyes closed and reflecting on your plants. Observe what thoughts and associations come to mind.

Spend some time appreciating your plants

One of the easiest ways to benefit from your plants is to carve out a moment in your day to admire them. This would ideally be in the evening before you go to sleep, but it’s beneficial any time of day.

Research from Sichuan Agricultural University shows that simply looking at a pot of bamboo for 3 minutes can have a relaxing effect on adults, helping lower blood pressure and anxiety.

A whole range of houseplants can be beneficial to your health. According to the new research, the best plants for improving sleep quality include:

  • plants with green leaves, like dracaenas and rubber plants
  • plants with colored flowers, particularly yellow and white
  • edible plants, like strawberry, basil, and chickweed
  • plants known for their soothing fragrance, such as lilac or ylang-ylang

Introducing just one small plant to your sleeping space can help you feel calmer and sleep better. The power of plants is something we can all benefit from, whether you’re in deep space or right here on Earth.

Elizabeth Harris is a writer and editor with a focus on plants, people, and our interactions with the natural world. She’s been happy to call many places home and has traveled across the world, collecting recipes and regional remedies. She now splits her time between the United Kingdom and Budapest, Hungary, writing, cooking, and eating. Learn more on her website.