Sleep

Need Help Falling Asleep? Try Essential Oils for Sleep

By Justin Fowler-Lindner
Vladislav Muslakov

When your sleep suffers, your health suffers too.

Poor sleep can lead to brain fog, fatigue, hormone imbalances, and poor muscle recovery.

Fortunately, you don’t have to be one of the 50-70 million U.S. adults who struggle to sleep at night.

If you are having a hard time sleeping, the following essential oils may be able to help you get a better night’s sleep:

  • Valerian
  • Lavender
  • Cedarwood

They work by calming the central nervous system and reducing overactive brain activity.

Let’s take a closer look at the best essential oils for sleep, and how each one may help you get more shut eye at night.

What Are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are extracted from the stems, leaves, flowers, and roots of therapeutic plants, some of which may help improve sleep.

In most cases, essential oils are separated from the water in the plant using a process called steam distillation.

How Essential Oils Improve Sleep

What makes essential oils so effective?

One word: bioavailability.

The therapeutic compounds in essential oils tend to be very easy for the body to absorb.

Plus, they can readily pass the blood-brain barrier to deliver fast-acting sedation.

For example, one 2013 study found that, “Same-day aromatherapy has shown to be effective in decreasing pre-procedure anxiety and to increase sleep in patients undergoing cardiac angiography.”

Similarly, a meta-analysis of 15 studies published between 1990 and 2012 concluded that, “A majority of the study’s findings suggest a positive effect of essential oils on sleep.”

How to Use Essential Oils for Sleep

Essential oils can be inhaled, ingested, or applied topically.

Aromatically: Some essential oils, like lavender, have pleasant aromas that fill the room. Dilute a few drops of lavender, bergamot, and clary sage into a spray bottle and spray it on your linens and curtains.

Orally: When taking essential oils orally, it’s important that they’re food-grade. Many essential oils are expensive to produce, and some manufacturers try to cut costs by adding inflammatory perfumes. All it takes is 1-2 drops of pure essential oil to experience its health benefits.

Topically: Essential oils can be applied directly to the skin, although we recommend mixing them with carrier oils to reduce the chance of skin irritation. Mix 1-2 drops with half a teaspoon of coconut oil or hemp seed oil and rub it into your chest, temples, and back of the neck. This will allow for the active compounds in these essential oils to be easily absorbed through the skin.

3 Best Essential Oils for Sleep

The best essential oils for sleep do more than just help you fall asleep faster—many of them also reduce stress and anxiety.

If all goes as planned, you’ll wake up the next morning feeling fresh and well-rested.

Here are three of the best essential oils for sleep:

1. Valerian

According to recent studies, valerian essential oil is shown to reduce anxiety, promote relaxation, and improve sleep quality.

Valerian should be ingested for best results.

Here’s what the research has to say about valerien oil and sleep:

  • According to a recent meta-analysis of 16 studies involving 1093 patients, “[Researchers] found that valerian had a statistically significant effect on the relative risk of improved sleep.”
  • In a 2006 study published in the journal Phytomedicine, a combination of valerian and lemon balm effectively reduced dyssomnia and restlessness in children. 
  • A Swedish study published in the journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior found that the compounds in valerian can improve sleep in 89 percent of patients.

Valerian essential oil contains unique compounds that promote gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA): the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain.

By binding to GABA receptors in the amygdala, valerian can calm the nervous system and promote sleep.

The flavonoids in valerian essential oil are largely responsible for its sedative effects.

Iridoids and valerenic acid may also boost GABA and reduce inflammation by inhibiting NF-KappaB activity.

Studies show that valerian is most effective when taken daily for several weeks, although it should not be taken for more than eight consecutive weeks due to a lack of long-term studies.

Unlike melatonin, valerian has a comparatively low risk of side effects like grogginess.

2. Lavender 

Lavender is one of the best calming herbs to reduce stress and anxiety, and studies also suggest that it can be an effective natural sleep aid.

A 2005 study conducted on young, healthy sleepers found that lavender aromatherapy can increase deep sleep and decrease the amount of time it takes to wake up in the morning.

A 2015 study found that lavender aromatherapy may improve sleep quality in postpartum women, a demographic with high rates of insomnia, restlessness, and depression.

These are just two of the many studies that support lavender oil as a powerful natural sedative.

Lavender essential oil is most effective when inhaled or rubbed into the skin, although it can also be taken orally as lavender tea.

3. Cedarwood 

Several studies indicate that cedarwood essential oil may function as an effective sleep aid.

In a recent animal study, researchers evaluated the sedative effects of inhaled cedrol (a major component in cedarwood oil) on rats treated with caffeine.

After two days of treatment with both caffeine and cedrol, researchers concluded that, “Cedrol inhalation had marked sedative effects…”

A separate Japanese study documented the self-reported effects of cedrol exposure in women from Norway, Thailand, and Japan.

The study concluded that, “Cedrol produces a sedative effect in the people of the three countries despite differences in the ethnic and living environments.”

Cedrol has also been shown to reduce heart rate and blood pressure while promoting parasympathetic nervous system activity.

Why Sleep Is So Important

What happens when you don’t get enough quality sleep?

First and foremost, your mitochondria (the energy factories of your cells) won’t be able to effectively remove waste, and you may feel tired the next day as a result.

Your brain, however, is even more at risk.

Unlike the rest of the body, your brain doesn’t have lymphatic vessels to remove waste.

Under normal circumstances, cerebro-spinal fluid floods the brain while you sleep to rinse out toxins.

However, without quality sleep, this entire process can be disrupted, leaving you sluggish and foggy-headed in the morning.

Sleep is also when the muscles, ligaments, and tendons repair themselves.

The stakes are high, but with the right essential oils, you can help give your body and brain the relaxation and sleep they need.

Unfortunately, quality sleep is harder to get than ever before.

Blue-spectrum light from devices can disrupt melatonin production, and to make matters worse, many of us are overworked and stressed out.

As a result, excessive production of the stress hormone cortisol can further disrupt melatonin, or the hormone that signals the brain that it’s time for bed.

Luckily, valerian root, lavender, and cedarwood essential oils can alleviate sleep issues and help you get a good night’s rest.

Other essential oils to try include chamomile, bergamot, and frankincense, all of which are known for their ability to calm the central nervous system.

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