Sleep Series: 14 Essential Oils for Insomnia

In previous articles, I described insomnia, how it increases pain levels, and some various treatments available. One helpful tool that I haven’t touched on yet (due to the constraints of word count) is essential oils.

If you are new to essential oils, no worries. You have already been using them! Essential oils are the oil compounds extracted from various plants. Citrus fruits are filled with these compounds. Any time you zest an orange, you are releasing those oils into the air and into your food.

Traditional medicines have used essential oils for millennia. Although modern science is only now taking a serious look at these old medicines, the results have been positive.

Quick disclaimer: I am a self-professed aromatherapy hobbyist, not an expert and certainly not a certified aromatherapist. I have completed a class from the University of Arizona (Aromatherapy & Health: An Introduction), but am otherwise self-taught from books, research, and experimentation.

Essential Oils and Sleep

 

So how do essential oils work? What makes them so potent? From an anatomical perspective, the olfactory nerve connects the nose directly to the brain’s limbic system, which is primarily responsible for our emotions and memories (among other things). That is why certain scents can evoke powerful, emotional reactions or bring up a memory thought long forgotten. Incoming information from our other senses (sight, sound, touch, and taste) take the scenic route via the thalamus (similar to a processing center) before being disseminated to other areas of the brain.

In addition to soothing anxiety and lifting depression, many oils have sedating or muscle relaxing properties. Thus, the body is encouraged to fall asleep and stay asleep. These are not miracle cures, just another tool to keep in your proverbial toolbox that might help. Chronic pain can sometimes become so excruciating that no manner of medicine or oil will lull you to sleep. In these cases, it’s best to talk to your doctor about a stronger painkiller, not a sedative. 

Side effects for essential oils are rare or mild, especially when compared with conventional medicines; however, they can occur. Keep that in mind whenever you are trying a new oil. For instance, lavender gives my sister a headache if she smells it for too long and I develop an itchy rash if I come into contact with copaiba. However, such reactions aren’t common occurrences.


How to Use

 

I am a huge fan of the diffuser method. Fill up an ultra-sonic diffuser with water, add a few drops of your preferred essential oil, and turn on! It extends the use of a drop of oil for hours and, as we discussed above, the nose is a highway to the brain.

Some people prefer topical applications. Just remember to dilute with a carrier oil first. Essential oils are so concentrated that less is usually better. Always apply a patch test first to check if you may have an allergy.

Use with Children

Kids are smaller than adults, and just like with Ibuprofen or Tylenol, kids need smaller doses than adults. Some essential oils are best kept away from kids entirely, so do your research or talk to your doctor before using a new oil. Current research recommends a 0.5% dilution rate (2-3 drops of essential oil per 1oz. carrier oil) for children, pregnant women, and highly sensitive people.

14 Essential Oils that Promote Sleep

(List is alphabetical, not by most recommended.)

Allspice

Allspice has a wonderful, warm, spicy scent. Ironically, every time I try to diffuse it, I fall asleep. Although Allspice doesn’t typically show up in the sleeping section of essential oils literature, digging a little deeper will show that it has been used for centuries as an anti-anxiety and sleep aid.

Scent: Warm, slightly wood, spicy-sweet

Diffuser Blends:

5 drops Allspice, 3 drops Orange

5 drops Allspice, 2 drops Silver Fir


Image by  djedj  from  Pixabay

Image by djedj from Pixabay

Cedarwood

Cedarwood was my first venture into essential oils. I have fond childhood memories of my dad’s workshop filled to the brim with planks and logs, the smell of freshly cut wood in the air. I picked up cedarwood, thinking it’d be a nice reminder of home. Fairly early on, I noticed that if I diffused cedarwood at night, I would sleep better and sounder.

Scent: Freshly cut wood

Diffuser Blends:

5 drops Cedarwood, 3 drops Orange

5 drops Cedarwood, 3 drops Pine

5 drops Cedarwood, 1-2 drops Silver Fir


Clary Sage

Clary Sage is a MUST for women of any age. With its powerful hormone-balancing properties, menstruation and menopause actually become bearable. It’s also one of the best anti-anxiety and anti-depressant oils and seems on par with Cedarwood’s propensity for encouraging sleep.

Scent: Herbaceous, slightly floral

Diffuser Blends:

5 drops Clary Sage, 3 drops Lavender

5 drops Clary Sage, 4 drops Juniper Berry

5 drops Clary Sage, 3 drops Frankincense


Image by   Marco Verch   from  Flickr

Image by Marco Verch from Flickr

Clove Bud

Much like with Allspice, I discovered Clove Bud’s sedative properties entirely by accident: whenever I diffused it, I fell asleep. Repeatedly. And during the day. When I questioned a local Young Living seller about it, she looked genuinely confused, pulled out her massive reference manual, and after a moment of searching said, “Well would you look at that! Clove Bud is listed here as a sedative! Learn something new every day!”

Although not a particularly popular oil, Clove Bud has become my first choice as a sleep aid. It is similar to Jasmine in potency, but far cheaper to obtain.

Scent: Warm, spicy-sweet

Diffuser Blends:

5 drops Clove Bud, 3 drops Pine

5 drops Clove Bud, 2 drops Silver Fir

5 drops Clove Bud, 5 drops Rosemary, 4-5 drops Orange or Grapefruit


Photo by  David Stern  from  FreeImages

Photo by David Stern from FreeImages

Jasmine

It’s almost a shame that such a beautiful oil should be such a powerful sedative. If you’re asleep, how can you enjoy its exquisite scent? You will sleep well though, if that’s any consolation. Research conducted by Dr. Bryan Raudenbush in 2002 confirmed that not only do people sleep better while inhaling Jasmine oil as opposed to no scent, but they also sleep better than people inhaling Lavender oil, one of the most popular sleep aid oils.

Scent: Rich, deep, floral

Diffuser Blends:

1 drop Jasmine, 5-8 drops Muhuhu


Photo by  Janine Joles  on  Unsplash

Lavender (& Lavandin)

Without a doubt, Lavender stands proud as one of the most sought-after essential oils. As an adaptogen, it tailors to your needs, be that sleep or energy. Many people use Lavender as their primary sleep aid. I have a good friend who swears by it.

However, my personal experiments have left Lavender lagging behind many of the other recommended sleep oils. Perhaps it’s just me. Everyone’s body chemistry is different. But at best, it’s a mild sleep aid.

I would also like to note that anecdotal evidence suggests Lavender increases the vividness of dreams. (“Anecdotal” obviously means it hasn’t been put to rigorous scientific study, so take this with a grain of salt.) If you don’t dream, this isn’t a problem. If you dream that you are a world class thief that only steals chocolate cakes, this still isn’t a problem. If you are prone to nightmares or suffer from PTSD, this might be a problem and I would recommend taking a look at one of the other oils on this list.

Scent: Sweet, floral, slightly herbaceous

Diffuser Blends:

3 drops Lavender, 4-5 drops Rosemary

2 drops Lavender, 5 drops Bergamot, 3 drops Cypress

*Generally safe for children.

Note: Spike Lavender is a different plant than Lavender. It has not been shown to assist sleep. Avoid with children 2 and under.


Photo by  wendy pastorius  from  FreeImages

Neroli

Neroli comes from the flower of the orange tree. No, it doesn’t smell like oranges. Instead it has a very subtle scent, similar to honeysuckle with a grassy undertone. If you aren’t too keen on “smelling” something while you drift off, Neroli is a pleasant, background scent that will lull you asleep without being intrusive. On par with Lavender in terms of strength.

Scent: Sweet like honey, floral, herbaceous

*Generally safe for children.


Image by  Evgeni Tcherkasski  from  Pixabay

Roman Chamomile 

Everyone knows a cup of chamomile tea before bed will help you sleep better. Until you wake up at 3am needing to use the toilet. Roman Chamomile essential oil takes the toilet out of the equation and lets you sleep peacefully. With an aroma of freshly crushed apples or mulled apple cider, this oil calms nerves, soothes fears, and banishes depression.

Scent: Sweet, fruity

Diffuser Blends:

1 drop Roman Chamomile, 3 drops Lavender

*Generally safe for children.


Rose

I personally have never tried Rose as a sleeping aid. It’s too pricy to buy, and the few times I have smelled it, I couldn’t imagine wanting to sleep through the experience. However, according to the literature, it IS a wonderful sedative and anti-anxiety oil.

Scent: Rich, sweet, floral

Blends:

1 drop Rose, 3 drops Peru Balsam

*Generally safe for children.


Image by  Iva Balk  from  Pixabay

Image by Iva Balk from Pixabay

Sweet Marjoram

Sweet Marjoram comes from the same family as Lavender, so perhaps it isn’t too surprising they share a few similarities. In addition to having a mild sedative effect, Sweet Marjoram also soothes anxieties, relaxes the mind and body, and elicits positive emotions.

Scent: Herbaceous, slightly sweet, slightly peppery

Blends:

3 drops Sweet Marjoram, 4-5 drops Bergamot, 3 drops Juniper Berry

3 drops Sweet Marjoram, 5 drops Copaiba, 3 drops Juniper Berry

5 drops Sweet Marjoram, 3 drops Lavender, 3 drops Pine


Image by  Goran Horvat  from  Pixabay

Image by Goran Horvat from Pixabay

Silver Fir 

Silver Fir, or White Fir, is a good oil to have around during cold and flu season or when seasonal allergies hit. It’s a decent decongestant and a brilliant anti-depressant. Unlike many decongestants (e.g., Peppermint or Eucalyptus) which energize, Silver Fir is a mild sedative, making it a prime choice for nighttime diffusing.

Scent: Pine-like, sweet, citrusy

Blends:

2 drops Silver Fir, 5 drops Clove Bud

3 drops Silver Fir, 1 drop Cinnamon

2 drops Silver Fir, 3 drops Frankincense, 3 drops Pine

*Generally safe for children.


Image by   Peter Stevens   from  Flickr

Image by Peter Stevens from Flickr

Valerian

Valerian root and its essential oil stand out among the crowd as one of the better natural sleep aids in the world. Although I have not had a chance to try this particular oil myself, it has been used to treat insomnia for millennia. What little scientific research is available suggests that valerian works directly with neurotransmitters to induce relaxation and coax the body to sleep. Valerian is also good for anxiety.

Scent: Woody, smoky 


Image by   Finca la Casilla    from   Flickr

Image by Finca la Casilla from Flickr

Vetiver

Another oil I have yet to try, Vetiver has a long and fascinating history. Historically its roots were used as water-based cooling systems centuries before air-conditioning was invented! It is perhaps more well-known for its sedative properties and calming effects.

Scent: Woody, smoky


Image by   TreeWorld Wholesale    from   Flickr

Ylang Ylang

This quirky flower is the principle ingredient in Chanel No. 5 perfume. No joke! In addition to its fame in the cosmetic industry, Ylang Ylang is known for its impressive anti-depressant effects. Less known, but no less powerful, is it’s sedative and muscle relaxant qualities. If I have been on my feet all day, exercised a little too much, or developed some muscles spasms, I turn to Ylang Ylang for relief. A single drop in the diffuser at night, and I usually awake feeling better.

Fun fact: I don’t actually like Ylang Ylang’s scent. It’s an instant nose-wrinkler for me. But the benefits of the oil are too good to ignore, so I always keep a small bottle on hand. Just keep in mind that my suggested blends are designed to mask Ylang Ylang’s scent, not celebrate it.

Scent: Sweet, floral, camphorous 

Blends:

1 drop Ylang Ylang, 4 drops Palmarosa

1 drop Ylang Ylang, 3 drops Lavender, 4-5 drops Clary Sage