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The 6 Best Essential Oils For Sleeping (Science-Backed)

by Dale Cudmore | Updated: Jan 27, 2022

Opinions on essential oils are often polarized to the extremes (i.e. they fix everything or are entirely useless).

In reality, research shows that certain essential oils may be able to help people sleep better.

While they may not cure insomnia by themselves, they could be a useful tool that is unlikely to hurt if someone wants to try them.

There’s not a ton of top quality research on this topic, but I’ve summarized all the credible studies that I could find in this post.

Valerian Oil

In terms of natural sleep aids, there’s a decent amount of evidence that valerian root can improve insomnia and sleep in general.

It stands to reason that valerian oil may also have positive effects.

One study on ICU patients with sleep issues looked at the effects of valerian acupressure (1). This involves applying gentle pressure at particular points of the body after applying valerian oil.

They applied 2.5% valerian essential oil to a few points on the inner wrist, and one point on the foot before administering acupressure between 7:00 pm and 10:00 pm. The results:

...indicated that after receiving valerian acupressure, patients’ sleeping hours increased, wake frequency reduced and SSS grades declined.

Those are all indicators of an improvement in sleep quality.

Another study in rats examined several essential oils and found that while none were as good as chlorpromazine (CP) hydrochloride, valerian did have the best positive effect of all oils tested (2):

The middle bar for the oil in the graph above is for anosmic rats (no sense of smell). This implies that a sense of smell is needed for an essential oil to have an effect.

While that’s just an animal study, it does justify the need for further exploration in human subjects.

SummaryThere is some evidence showing that valerian oil can have a positive effect on sleep quality. However, more research on the ideal dosage, timing, and best application method is needed.

Chamomile Oil

Chamomile tea has long been known for its relaxing effect, so it’s not surprising that there’s some interest in whether or not chamomile can help insomnia.

There are a few studies that specifically look at chamomile oil, so let’s go through those.

First, a study of 105 burn patients with sleep issues (split into 3 groups) tested the effects of a chamomile oil and lavender oil mixture (3). The massages were performed 20 minutes before bedtime, with or without oil (placebo group used baby oil).

They found a mild but positive effect of the massage that used an essential oil mixture to conclude that:

Aromatherapy massage with lavender and chamomile oil decreases the anxiety and improves the quality of sleep of patients with burns.

Sleep quality was measured using the PSQI scale (any score under 5 is a “good” sleeper). The essential oil went from an average score of 9.97 to 8.45. So they didn’t turn into good sleepers all of a sudden, but it’s a significant improvement nonetheless.

A 2021 study also looked at both lavender and chamomile oil, but they were not mixed together. This time, they used essential oil inhalation in older people with sleep issues (4).

The experimental groups inhaled 3 drops of 1.5% of either lavender or chamomile oil for 30 nights, so it was a decent duration. They found:

Inhalation aromatherapy with lavender and chamomile oil decreases depression, anxiety, and stress scores in older adults.

As you can see from the chart below, the effects were greatest right after the aromatherapy started. The effect was still significant over time, but was less of a difference after 1 month.

You can also see that the lavender and chamomile oils had very similar effect sizes.

Lavender Oil

We just saw above that lavender oil has comparable effects to chamomile oil when it comes to sleep quality.

In addition, there are a few other studies on lavender oil and sleep.

One study found that applying lavender to patients in palliative care improved sleep quality (5):

It was observed in the evaluation that lavender application did not affect the vital signs of the patients but it ensured a deeper sleep on the 2nd day after the intervention, facilitated their falling asleep and sleeping again when they were awakened and enhanced sleep quality.

Finally, one study examined the use of lavender oil inhalation on hemodialysis patients (2 drips 30 minutes before going to bed) for 1 week and found that sleep duration increased, but sleep onset time did not (6).

In general, it appears that lavender-based products can have some impact on sleep. See our study review on the effects of lavender tea on sleep for more details.

Peppermint Oil

There isn’t much research on peppermint oil and sleep, but one study does show some promise.

The effect of peppermint oil inhalation was tested in cardiac patients with sleep problems (7). They found:

There was a significant difference in the mean score of PSQI (sleep quality) in each of the experimental groups before and after the intervention.

They also tested lavender oil and found that it had a statistically similar effect size.

Sandalwood Oil

I couldn’t find any good human studies on sandalwood oil, but there was one animal study looking at its effect on sleep.

They did see an improvement in certain aspects of sleep quality (8):

...caused a significant decrease in total waking time and an increase in total non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep time

Obviously that’s very limited and we can’t draw any conclusions, but it will hopefully prompt more research teams in the future to do human studies with sandalwood oil.

Jasmine Oil

Again, there’s not much research on jasmine oil on sleep.

But there was one study done on inhaling jasmine oil before going to bed (9).

Jasmine odor led to greater sleep efficiency and reduced sleep movement, without differences in total sleep time, thus providing increased sleep quality without the need for additional sleep time.

So it didn’t help subjects sleep longer, but they did sleep more soundly, which is also important.

Summary: Which Essential Oils Are Best for Sleeping Better?

If you want to try using essential oils to sleep better, there’s certainly some evidence showing that they can help.

Obviously this was not a complete list of all essential oils (there’s just far too many), and many lack any research on their effect on sleep.

But from what we’ve seen, the essential oils with the most evidence for improving sleep appear to be:

  • Lavender oil
  • Valerian oil
  • Chamomile oil

Note that essential oils are not going to cure severe sleep issues like insomnia, those need to be treated with a comprehensive treatment plan designed by a health professional.

References

  1. The effectiveness of valerian acupressure on the sleep of ICU patients: A randomized clinical trial
  2. The Sleep-Enhancing Effect of Valerian Inhalation and Sleep-Shortening Effect of Lemon Inhalation
  3. The effect of aromatherapy massage with lavender and chamomile oil on anxiety and sleep quality of patients with burns
  4. The effects of Lavender and Chamomile essential oil inhalation aromatherapy on depression, anxiety and stress in older community-dwelling people
  5. The Effect of Lavender Oil on Sleep Quality and Vital Signs in Palliative Care
  6. The Effect of Lavender Oil Application via Inhalation Pathway on Hemodialysis Patients' Anxiety Level and Sleep Quality
  7. Comparing the effect of aromatherapy with peppermint and lavender on the sleep quality of cardiac patients
  8. Effect of santalol on the sleep-wake cycle in sleep-disturbed rats
  9. Effects of odorant administration on objective and subjective measures of sleep quality, post-sleep mood and alertness, and cognitive performance

Medical Disclaimer: The information on SnoozeUniversity.com is not intended to be a substitute for physician or other qualified care. We simply aim to inform people struggling with sleep issues about the nature of their condition and/or prescribed treatment.


About the authorDale is the founder of Snooze University and a sleep researcher. I overcame my sleep issues and now I'd like to help you do the same by summarizing the latest sleep studies for you.