Let me preface this by saying I'm totally not the person who swears by all things natural. But when my anxiety began inhibiting my nightly rest, I pledged to try just about anything. And after a chance product arrival from beauty, lifestyle, and artisanal subscription brand My Spiritú arrived on my desk, I first began exploring essential oils for sleep.
I started experimenting with the brand's Cooling Anti-Stress Rollerball, a pre-made blend of lavender, eucalyptus, and peppermint. I followed the instructions, applying to my shoulders, down the sides of my neck and on my temples. Almost immediately, a calming, slightly tingly sensation took over. The typical angst I felt when I would lay my head to the pillow at the end of the night was lessened within a matter of minutes, without the help of my typical go-tos like melatonin or Benadryl.
But what is it about essential oils that make them so incredible for sleep? "When inhaled, the components can be processed by the brain to calm and sedate, and some studies suggest the molecules can directly enter the bloodstream and have physiological effects such as lowering blood pressure and having relaxing effects on the muscles," Anna Teal, Aromatherapy Associates CEO, tells TZR. And Dr. Amy Shah, M.D., agrees. "We've seen studies that prove that scents are directly correlated to memory," she says (like the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health's Influence of Fragrances on Human Psychophysiological Activity study from 2016). "Incorporating a scent into your nightly wind-down routine is really beneficial as we've seen from many studies, encouraging your frontal lobe to slow down."
Ever since I've incorporated the oils into my routine, I sleep through the night and don't experience the same dread that comes with trying to fall asleep. Instead, I drift into a peaceful slumber within about 15 minutes of laying down, and wake feeling so renewed without my normal grogginess. I do notice a few messy streaks on my pillowcase when I wake up, but it's a small price to pay for a peaceful night of sleep.
However, essential oils should be used with caution. "If you use an undiluted essential oil you shouldn't put that straight on your skin, especially depending on health condition," Shah says, referencing pregnant women in their first trimester, for example. "Everything needs to be diluted from a carrier oil." There's also a risk of a topical reaction, to which Shah suggests a patch test to verify that you're not allergic.
And while my anxiety isn't completely gone (I'm thanking the high-intensity of New York City for part of that), I know that I have an uninterrupted, peaceful rest to look forward to when I snuggle into my duvet.
Essential Oils For Sleep: Lavender
According to the NIH's Lavendar and the Nervous System 2013 study, the ingredient interacts with a neurotransmitter that contributes to motor control and vision to assist in calming the brain and nervous system, assisting in agitation and restlessness. "Lavender has the most documented data supporting its relaxing and sedative effects through scientific research, and is a great all-rounder, particularly for gentle relaxation," Teal says.
Essential Oils For Sleep: Eucalyptus
The oil is made for external use only, with a 2017 Epilepsia Open journal stating that seizures occur if ingested. However, when applied to the skin, the vapors can make for a peaceful rest. The potent aroma is said to promote feelings of calm and ease, and is proven to reduce inflammation.
Essential Oils For Sleep: Peppermint
The great-for-ingestion ingredient is a mood-booster, according to the International Journal of Neuroscience, and happens to be wonderful in tea and in baths. The heavy menthol content works to relax muscles and induce sleep. "Start with clearing your thoughts and let the body rest by soaking in a warm bath," Teal says. "Slowly breathe in the therapeutic aromas of the essential oils and massage onto torso before stepping into the bath."
Essential Oils For Sleep: Vetiver
According to Teal, the oil is the most relaxing of all. When blended with sandalwood, or chamomile, as well as valerian, it can greatly increase the quality of sleep. A 2015 study found that vetiver has anti-anxiety abilities similar to the drug diazepam.