And Breathe… 4 Essential Oils for Sleep and Relaxation

Drift into a state of calm and ease anxiety with these natural oils for aromatherapy, as recommended by scientists. 


When stressed our bodies release hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Too much of these hormones can cause a rise in blood pressure, headaches, stomachache, and sleep troubles.  


Not all stress is bad, although the bad kind is what tends to occupy our minds. We may get stressed with our pets chewing the new cushions, the dishwasher giving up the ghost, or forgetting to put the bins out.  


When we find ourselves anxious and nervous most days though, we can take steps to gently ease ourselves back into a healthy state of feeling calm and in control. One of the ways we can do this is with aromatherapy, whether with candles, pillow spray or diffusers. 



These evergreen shrubs with blueish purple flowers are native to the Mediterranean but widely grown around the world. 


Across the many varieties of this plant including English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese, it has a herbal scent with a fine, woody, and subtle smokey undertone. 


One of the most documented plants for its properties in aromatherapy, lavender has a soothing and comforting effect on humans. 


Quality of sleep can be improved by using lavender oil. A 2010 clinical trial in an Iranian hospital saw significant results with 64 patients in an intensive care unit. The group that slept next to cotton with lavender oil experienced better sleep and decreased sleep disorders. 


Similarly, a 2005 study on the effect of lavender oil for a more restful sleep on healthy young adults saw positive results. Thirty-one sleepers between 18-30 years old reported feeling more energised when waking in the morning. The researchers noted deeper sleep with fewer disruptions of the participants. 



Vetiver oil has a deep earthy, dry, woody, and grassy aroma often described as a masculine scent and is used heavily in men’s cologne. 


Derived from the roots of a tall tropical grass found in India and Ceylon, vetiver oil has a sedative and relaxing effect.  


An animal study from 2015, found that vetiver was as effective as diazepam to reduce anxiety and improve memory in mice.  


It has also been suggested to aid breathing in sleep and heavy snoring.  


In an experiment from the journal Chemical Senses, 36 Sleep Apnoea patients who inhaled vetiver oil during sleep had improved breathing. Sleep Apnoea (link to sleep apnoea post) usually causes inconsistent and difficult breathing during the night. 


Not a particularly pleasant smell on its own, vetiver is often blended with lavender and cedarwood, frankincense, and bergamot essential oils. 



From as long ago as 5,000 years, frankincense has been used and traded by the ancient Babylonians, Egyptians, and Hebrews.  


Also known as olibanum, this citrusy, woody, slightly floral-scented oil is made from the resin of Boswellia trees.  


Varieties of the stubby, gnarly trees that produce the resin, can be found in Somalia, Oman, Yemen, and India. The essential oil smells sweeter and fresher than burning the resin. 


Midwives in a 2018 nursing study successfully used frankincense to ease the labour pains of women giving birth. Sixty-three women had a piece of cotton soaked in frankincense oil attached to their gowns to inhale. The intensity of pain was significantly lower in the women that used frankincense, compared with another group of 63 women that didn’t have aromatherapy. 


The study suggests that aromatherapy with frankincense lowers anxiety and feelings of pain, which can, in turn, aid sleep. 


2008 clinical trial in Korea found that when used in an aromatherapy massage blend, frankincense can help reduce depression. For the experiment, 28 hospice patients with terminal cancer were given a hand massage using equal amounts of frankincense, bergamot, and lavender oil for one week.  


Pain, anxiety, and depression were felt much less for the patients that inhaled the aroma oils. 



Native to the lush tropical Asian countries of Malaysia, Philippines, and Indonesia, as well as some Pacific islands, Ylang-ylang is made from the butter-coloured flowers that grow on the Cananga tree. 


Heady, sweet, with a greenness-scent, Ylang-ylang smells reminiscent of Honeysuckle. 


Ylang-ylang has been shown to have sedative and anti-anxiety effects.  


One small 2012 study found that after inhaling Yang-ylang, pulse rate and blood pressure lowered in a group of healthy participants, as well as less stress. 


Similar findings showing the benefits of ylang-ylang aromatherapy for positive mood, feeling of relaxation, and harmony are detailed in a 2013 paper published in the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation and a 2003 paper in Planta Medica. 


How to use essential oils for sleep and relaxation 

Three effective ways to use essential oils to de-stress are: 


  • Aromatherapy massage 
  • Aromatherapy inhalation
  • Aromatherapy bath 


Use a base oil (also known as a carrier oil) to prepare the essential oils for application on skin. Most essential oils are extremely concentrated and aren’t recommended to be used undiluted for massage.  


Gentle and skin-safe base oils include virgin cold-pressed jojoba oil, sweet almond oil, and grapeseed oil. Add 10-12 drops of essential oils in 30ml of base oil. 


The same recipe for massage oil can be used as a bath oil. Pour a tablespoon amount into a warm bath to relax muscles and reduce anxiety. 


Inhaling aroma oils is an easy way to enjoy the therapeutic benefits especially at night time 


Drop essential oils on to the corner of your pillowcase (3-4 drops should be enough) or mist your bed linen with a calming pillow spray. Aroma balms with a blend of relaxing oils are designed to safely apply onto your skin. They can be applied throughout the day or before bed on the wrists, temple, and neck. Alternatively, an aromatherapy candle can be a nice, relaxing way to reap the benefits of these amazing oils.