If you can’t get rid of a headache, worry a lot, or always wake up feeling drowsy, science thinks this: You may not have sniffed enough lavender lately.
Lavender, lemon verbena and sandalwood are age-old folk remedies. Now, medical researchers are discovering the chemistry behind why certain smells can:
- ease pain
- reduce anxiety
- improve sleep
Join us on a tour of recent discoveries—think of it as a sweet-smelling science fair … not like the one at your middle school that smelled like acne cream.
Lavender Essential Oils Proven to Improve Sleep
Let’s begin on the bucolic campus of a U.S. college. Researchers there identified 79 college students who were having trouble sleeping, probably via late-night stakeouts of dorm vending machines.
They trained the students about good sleep hygiene—going to bed on time, avoiding coffee after 4 pm, getting your roommate to wear headphones when they listen to Migos, all that stuff.
All the students got an inhalation patch to put on their chest while they slept. One patch contained 55 microliters of lavender essential oil. The other group’s patch was empty.
The students wore a Fitbit tracker and recorded their sleep experience in a diary.
All of the students slept a little bit better. But the group with the lavender chest patches showed the most improvement. The most notable improvement was in waking up feeling refreshed. (At what time they woke up, the study didn’t say.)
Lemon Verbena Essential Oils for Insomnia
Now we fly across the world to Iran, with a tradition of medical research stretching back at least 1,000 years.
Researchers there already knew of the traditional use of lemon verbena to sedate patients and treat insomnia. They conducted a four-week trial to see if 21st-century humans could benefit.
In their randomized, double-blind trial—”random” and “blind” are both good things in this context—insomnia patients swallowed a syrup before bed every day for four weeks. One group of patients got a syrup infused with lemon verbena essential oil. The other group got a placebo.
The lemon verbena group started sleeping better after just two weeks and after four weeks showed even more shut-eye success. The researchers’ conclusion: Yep, lemon verbena is a legit insomnia treatment. Studies have also shown that lavender also improves sleep for people with insomnia.
Aromasticks With Essential Oils for Sleep
Now to the United Kingdom. There, researchers were trying to improve sleep for folks who really, really need it—cancer patients. For people suffering from a chronic disease, good sleep is a critical path to healing.
A cancer center in the U.K. began experimenting with blended essential oil aromasticks for patients. Blend 1: Bergamot and sandalwood. Blend 2: Frankincense, mandarin, and lavender.
After 13 weeks of use, 94% of patients said they were still using the aromasticks to help them sleep. Nearly two-thirds showed measurable sleep improvement.
Another study, wittily titled “Aromasticks in cancer care: an innovation not to be sniffed at,” 65% of patients given aromasticks reported feeling more relaxed and 51% felt less stress.
Why Do Essential Oils Work?
At the physical level, how do these aromas make us relax? For the answer, we have to take our tour into the laboratory. Scientists are only just starting to figure this out, but here are some early findings.
Lavender Essential Oil Has Similar Effects to Known Sedatives/Relaxants
One study, conducted on rats, showed that lavender oil exposure had similar anxiety-reducing effects as injections of the pharmaceutical chlordiazepoxide, which is used to treat anxiety and severe alcohol withdrawal.
Another study, this one on gerbils, compared the effects of lavender oil to those of diazepam, aka Valium. The results showed that inhaling lavender oil produced similar effects on behavior.
If lavender causes the same effects as these well-tested chemicals, it may work in the same way.
Lavender Causes Changes to Body Chemicals
Lavender acts on all kinds of different chemicals in our bodies—especially those that help our brain transmit senses and feelings.
Some highlights of recent research:
Scientists purposely inflamed cells, and lavender essential oil helped the cells heal. [American Journal of Chinese Medicine]
Lavender essential oil reduced the severity of strokes in mice, demonstrating that lavender likely has antioxidant properties. [Molecule]
Linalool, a chemical found in lavender essential oil, inhibits the chemical that activates muscles. This may explain why lavender has sedative effects. [Pharmacological Research]
Aromatherapy: Not Just a Folk Tale
Your grandparents’ grandparents might look silly walking around a modern city with lavender strung around their necks, but they were onto something. Science is confirming that the ancient practice of aromatherapy has the same positive effects as man-made pharmaceuticals.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, consider trying essential oils for a week or two. And if you think your bed might be the problem, we can help with that—our mattress is backed by science, too.