In the last few years, I’ve noticed a growing number of lavender products: oils, sprays, teas, candles, body creams – it crops up everywhere.
Lavender is often marketed as helping with relaxation and sleep. But can this colorful plant really improve your beauty sleep, or is it just a beautifully packaged myth?
In this article, I’ll be looking at the scientific evidence behind lavender’s sedative power. And I’ve spent the last week using a lavender bedroom spray, so I’ll also be talking about my personal experience of ending the day with the scent of lavender in the air.
The research evidence
A review of previous experiments
A useful piece of research was done by British researchers Karen Pilkington and Kate Louise Fismer in 2012.
They conducted a review of eight previous scientific experiments in which lavender was inhaled, rather than ingested or applied to the skin. And they found evidence in several of those studies that lavender can improve sleep, stating:
Reporting of a small to moderate benefit favouring lavender oil across a cross-section of study populations was found…findings were suggestive of a small benefit for lavender oil compared to control.
Interestingly, two of the studies they looked at used polysomnogram tests in a sleep lab, considered the gold standard of sleep assessment.
One of those, conducted in 2005 at Wesleyan University, found an increase in deep sleep and reduced awakenings in both men and women. It’s an experiment that’s often quoted as evidence that lavender works.
However, the authors did find some issues with the overall quality of the eight research studies, saying:
Methodological inadequacies, small sample sizes, short duration, and challenges related to blinding, mean that results should be viewed with caution…As a result no definitive conclusions can be made regarding the efficacy of lavender oil aroma for sleep.
Despite that rather pessimistic conclusion, they also say that the mounting evidence in favor of lavender’s sleep promoting qualities warranted further research.
Lavender oil improves the sleep of postpartum women
In 2015, researchers in Iran conducted an experiment involving 158 women following childbirth.
The participants inhaled either lavender or a placebo every night for a total of 8 weeks. And the results showed that the women who inhaled lavender had improved sleep after 8 weeks:
The authors concluded that:
Comparing sleep quality between control and intervention groups after 8 weeks from the beginning of the intervention indicated that aromatherapy was effective in the improvement of mothers’ sleep quality
Evidence for aromatherapy in general
Considering how often lavender is used in the form of aromatherapy, it’s also worth looking at the research evidence for aromatherapy in general.
Like the specific studies with lavender, there have been many experiments done with a range of different plant oils. However, despite positive results coming from specific studies, reviews of the way the experiments were done once again point to inconclusive evidence.
For example, Dr. Edzard Ernst at the University of Exeter undertook a research study review in 2012. He identified 201 published studies of aromatherapy, of which only 10 met the standards to include in the review.
And the overall view was once again that the evidence was lacking:
The clinical subject areas were hypertension, depression, anxiety, pain relief, and dementia… Due to a number of caveats, the evidence is not sufficiently convincing that aromatherapy is an effective therapy for any condition.
How does lavender oil work? Research sheds some light
Lavender oil contains monoterpenes like linalool and linalyl acetate, chemicals that are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. Studies on mice have shown that these compounds inhibit several neurotransmitters and have a sedative and pain-relieving effect.
In 2017, research published by Victor Lopez and colleagues at the University of San Jorge in Spain shed new light on how lavender works in the human body:
Our study reveals for the first time that lavender exerts receptor binding affinities with a relevant activity on the NMDA receptor. According to our data, we can state that the anti-agitation and antidepressant activities of lavender may be attributed at least in part to the NMDA receptor modulation as well as an inhibition of the SERT
So despite some of the pessimistic views of previous research, scientists seem to be able to demonstrate that lavender oil can indeed have an observable, positive effect on people.
My lavender spray test
Using lavender to help me get to sleep isn’t something I’ve tried much in the past. So I was interested to see if I’d notice an effect, either in my sleep tracker data or simply with personal observations.
I picked up a bottle of ‘Sleepeaze’ lavender pillow spray from Boots pharmacy and followed the instructions every night for a week. That basically meant spraying however much I wanted to above the bed and around the bedroom before getting into bed (a couple of sprays was enough!).
My sleep tracker data remained quite similar to the week before, with no noticeable changes to the quantity of sleep on the better nights. However, I felt that I slept quite well every night that week, which isn’t always the case for me.
Whether the lavender had anything to do with that is hard to say based on my rather un-scientific personal test. But I’m happy with that fact that I had a pretty good week’s sleep, whatever the reason(s) might have been.
What I can say for certain is that I liked the scent of the lavender in the bedroom. If nothing else, it’s nice to get into bed with a pleasant smell in the air; not that my bedroom smells bad (except when the dog spent too long in there), but the scent of lavender just somehow feels right for the bedroom.
And perhaps the act of spraying it helped me feel that I was doing something positive to help my sleep.
Have you used lavender oil or any other essential oil to help you sleep? Did it work for you? Feel free to share your experience in the comments below.
I have recently been using Feather and Down ‘Sweet Dreams Pillow Spray’. It contains Lavender and Chamomile essential oils. It’s a 50ml bottle that came in a gift set pack with some body gel. This is in the UK. It certainly does no harm and has a nice smell, it’s nice breathing it in as your head first hits the pillow. I am on the whole lucky that normal (hope not to jinx myself) but I drop off to sleep usually within two mins. I sleep in cycles that are really specific in length and time of 90 mins, it’s just a natural thing but I get up after each one to pee or eat a biscuit or drink some milk…too much information maybe haha. Sometimes I spray a little more and again I drop off quick. I tend to sleep around 4.5 hours a night, but that’s anxiety related with wanting to get up early each day as that feels like the best part of the day, just before the sun rises seeing the world in a very innocent and peaceful way. I feel happier in the mornings. I wouldn’t be able to go to bed at 9pm and sleep through to like 7 am. I tend to feel the more I sleep the more lethargic I am the next day. But the spray is a nice ritual and brings a sense of really treating yourself so maybe it’s just a mind trick, placebo concept. But if so, bring it on.
Thanks for your comment and for sharing your experience of this spray. I agree that it doesn’t matter so much whether it’s the spray or a placebo effect if it’s harmless and does the trick! Bring it on, as you say – every little helps I think.
I also like the idea of the peaceful and innocent world early in the morning. There is a calm stillness that can feel very rewarding to experience if you can handle getting up so early without your body clock grumbling too much…
Have you heard/used Nature’sWay CalmAid?
I have heard of it but haven’t tried it. Have you used it?
I have tried Lush sleepy cream which is lavender based and tracked my sleep on fitbit app.
The nights when I use the cream distinctly has increased REM sleep with no break through periods of awakening. I have done this test when I have similar days(working week day, same level of activity etc) and there is a definite difference for me.
I am a female, who is 47 years of age with no medical conditions but beginning to have insomnia of late. I have some weeks of insomnia, but some weeks I sleep well so use the cream only when I can’t sleep.
Can one take kalms lavender in the daytime instead of diazepam?
This is something to discuss with the doctor/physician who prescibed the diazepam. I think in theory, they are both sometimes used for issues such an anxiety. But whether Kalms will replace the effect to the same extent is not something I can advise on really.
Lavender is great. It really helps me calm down and sleep well.
Thanks for sharing your experience! It’s good to hear from someone who finds Lavender helpful.
I purchased an electric Diffuser – one with a timer. 2 hrs at bedtime
I use 3 drops of lavender essential oil in water and where as before I had to get up and take tablets to get back to sleep – now I don’t.
Thanks for your comment. It’s great to hear from a reader who has had success with lavender at night. It’s also an interesting idea to use a diffuser with a timer – I might have to try one of those myself.