How To Use Essential Oils For Sleep & Stress

Dr. Eric Z DR. ERIC Z

Essential oils are transdermal (meaning they penetrate the skin) and work on the body’s physiology in a variety of ways. This means that you can affect your body’s biochemistry when applying them topically in a similar way as when taking them internally or inhaling them via diffusion.

As research suggests, topical application may actually be one of the most effective methods for people with sleep disorders as the chemical components of lavender have been shown to enter the bloodstream within 5 minutes of massaging the oil on the skin. The calming and relaxing effects of lavender essential oil have a one-two punch when applied topically because of the direct benefit on the brain when the volatile organic compounds are inhaled and through the skin! 

The 1992 study that proved this also uncovered that maximum concentration levels were observed within 20 minutes. Don't worry, it's not like the sedative properties last forever.  Within 90 minutes most of the lavender was eliminated.

Essential Oils For Sleep To The Rescue!

Unlike common sleep aids and benzodiazepines, there are virtually no side effects when people use essential oils for sleeping. In the words of a 2014 systematic review of the literature, “A majority of the study findings suggested a positive effect of essential oils for sleep. Lavender was the most frequently studied essential oil. No adverse events were reported.” 

In fact, oils can possibly help get people off of drugs!

Since a clinical study dating back to 1995, for example, we have known that sleep duration significantly decreases in older patients who are dependent on benzodiazepines. However, once lavender essential oil aromatherapy was introduced into their lives, their sleep quality and duration can be restored to previous levels, in spite of not being on the drugs. According to the researchers who conducted this landmark research, “This study suggested that ambient lavender oil might be used as a temporary relief from continued medication for insomnia and reduces the side-effects of these drugs.” 

NOTE OF CAUTION:  We strongly advise you do not take yourself off benzodiazepines without the guidance of your medical professional.

What Is The Best Essential Oil For Sleeping?

Does this mean that lavender is the best essential oil for sleep? Before we jump to premature conclusions, let’s keep these facts in mind from the 2014 review of the literature I mentioned above:

  • Lavender is the most frequently studied essential oil in research trials.
  • One of the few other oils evaluated for sedative purposes is Baccharis uncinella, which is used by the Laklaño Indians in Santa Catarina, Brazil. 
  • Lavender and Baccharis uncinella are not the only essential oils for sleep. However, until we have more research at our disposal, we’re limited to reading anecdotal testimonials online about other oils.
  • “No adverse effects” were uncovered by the University of Minnesota when they evaluated 15 studies (11 of which were randomized controlled trials) that examined hypnotic effects of essential oil inhalation in the scientific literature to date.

With that said, tucked away in the collection of lavender-sleep studies are golden nuggets suggesting that other oils can also have a profound effect on sleep quality.

Using Essential Oils For Sleep

As we've seen, most of the research discussed focuses on topical and inhalation benefits of using essential oils to calm the mind, body and to help people sleep better. Primarily lavender is the case study, but other oils can surely be of help.

You can find out more about the Food Matters team's favorite essential oils here.

Keep in mind that everyone's biochemistry is different and what works for me may not work for you. It is critical for you to follow your intuition and listen to your body. Essentially, any oil that helps calm the mind and body will help reduce sleep disturbances. Same with other anti-stress techniques like prayer, meditation, Tai Chi, exercise and well-balanced nutrition. When you find something that “works,” stick with it and then try to switch things up periodically.


the easiest and arguably the most effective approach is to put a few drops of any of these oils above (or a homemade) blend) in your diffuser before you go to bed. Some nice diffuser blends you might want to try are:

  • 2 drops ylang ylang, 1 drop bergamot, 1 drop lavender, 1 drop sweet marjoram, 1 drop roman chamomile and 1 drop valerian
  • 2 drops lavender, 1 drop clary sage, 1 drop of ylang ylang and 1 drop vanilla
  • 2 drops geranium, 1 drop sweet marjoram, 1 drop of patchouli and 1 drop sweet orange
  • 2 drops roman chamomile, 1 drop rose and 1 drop palmarosa


Another effective strategy is to simply apply these key oils over certain parts of the body – particularly the trigger points – like the bottoms of the feet, on the wrists, behind the knees and behind the ears on the mastoid bone or on the back on the neck.

Be sure to use with a good carrier oil, and create a 2-3% dilution that is considered safe by most experts:

  • 1% dilution: 6 drops of EO per oz of carrier oil (1% of 600 drops is 6)
  • 2% dilution: 12 drops of EO per oz of carrier oil (2% of 600 drops is 12)
  • 3% dilution: 18 drops of EO per oz of carrier oil (3% of 600 drops is 18)

If you are more comfortable working with tablespoons, 1 oz. = 2 tablespoons and there are 300 drops of EO in a tablespoon.

  • 1% dilution: 3 drops of EO per tablespoon of carrier oil (1% of 300 drops is 3)
  • 2% dilution: 6 drops of EO per tablespoon of carrier oil (2% of 300 drops is 6)
  • 3% dilution: 9 drops of EO per tablespoon of carrier oil (3% of 300 drops is 9)

Misting Spray

Another nifty trick is to make a DIY Sleep Spray. Using some of the same oils above, simply:

  • Add 20 drops of essential oil into a glass spray bottle.
  • Fill the remaining 4oz bottle with water.
  • Shake well.
  • Mist your pillow before bedtime to help aid sleep and provide a restful night.

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