The Sweet Scent of Sleep

Although I’m not an expert in aromatherapy, I was recently re-reminded of the benefits of lavender as herbal therapy.  Lavender has been cultivated for over 2500 years, and was used extensively by the Egyptians, Romans and Greeks for its cosmetic and antiseptic properties. Lavender is said to be beneficial for a number of indications, and over the years I’ve had patients tell me about how it helped them a number of health issues, including:

-management of migraine. I’ve found this to be helpful as an acute rescue therapy for a number of patients, and a study published in the European Journal of Neurology (1) correlates with that experience.  Use by rubbing a small amount of the essential oil on the nape of the neck, on the temples and by gently inhaling, after rubbing in 2-3 drops in the palms, and cupping them around the nose. Some people do even better when they mix the lavender half&half with peppermint oil.

-applying before exposure to prevent insect bites, and for treating  an insect bite (should you forget to use it beforehand).  Its antiseptic properties can also be used for minor scrapes and burns, or for low grade eczema.

-reduction of nausea due to motion sickness, when the essential oil is applied around the ears, under the nose, and…go figure-around the belly button!

-enhancing recovery from a cold sore. One drop on the sore 2-3 times a day may reduce the duration by several days

But the number one benefit I’ve seen clinically is with the reduction of stress and anxiety and helping one to achieve a deeper and more restorative level of sleep.   Several studies have shown that the use of lavender improves falling to sleep, having deeper and more restorative sleep, less early morning awakenings, and being more rested on AM arising.  (2,3)

There are several ways to administer lavender oil to assist with anxiety and sleep:

-use in a bath oil, say 10-15 drops of the oil along with 1-2 cups of epsom salts

-in a spray form, above the bed and around the pillow just before sleep.

-gentle inhalation as described for migraine use, above.

Keep in mind that:

-some people are sensitive to plant oils.  Test a drop on the arm before using more extensively.

-consider using a carrier oil, like olive or coconut to dilute the oil if placing close to the eye or on a break in the skin.  The concentrated essential oil can be highly irritating to some mucous membranes, particularly the eye.

-as would be the case with most therapies in children, you should start with the most dilute form first.  They may be more susceptible to the aromatic effects.

There are many good sources for lavender.  Here is a link for one I especially like, the Keys Creek Lavender Farm, not far from the part of rural San Diego where I grew up.  They grow all organic and have some great products.  I especially like their Lavender Massage Oil and the Lavender Body Mist. Their Travel Kits also make a nice gift.

If you have sleep issues, consider giving lavender essential oil therapy a try. It may be one of the most simple and cost effective therapies I know of for managing insomnia.


  1. Lavender essential oil in the treatment of migraine headache: a placebo-controlled clinical trial.  Sasannejad P1, Saeedi M, Shoeibi A, Gorji A, Abbasi M, Foroughipour    M.Eur Neurol. 2012;67(5):288-91. doi: 10.1159/000335249. Epub 2012 Apr 17
  2. An olfactory stimulus modifies nighttime sleep in young men and women.   Goel N, Kim H, Lao RP.  Chronobiol Int. 2005;22(5):889-904.
  3. Lavender and the Nervous System Peir Hossein Koulivand,   Maryam Khaleghi Ghadiri,   and Ali Gorji      Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013; 2013: 681304.
    Published online 2013 Mar 14. doi:  10.1155/2013/681304  PMCID: PMC3612440
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