Lavender: Sleep Master or Good-Smelling Lie?
Updated: Jun 10
Everyone knows lavender, the delicate purple flower touted by sleep connoisseurs and Italian grandmothers alike for sleep ailments. But, is there more to this sleepy plant than meets the pillow? Let’s find out!
Let me start by saying I adore lavender - in tea, in the bath, under my pillow and intermittently in my diffuser with my other favorite scent (mandarin orange because it’s sunshine in a bottle) so I consider myself a bit of a lavender expert. I like to think I’m not alone in loving the smell of lavender and using this scent in particular to help me sleep, I know lavender is universally loved and trusted by not just me but by sleep care professionals as well. But is the universal love for lavender as a sleep aid warranted and does it actually do something to help people sleep?
Lavender has a storied history going back to the ancient Egyptians who used lavender in the embalming process of mummies. Embalmers would put lavender flowers in between the layers of wrapping and in the embalming fluid to perfume the body for the afterlife so they’d be fresh when meeting their gods. Not to mention lavender is a preferred scent of many of history’s royals, most notably Queen Elizabeth I who used the plant's perceived perfuming powers to keep away illness during her reign. And honestly, who are we to argue with royalty, guys?
In modern times lavender is used orally, topically and in the practice of aromatherapy to induce calm but there is significant proof that shows lavender is so much more than its scent. Several studies have analyzed the role of this herb in the treatment of anxiety.
In three clinical trials, lavender which was prepared orally (as a substance called silexan) was found to be useful for the treatment of mixed anxiety disorder. In one particular trial lavender was shown to have longer lasting impact and benefit than the placebo in 223 of the patients tested (Koulivand, Ghadiri & Gorji, 2013.) Lavender was also shown to have an effect on patients experiencing restlessness, inability to sleep (important to note) and had a “beneficial influence on well being and quality of life,” according to researchers.
While I typically dislike the artificial lavender that comes in a bottle (let’s be honest it’s kind of like eating perfume) I really love fresh, food grade lavender on a variety of things: Lavender and sweet potatoes, lavender and peaches, lavender ice cream. I find it to be so aromatic and not at all perfume-y like artificially flavored lavender. When my fiancé and I were living in Georgia, there was a local lavender farm that we’d frequent in the summertime that sold organic, delicious lavender syrup for lavender lemonade! I think that the versatility of lavender makes it easy to incorporate into anyone’s diet -- and if you aren’t putting lavender in your lemonade you are missing out.
Deliciousness aside, lavender does more than just taste great. This plant is a body-healing powerhouse and been proven to have these effects:
Lavender essential oil applied to the skin or scalp can treat bruises, burns, and wounds of all types. As someone who suffers from dry scalp I like to add lavender and mint essential oil to my shampoo for a tingly clean scalp! Lavender has also been shown to have anti inflammatory, antibacterial and antifungal properties that can benefit the skin” (Perry & Perry, 2019.) Please note that you should only use oils that have been approved to be used topically or don’t have to be diluted by a carrier oil. If the oil is not approved for topical use it will potentially burn your skin, so check the label before using lavender topically!
So, not only does lavender make you smell great, it’ll make you feel great! While lavender might not help you if you’re experiencing really severe symptoms, it will certainly help with all the modern stresses we’re experiencing today. Got anxiety? Lavender. Irritable? Lavender. Feeling sore? Lavender. As far as herbs go it really is a jack of all trades beyond being the real Dream-Master of plants.
Speaking of it’s king status for sleep, we haven’t even discussed using lavender before bed! As I said earlier lavender before bed is a must, at least in my routine, and I’ve been using products with lavender for years to help me sleep. If you guys don’t know, I’m pretty much an insomniac so almost nothing helps me sleep (read my 21 Day Sleep Challenge article coming soon) but I did start using lavender to help me sleep in the last couple years. It started with a spray, a beautiful little amber bottle filled with a lavender aromatherapy blend that was supposed to be a pillow spray I got for my birthday. To be honest I wasn’t terribly thrilled, I’d always associated lavender with little old grannies and what was a spray going to do that sleeping pills weren’t right? I was so wrong.
This little bottle helped me to sleep where honestly nothing else could. The scent wasn’t super strong but it was really sweet -- not sickly-sweet, but like fresh-cookies-out-of-the-oven sweet, and I can’t describe it other than it smelled like comfort. When I sprayed both my pillows and my entire comforter, I felt my eyelids get droopy and I was knocked out into snooze world. Imagine this skeptic’s surprise! I slept through the night for the first time in months.
The lavender obsession has been going strong ever since but not all lavender products are created equal. Sometimes they really do have that “old lady” quality to them or they’re incredibly strong or not strong enough. Finding the perfect balance of strength and subtlety can be incredibly difficult with such a fragrant flower but I’ve found that the best way to get that great lavender scent going is with bath products and aromatherapy oils. In most, not all, bath products I’ve found they have a better overall lavender scent that lingers without being too strong. Specifically I love lavender bath bombs which have a great concentration of smell and make for a relaxing overall experience in the bath and before bed. At CCR we have a bath bomb that has the muscle soothing benefits of CBD with the aromatherapy of lavender. The bath bomb is adorably cute but don’t let its small size fool you, it really packs a punch for sore muscles and only costs $9.99. This makes for an indulging soak that I like to enjoy on gym nights when my muscles are sore but I really need to sleep.
I also think you can’t go wrong with putting lavender in your diffuser before bed for some aromatherapy action. One blend I particularly like includes 5 drops lavender and 5 drops vanilla for a sweet and sleepy mix of scents that should help lull anybody to sleep. But if you don’t like blending your own oils there are a few amazing blends available online! When I’m feeling a little fancy or I need to treat myself with some retail therapy I find myself coming back again and again to Neom’s range of essential oil blends. I especially love their ‘Scent to Sleep’ range of oils in Bedtime Hero and Perfect Night’s Sleep, While these oils can be a bit pricey, one bottle will set you back $22, they last a good amount of time (30 uses if you use 5-10 drops). Plus, the oils are safe for skin without dilution and they smell amazing!
Lavender is an incredibly versatile plant and can be used for many things other than sleep. It provides calming clarity if you’re stressed, helps with depression and anxiety symptoms, aids with healing wounds and is scientifically proven to help you sleep! I can safely say that my love for lavender is justified and I think everyone will sleep (and feel) a bit better with a little lavender in their lives.
Koulivand, P. H., Khaleghi Ghadiri, M., & Gorji, A. (2013). Lavender and the Nervous System. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1155/2013/681304
Orr, K., & Hume, A. (2014, March 1). Lavender aromatherapy as sleep aid. American Pharmacists Association. https://www.pharmacist.com/article/lavender-aromatherapy-sleep-aid
Perry, N., & Perry, E. (2018). Your Brain on Plants: Improve the Way You Think and Feel with Safe―and Proven―Medicinal Plants and Herbs (1st ed.). The Experiment.