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Aromatherapy and Sleep

There are two forms of sleep, REM or rapid eye movement which occurs when we are dreaming. And then there is NREM, non-rapid eye movement. Both are important to our health. (1) (2)

REM occurs three or four times a night and can last anywhere from 5 minutes to over 1 hour. (3) Our respiratory and heart rate become irregular, and the brain waves become slow and high voltage.

Insomnia or sleep issues can interfere with this process and play havoc on our health. Insomnia can simply occur over time or come on quickly due to stress, irregular work hours, medications or other issues. It can also be an occurrence due to an underlying cause or secondary cause to an underlying condition.

Essential oil properties work in two ways, physically and emotionally. While calming the mind by reducing stress, tension and worry, they can also relieve pain and discomfort allowing the body and nerves to relax and let go of added tension and releasing the muscles.

Essential Oils and Sleep

Important Note: Whatever you choose for an oil, make sure that the oils you purchase are high quality. The only way to determine this is through GC/MS (gas chromatography/mass spectrometry) analysis reports. Any reputable company will have these available on site or available to you upon request. Although the oil may have a pleasant aroma, oils that have been synthetically enhanced lose their therapeutic value and raise concern for possible irritation, even diluted.

Instructions for Using Essential Oils to Sleep Better

Determine Your Preferred EO or EO Blend

Prior to choosing your oils, review any safety concerns that may be associated with the oil. Although from nature, like poison ivy, not everything from nature dictates to safety. With a few preparations, you can use your essential oils safely.

Next, choose aromas that appeal to your senses and personal preferences. There are many sedative oils to choose from. The list we’ve provided are only a few oils that have sedative properties. A smell that is not appealing to us can have the opposite effect if we aren’t enjoying the aroma.

Top Sedative Essential Oils for Facilitating Sleep

General Sleep Issues:

· Bergamot Citrus bergamia

· Chamomile (German) Marticaria chamomilla (Marticaria recutita)

· Chamomile (Roman) Chamaemelum nobile, Anthemis nobilis

· Clary Sage Salvia sclarea

· Frankincense Boswellia carterii, sacra, or italicum

· Jasmine Jasminum officinale

· Lavender Lavendula angustifolia

· Patchouli Pogostemon cablin

· Sandalwood Santalum album

· Spikenard Nardastachus jatamansi

· Sweet Marjoram Origanum marjorana

· Tangerine Citrus reticulata var. tangerine

· Valerian Valeriana officinales var. angustifolium

· Vetiver Vetiveria zizanioides

· Ylang Ylang (extra, 2, 3 & complete) Cananga odorata var. genuina

Nervous Tension Related Sleep Issues:

· Balsam Fir Abies balsamea

· Chamomile (Roman) Chamaemelum nobile, Anthemis nobilis

· Clary Sage Salvia sclarea

· Petitgrain (orange) Citrus aurantium var. amara

· Mandarin Citrus reticulata var. mandarin

· Sweet Orange Citrus sinensis

· Tangerine Citrus reticulata var. tangerine

· Vanilla Vanilla plantifolia

· Ylang Ylang (extra, 2, 3 & complete) Cananga odorata var. genuina

What You Will Need to Begin

Blending essential oils requires:

· Essential oils

· Glass container or graduated cylinder

· Glass mixing rod (avoid metal, plastic or wood)

· PET jar or container

· Carrier oils of choice or unscented lotion

Items needed for soaking:

· Essential oil or oil blend

· Carrier oil(s)

· Bathtub or Sitz tub

· Water

· Epsom salts or Pink Himalayan Sea salts

Items needed for a massage oil:

· Essential oil or oil blend

· Carrier oil or unscented lotion

Items needed for a spray:

· Essential oil or oil blend

· *Emulsifier

· *Preservative

· Water or Hydrosol

· Glass spray bottle-atomizer or spritzer

*Although essential oils can be anti-bacterial, when blended with an aqueous (water-based) product, bacteria will grow in a matter of days. If you choose to not add a preservative, place your container in the refrigerator. It will last up to about a week. If it becomes cloudy, your product has bacteria growing in it and is best tossed out.

Since essential oils and water do not blend, the oil remains at the top of the water. If using as a room spray or linen spray, shake and spray and it will spread the essential oil molecules over the surface. Let dry before making your bed. They will evaporate, leaving no concern for irritation.

Since essential oils are not recommended on the skin undiluted, if you are planning to use a body spray, an Emulsifier will blend your oils into your water-based product.

Option without a Preservative

There are many options for a preservative but here we will discuss the use of alcohol for a preservative. The correct alcohol not only can preserve your product, but it also works as a proper solubilizer and diluter for your essential oils.

The type and amount of alcohol you use plays an important part. It must be 190 proof Ethanol (grain alcohol) for it to work. The other three types, methyl, propyl and butyl alcohol will not work. Let’s look at what ethanol alcohol is and how it works.

Ethanol or grain alcohol is made of 2 carbon, 6 hydrogen and one oxygen atom (C2H6O). It is water soluble, volatile, and inflammable. Ethanol is made by fermentation and the distillation of starchy sugars, fruits, and grains.

Ethanol is a simple chemical compound that is used in many products such as foods, alcohol, cosmetics, perfumes, and cleaning products. Because it is cidal, it’s capable if killing off living microorganisms and has also been used in medications for many, many years. Since it works as a preservative, it is not necessary to use an additional preservative.

You can find ethanol alcohol such as Everclear at many retailers that sell alcohol. I’ve used the brand Diesel Grain Neutral Spirits which is also 190 proof.

To make your product, your formula must be done correctly. This is where a small scale comes in handy. I use a small kitchen scale to weigh out formulas. Why weigh it? Weight of liquids vary slightly with temperature, altitude, chemical composition, etc.

The alcohol content needs to be between 20-30%. When learning about formulating, I found it easiest to use 25%.

1 oz. (25%) ethanol alcohol

3 oz. (75%) water

To add essential oils, you would subtract the percentage from your water only. The following is for a 2% product. To get 2% of 4 ounces, you would multiply .02 x 4 = 0.8% (72 drops essential oils). Then subtract 0.8 from 3.00 (water) = 2.92-ounces of water.

1 oz. ethanol alcohol

2.92 oz. water

0.08% essential oil(s) or 72 drops

In the 4-ounce container, blend the ethanol alcohol and essential oils and let it sit for at least an hour. Once it’s ready, top it off with the 2.92 ounces of water. Your final product may be cloudy, and this is normal. Place your cap on and you are ready to use.

Note: Some oils used externally can affect us internally, so caution is advised.

Remember that diluting does not mean we are diminishing the effects of oils. The term refers to adding a carrier or fixed oil to protect the skin from components that are irritants to the skin.

Deciding Which Method Works Best for You

Since we are all unique, what works for one may not work for another.

Soaking works for some. I know some women prefer not soaking in tubs. An alternative is a Sitz bath, which surprisingly relaxes the body and eases any local inflammation or irritation.

Diffusion is a simple solution and may be enough to allow you a restful sleep. Along with beautiful ambient lighting, diffusion may be your perfect solution.

Or you may be one to enjoy a relaxing massage. Whether done at home or at a salon, be sure that anyone that is present is aware of the effects of essential oils. They may find themselves dozing off to sleep as well! And there is nothing like a warm soak to relax the body. Whatever you choose, you’ll enjoy the beautiful emotionally supportive, relaxing abilities of your essential oils.

Soaking In a Tub or Sitz Tub

Since essential oils can be irritating, using the right method will protect your skin and you can enjoy as long of a relaxing soak as your mind and body desires and needs. There are many carrier oils you can consider. For a list and their actions, see my article on Carrier Oils and Therapeutic Actions”. Since there seems to be some confusion about using aloe Vera as a carrier, let me clarify your safe options. If you choose to use an aloe-based product, and if you are not wanting to use a preservative or emulsifier, choose “Aloe Vera jelly”. The jelly already contains thickeners, preservatives, chelators and polymers as well as aloe Vera leaf extract to create a thick stable jelly. Aloe gel, juice and liquid need a preservative. There is also a powder that is supposed to blend with water but this, again, is water-based and would require a preservative.

Now, we are ready! In your glass container, add the following in order given:

In your container, add ½ ounce chosen carrier oil. Option: To increase skin safety, you can add 1 teaspoon Vitamin E as an added antioxidant. No more is necessary. To your carrier, add 5-20 drops of prementioned choice of oils. Single oils work great alone. Start low with your first bath to find your threshold. You may find 5 drops relaxes you perfect so there would be no need to go beyond that. And although you may have heard that we can “get accustomed or used to” essential oils and they lose their effectiveness, this does not hold true. Dr. Jean Valnet wrote in The Practice of Aromatherapy that “we no more stop benefiting from essential oils than we would stop gaining nutrition from an organic apple”.

Next, add your carrier oil/oils to the bath salts. Avoid adding essential oils directly to bath salts of any kind. The salts will not absorb the essential oil, leaving it to adhere to your skin and possible irritation.

For children, consider an aromatic bath with herbs. In a quart of boiling water (turn off first), add a sachet or muslin bag with 250g or approximately 8 ounces of herbs/flowers such as chamomile, lavender, rose and/or herbs and medicinal ‘safe’ weeds/plants to infuse for 10-15 minutes. To avoid getting burnt, cool then add to the bath. For adults, you can double the ingredients.

See our article on “Sitz Baths” to learn more about the options and benefits of Sitz baths, a popular healing method of application in Aromatherapy.

Diffusing Essential Oils

Essential oil diffusers are available at several locations, including Amazon and essential oil online companies. If you don’t have one handy, there are several other methods of diffusion available to you. A few drops of essential oil on a cotton ball by your pillow, an inhaler or an essential oil diffuser are a few ways to ‘diffuse’ the essential oils. Diffusing your essential oils before bed will begin your relaxation. If you have a timer on your diffuser, you could set it for your time limit, lulling you off to sleep.

Diffusion is safest at 30-60 minutes on with about 10 minutes breaks. This is especially a safe method for children since they have not completely developed yet and are more susceptible than adults. Tisserand states that if diffusion is done at very low levels, say 1-2 drops in the diffuser, it is barely noticeable, at a safe level and you can run your diffuser for longer periods of time. Be aware of individual safety of oils. It’s not recommended to use oils with warnings of neurological concerns when over exposed.

For children of 5 years old or less, direct inhalation should be avoided. Direct inhalation includes inhaling essential oils from the hands, a cotton ball, a nasal inhaler, a bowl of hot water or similar. Indirect or ambient inhalation is safe for young children and includes any method that vaporizes essential oils into the air”.

Although this is a safe method of application, it excludes premature babies, and the health of the child, i.e., medications, asthma, etc. must be taken into account. (5) The diffusion method doesn’t erase the importance of the individual oil safety precautions. Some oils, no matter what method, is not safe for children or adults. For children, hydrosols work great. They have the same therapeutic properties, although milder and are safe for children and adults. Hydrosols can be diffused all night.


Gentle touch and beautiful smells can quietly erase worries, stress, emotional turmoil and relax our muscles, releasing tension and allowing us a deeper more relaxed sleep.

Choose your essential oils and your carrier oil. You could consider using a carrier or fixed oil that compliments your skins needs. For example, Cranberry seed oil is cold-pressed and unrefined. It’s anti-inflammatory, used for healing skin infections, has antioxidants properties, moisturizing for the skin, skin protecting, culinary purposes, it changes its wonderful skin healing properties. Or you could go with Jojoba. Although a liquid wax, Jojoba protects the skin but allows it to breathe as well as healing and an antioxidant.

Massage is an excellent way to relax before bed. You can create your own signature blend of massage oils to help induce a good night's sleep. You’ll just need to use a carrier oil or unscented lotion that is mixed with your favorite EO to prevent any potential irritation from applying undiluted essential oils to your skin.


A spritz of essential oils from a sprayer is a nice way to get your sheets ready for bed and you ready to hit the sheets. Lightly scenting your bed will allow you to enjoy its fragrance overnight. You may find it best to spritz your bed a short time before bedtime to avoid lying on damp sheets. Create your spritz by filling up a spray bottle with water and adding a few drops of your essential oil or oil blend. Lightly shake the bottle to mix. Before spraying your bed nightly, you’ll also want to continue with the light shake to make sure that it stays evenly mixed.

Step by Step Instructions for Blending Your Favorite Essential Oils

Step 1: Ingredients

Gather your choice of pre-mentioned essential oils. You’ll always blend your essential oils prior to adding to carriers, lotions or sprays.

Mixing Oils

Using a glass bowl or graduated cylinder, add your drops to your container; one oil at a time. Dependent on the essential oil, it has been known to eat through plastic. If you choose plastic, use PET plastic, safe for aromatic products. Most essential oil bottles come with an insert referred to as an orifice, that precisely drops the oil out. If by rare chance an orifice is not included, you can purchase them or a pipette, which also measure out drops. These can be purchased from most essential oil suppliers and on Amazon.

Write Down Your Recipes

Be sure to write down the correct amount of each oil used to create your special blend. You may find the perfect one while experimenting but later not remember exactly how you made it. Was it two drops of that or three of that one? Write it down.

Storage of Your Blended Oil

Pour your mixture in a glass bottle specifically made for essential oils to avoid oxidation and store in a cool, dark place. Refrigeration is best for oils containing d-limonene (citrus oils) and oils high in a-pinene. 60-65 degrees is optimal.

The use of essential oils can be quite beneficial on their own and even more effective when used in conjunction with other sleep-inducing practices as the one's forthcoming in this article.

Aromatic References:




  4. Robert Tisserand states, 2nd Ed. Essential Oil Safety, pg. 658/659

  5. Dr. Jean Valnet, The Practice of Aromatherapy; 2011: Edited by R. Tisserand


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