Does Lavender Help You Sleep? (Doctor’s 10 Sleeping Tips)

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  • This article was written and researched by Dr. Albert Stezin (MBBS, Ph.D – clinician and neuroscientist) to ensure maximum factual accuracy and unique content.

Lavender (or Lavandula) is a small herb that is valued for its gentle but enchanting aroma.

Lavender has also historically been attributed a variety of therapeutic and curative properties ranging from general relaxation to the treatment of parasites and burns.

But can lavender help you sleep better?

Scientific research has shown that lavender can help improve sleep quality in healthy individuals and those with a range of diseases because lavender contains linalool that acts on the GABA receptors to reduce nerve excitation, anxiety, restlessness, and promotes sedation.

So how can you use lavender to help you sleep?

The most effective way to use lavender to help you sleep is to drink lavender tea 1-2 hours before bed; inhale lavender oil from a piece of cotton, an aroma diffuser, or pillow spray; take lavender tablets, and/or sleep on a lavender pillow.

But is lavender safe to use?

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health states that lavender is typically safe for consumption by adults in foods and in capsules. However, the safety of lavender for pregnant women is unknown and lavender may interact with several medications.

The rest of this article explains in more detail how lavender affects sleep, how to take lavender effectively for better sleep, and the safety concerns of lavender.

Although I have used the knowledge gained from my professional medical practice as a doctor in combination with my research skills to give you a scientifically-backed article, this is not medical advice – always consult with your own doctor for the best guidance.

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How Does Lavender Help You Sleep?

Does lavender essential oil help you sleep?

Lavender can help you sleep by inducing sedation and relaxation; decreasing anxiety, depression, pain, and improving cognition – these effects directly or indirectly contribute to better sleep.

A more detailed explanation as to how lavender can help you sleep is found below – along with the supporting scientific literature (see the end of the article for references).

1: Linalool Reduces Nerve Cell Excitation

Recent scientific literature shows that lavender can induce a state of sedation and sleep.

It is believed that linalool, a major component of lavender oil, is responsible for the sedative effect.

Studies have shown that linalool acts on GABA (a chemical that helps with communication between nerve cells) neurons. 

The action of linalool leads to reduced nerve cell excitation, which promotes sedation and sleep in the concerned brain circuits.

Research and Supporting Evidence

In clinical research studies that investigated the effectiveness of lavender’s fragrance on the quality of sleep, an improvement in sleep quality was noted in people with myocardial infarction (heart attack) and insomnia.

Another study in healthy people used six to eight drops of lavender essential oil, dispensed using an aroma diffuser, at night.

The study observed notable improvements in sleep quality, especially in females and younger participants. 

Lavender aroma has also been linked to sustained nighttime sleep in people admitted to hospital for various reasons.

In studies on elderly insomniacs, a mixture of essential oils – including lavender, juniper, basil, and sweet marjoram – reduced sleep disturbances and improved the overall well-being of the participants.

In sleeping pill dependent elderly people, the rebound sleeplessness caused by the abrupt stoppage of the sleeping pill could be negated using lavender aromatherapy.

Hence, lavender oil (as aromatherapy) can be used as a temporary aid to avoid continuous use of sleep medicines, dependence, and side effects.

Imperfection of Studies

In a recent meta-analysis on the effects of lavender on sleep, a definite sleep benefit was noted.

However, this benefit was only marginal when compared to the effects of sleep medicines.

Also, the methodological inadequacies, small sample sizes, short duration of follow up, and other challenges in the above-mentioned studies, suggest that these results should be viewed with caution.

I advise aromatherapy with lavender oil to many of my patients with sleep disturbances, as an add-on, non-pharmacological, sleep-promoting agent.

However, I insist that only commercially available preparations be used.

This is because locally synthesized essential oils for aromatherapy may have synthetic analogues which can be dangerous.

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2: Lavender Reduces Restlesness, Anxiety, and Depression

Anxiety and depression can cause insomnia and poor quality of sleep.

As a matter of fact, sleep problems are often a core symptom of depression and anxiety.

Lavender has been known for its anxiety-relieving properties for many decades. 

Research studies also support this claim.

The anti-anxiety and anti-depressant action of lavender is due to the effects of linalool and silexan.

They inhibit acetylcholine release from the junction of the neurons and cause mild to moderate inhibition of the cholinergic system (a series of connections between brain areas that communicate using acetylcholine). 

Furthermore, when used as aromatherapy, lavender oil also acts on a brain region called the limbic system (particularly the amygdala and hippocampus), which is responsible for emotional regulation.

Three different studies have successfully used oral lavender oil preparations to decrease anxiety and mild to moderate depression.

These studies used silexan – distilled from lavender essential oil – to produce improvements in mood.

At a dose of 80 mg/day, silexan was found to be useful for anxiety disorders, restlessness, and agitation.

Anxiety

Another study showed lavender to be superior to placebo in the improvement of the associated symptoms of anxiety, such as restlessness, disturbed sleep, and somatic complaints. 

A general sense of well-being and quality of life was reported by most patients in the study.

Yet another study reported lavender oil (1% solution) to be comparable to the effect of a 0.5 mg daily dose of lorazepam (Ativan). 

Lavender oil was also found to be useful in the management of mood symptoms in patients undergoing haemodialysis (after kidney failure), and in ICU settings.

Orally administered lavender capsules, with 100 or 200 𝜇L of organic lavender oil, objectively decreased anxiety in people with anxiety traits, while watching anxiety-provoking film clips.

However, it was not found to have much effect on people with severe anxiety issues.

In general, oral administration of lavender essential oil is regarded to be more effective in the treatment of anxiety than inhalation.

Lavender essential oil massage also appears to be effective, but the available studies are not sufficient to conclusively determine if the benefit was due to lavender.

Depression

In people with depression, the use of lavender oil tinctures, along with anti-depressants, was found to have superior beneficial effects, with lesser side effects, when compared to anti-depressants alone.

When used as aromatherapy, lavender (distilled to 2% concentration) produced significant improvement in anxiety and depression in post-partum women, within four weeks of use.

Similar benefits were reported by people undergoing dental procedures.

Long-stay neurology inpatients (such as after stroke, spinal cord injuries, etc.) showed improved mood scores, and reduced psychological distress, following aromatherapy with lavender, tree, and rosemary essential oils.

Flawed Studies

A recent meta-analysis study reviewed many research studies that claimed anti-anxiety and anti-depressant properties of lavender.

There were a few key points that they identified that I want the reader to keep in mind when considering lavender preparations for anxiety or depression.

Firstly, the quality of the available studies on the topic was poor, when evaluated using the recommended guidelines.

The majority of these studies also had a high level of overall risk of bias, which may have contaminated the final results and conclusions.

The design of the research studies was flawed and non-uniform, especially with regard to non-oral ways of administration.

Considering these facts, I advise you to be extra careful while making a decision on the use of lavender products for neuropsychiatric conditions.

It is my recommendation that you take pharmacological agents for control of your symptoms, and top them up with lavender aromatherapy.

If in doubt, speak to your doctor.

Find out if hot chocolate can help you sleep here.

3: Lavender Can Decrease Acute and Chronic Pain

Lavender is useful in the treatment of acute and chronic pain that may interfere with sleep. 

It is either used as a topical agent, applied over the skin, or as an aromatherapy.

The analgesic effect of lavender essential oil is believed to be due to the anti-inflammatory action of active components in lavender oil.

Aromatherapy’s mechanism for pain relief is postulated to be through activation of peripheral neural receptors, a reduction in anxiety and fear, an increase in endorphin secretion, and a reduction of catecholamine secretion.

A recent study has demonstrated that foot massage using lavender essential oil could effectively decrease pain in ICU patients suffering from non-specific pain conditions. 

People with aphthous mouth ulcers have also found benefit from the use of lavender oil.

Within three days of use, patients reported significant pain relief, reduction in the size of the ulcer, and faster repair and healing.

Manual acupressure with 3% lavender oil has also been found to be useful in patients with nonspecific neck pain, and lower back pain.

Aromatherapy using lavender essence was demonstrated to be useful and safe for reducing pain after caesarean section, and perineal discomfort after normal childbirth.

It also reduces the need for opioids after surgical procedures and has been found to decrease pain severity in migraines.

In elderly women with menopausal symptoms, such as hot flushes, depression, and pain, aromatherapy massage (once a week for eight weeks) is found to be useful.

A combination of lavender, clary sage, and marjoram, in a 2:1:1 ratio, also gives significant relief from the pain associated with primary dysmenorrhea.

In contrast to these observations, the aroma of essential oil of lavender did not alter the perception of pain during elective cosmetic facial injections of botulinum toxin.

A recent meta-analysis on pain relief using lavender administered through different routes, such as aromatherapy, massage, local application, hot-pack, and oral intake, showed considerable and significant clinical benefits in surgical, pregnancy, arthritis, and dialysis-related pain.

In agreement with these findings, it is my personal observation that people on aromatherapy or lavender oil massage fare better with regard to pain tolerance than people on pain medicines alone.

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4: Lavender Can Improve Cognitive and Behavioral Status

Lavender is known to improve cognitive performance in both healthy subjects, and in people with cognitive and behavioral dysfunction.

The lavender aroma can modulate behavior and works as a cognition enhancer.

In studies, lavender oil aromatherapy improved daytime wakefulness in people with insomnia and narcolepsy.

The lavender odor also improved memory, attention, and reaction time, in people with clinical impairment in these functions (e.g. sleep-deprived people).

The degree of contentedness, mood, and emotional state was also higher in people using lavender aromatherapy.

In patients with dementia, the use of lavender, rosemary, and lemon essential oil aromatherapy in the evening improved their orientation and sleep patterns. 

Oral use of lavender (80 mg/day for six weeks) in patients with neurasthenia or post-traumatic stress disorder, showed significant improvements in sleep, general mental health status, and quality of life.

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5: Lavender Induces Relaxation of Brain Waves

In recent years, studies using electroencephalography (a machine that records brain activity or brain waves) have suggested that aromatherapy using lavender tends to relax the brain in real-time.

In people with epilepsy, three minutes of inhalation of lavender oil leads to an increase in the slow waves on EEG, which suggests an increase in relaxation and focus.

A similar effect has been described with aromatherapy, and lavender steam inhalation, albeit a modest improvement.

Patients with dementia also experienced relaxation and decreased agitation after using lavender oil aroma steam.

Try these 7 ways to sleep better with epilepsy here.

10 Ways to Use Lavender for Better Sleep

4 Best Ways to Use Lavender For Sleep (Easy And Effective)

Here are 10 ways to use lavender for better sleep quality:

1: Drink Lavender Tea 1-2 Hours Before Bed

The easiest way lavender can be included in your sleep routine is by drinking lavender tea. 

Lavender tea is made by brewing tea from lavender buds. 

The process of brewing unlocks and releases the beneficial oils and scents.

Regular use of this tea is believed to improve sleep quality, even in clinical conditions.

However, in my experience, lavender tea only has a mild effect and is best used as a prophylactic agent before sleep disturbances have begun.

Here is how to make lavender tea: boil eight ounces of water, add a few fresh lavender buds into the boiling water, and then steep for 10 minutes.

If fresh buds are not available, you can also use dried ones.

For people who find the natural flavor of lavender too mild, add a tea bag when steeping.

You may use this tea as often as you want, but if you are using it for sleep benefits, drink it 1 to 2 hours before your usual bedtime. 

After regular use, it begins to calm the nerves, and improve sleep.

You should not substitute lavender buds with essential oils, as they can produce toxicity on oral intake.

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2: Use Lavender Essential Oil in a Diffuser or Pillow Spray

Lavender essential oil is a distilled form of lavender extract and contains all the active phytochemicals in a very concentrated form.

In this form, lavender can be used for aromatherapy.

The simplest way of using lavender essential oil for better sleep is to apply it onto a piece of cotton and inhale from it frequently or place a few drops of the oil into an aroma diffuser – you can also use a lavender essential oil spray and apply it as a pillow spray.

The lavender aroma, even after you have habituated to the smell, will work wonders for your sleep.

Never consume lavender oil in its original form, as it is toxic.

You should also avoid direct contact with your eyes.

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3: Make Topical Lavender Oil from the Essential Oil

Topical preparations of lavender oil are often used for massage, in the case of pain, and also for general relaxation, and facilitating sleep.

You can buy these preparations on the market, or you can make your own topical preparations.

This is done by steeping lavender buds in any carrier oil (preferably olive or coconut oil), for periods ranging from one to two weeks.

You should only use 3 to 12 drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier oil, to ensure that the final concentration of the topical oil is between 0.5 to 2%. 

Despite the beneficial effects of topical oils, I recommend that you consult your doctor before applying the oil directly onto your skin.

Apply a small amount of this oil behind your ear or on your inner elbow region to check for possible skin reactions. 

You should also use caution, and avoid exposure to abraded or broken skin, wounds, rashes, eyes, and psoriatic or eczematic regions.

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4: Use Lavender as a Tincture (With Caution)

Tinctures are alcohol-based preparations and have many purposes.

They are like essential oils, in that they are highly concentrated.

They are extracted using alcohol, to obtain the beneficial properties of the herb.

To make a tincture with lavender, soak five grams of dried lavender in 25 milliliters of 40% alcohol – herbalists recommend an intake of 2 to 4 ml of lavender tincture, three times a day, for sleep benefits.

Although the intake of tincture lavender is considered safe, I advise my patients to use it sparingly for sleep. 

I almost never advise my patients to prepare it at home.

In the wrong concentrations, the intake of lavender tincture can be very dangerous – you should also not underestimate the toxicity of 40% alcohol.

However, you may safely add this tincture to bathwater. 

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5: Take Lavender in the Form of Herbal Capsules

Lavender capsules are actually lavender-infused capsules, with a low concentration of lavender oil.

Lavender capsules are commonly regarded as a “safe medicine” for anxiety-related sleep disturbances – the recommended dose is one tablet, taken 1 to 2 hours before bedtime.

Because lavender capsules are herbal supplements, you can purchase them without a prescription. 

However, you should stick to the prescribed dose, and also get your physician involved in the decision.

I do not recommend the use of herbal capsules as a standalone medicine for anxiety, since the effects of these capsules are not proven conclusively.

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6: Consume Lavender Infused Sweeteners

Although I have no personal experience with lavender-infused sweeteners, I have come across many healthcare and cooking blogs that glorify lavender-infused sugars. 

To make lavender sugar, chop dried or fresh lavender flowers, and mix them with sugar. This mixture is then sealed in an airtight container for a week. Once the flavors are blended, you may then use this sugar to sweeten your beverages, desserts, and baked goods.

To make lavender-infused honey, simply stir honey and chopped dried lavender flowers together in a glass jar.

Store this mixture away from direct sunlight for about four weeks.

Flip the bottle every day, to ensure that the mixture is thoroughly combined.

If you are looking to use lavender on a daily basis to help with your sleep, and also happen to have a sweet tooth, you may enjoy the use of these sweeteners. 

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7: Add Lavender to Your Food

Lavender has a flavor profile that is not particularly sweet, bitter, or savory. 

It’s a bit of a cross between rose and the herb rosemary – with elements of mint and bright citrus.

It is also a great way to add additional lavender into your system.

There are many great recipes that use lavender such as:

  • Grilled pork chops with lavender and rosemary.
  • Peach lavender jam.
  • Lavender lemonade.
  • Lemon-lavender tea cookies.
  • Lavender roast potatoes.
  • Kale salad with lavender poppy seed dressing.
  • Lavender focaccia.
  • Leg of lamb with lavender.
  • Crème brûlée with lavender.

While I do not recommend edible lavender to be your only source for therapeutic purposes, it can certainly complement other sources.

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8: Apply Lavender-Based Creams and Lotions

If you are not keen on taking lavender in any of the above forms, you can use a lavender-based cream or lotion.

A small portion of the cream or lotion applied over the skin is a soothing way to experience lavender’s calming scent.

The moisturizing effect is an added benefit. 

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9: Use it in Playdough for Kids

Lavender-infused playdough is a great way to ease children to sleep. 

The beautiful color and scent, combined with the sensory play due to kneading the dough, is a great workout before sleep. 

Making lavender playdough is as simple as mixing oil, water, flour, cream of tartar, salt, and lavender oil (use a topical oil, not an essential oil) in a bowl, and adding a drop of blue food coloring to enhance its visual appeal.

I often recommend this to parents who complain that their kids don’t sleep well. 

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10: Sleep On a Lavender Pillow

A lavender pillow is a great way to wind down and get a good night’s rest.

It has dried lavender inside the pillow covering (similar to a hemp pillow) and provides a similar effect to that of aromatherapy. 

These pillows are very comfortable and provide good support. 

If you don’t want to invest in a lavender pillow, you can simply put a few stalks of dried lavender inside your pillowcase for a similar effect.

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Safety Issues and Side Effects of Lavender

According to publicly available information from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, the consumption of lavender in the amounts typically used in foods is safe.

The short-term use of oral lavender supplements, such as lavender capsules, is also considered safe.

However, swallowing lavender essential oil is toxic, and can cause intestinal cramping, nausea, or other adverse symptoms. 

The safety of using lavender as a topical oil depends on your skin’s sensitivity. 

Hence, you should add a carrier oil, and do a patch test before you use lavender on your skin.

There is some evidence that lavender oil, when applied over the skin, may lead to hormonal dysfunction, and abnormal breast growth in young boys who have not reached puberty.

This side effect was not observed in girls. 

Similarly, the safety profile of lavender in pregnant and breastfeeding women is not clearly known.

Hence, you should talk to your doctor before beginning treatment with lavender.

Interaction with Other Medicines

Lavender has a few noteworthy interactions with medicines that you should keep in mind.

Although these interactions are considered minor, you should still discuss them with your healthcare provider.

Medicines with actions on the central nervous system, such as narcotics for pain (e.g., morphine, oxycodone), antidepressants, anti-anxiety medicines, and sedatives, can cause excessive and unwanted synergistic effects.

While no scientific reports of significant interactions between these medicines are known, this theoretical interaction should be kept in mind before taking lavender-based products.

If you are due for any surgery, you should stop lavender at least 2 weeks before the scheduled date.

This is because lavender may potentiate the action of anesthesia and other medications given during and after surgery.

Combining lavender with chloral hydrate is known to cause sleepiness and drowsiness, by potentiating the central nervous depressant action.

Hence, you are warned against driving vehicles and operating heavy machinery during this period.

It is also reported that lavender may decrease blood pressure in some people.

If you are on anti-hypertensives, you should either not take lavender at all, or decrease its dose. 

Hypotensive effects are also seen when lavender is taken with andrographis, casein peptides, cat’s claw, coenzyme Q-10, fish oil, L-arginine, lyceum, stinging nettle, and theanine-containing products.

If you are on other sleeping medicines (prescription or non-prescription), caution should be exercised to prevent unwanted excessive sleepiness.

Because of lavender’s sedative effects, using it in combination with other herbs or supplements, such as 5HTP, calamus, California poppy, catnip, hops, Jamaican dogwood, keva, St John’s wort, skullcap, valerian, and yerba mansa, is not recommended.

Conclusion: Lavender Can Help You Sleep

Lavender is an excellent, non-prescription, herbal remedy with established use as a sleeping aid.

Its anti-anxiety, anti-depressant, analgesic, cognitive enhancing, and anti-inflammatory properties, also indirectly help you to sleep better.

Lavender can be used in a variety of ways, such as aromatherapy (essential oil), massage (topical oil), lavender-infused tablets, and tinctures for therapeutic use.

It can also be used as seasoning or dressing for food or can be added as a sweetener for regular prophylactic use.

If you are unwilling to consume lavender, you can use lavender-based creams, lotions, or salves to get some amount of the benefits related to sleep.

However, considering the minor risk of toxicity and side effects, I urge you to consult your doctor before taking lavender for sleep benefits.


Sources and References

1: Fismer KL, Pilkington P. ‘Lavender and sleep: A systematic review of the evidence’. European Journal of Integrative Medicine 4 (2012); e436–e447.

2: Koulivand, PH, Ghadiri MK, Gorji A. ‘Lavender and the Nervous System’. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2013);1-10.

3: Cavanagh HMA, Wilkinson JM. ‘Biological activities of lavender essential oil’. Phytother Res 6 (2002);16(4):301-8.

4: Yeung KS, Hernandez M, Mao JJ, Haviland I, Gubili J. ‘Herbal medicine for depression and anxiety: A systematic review with assessment of potential psycho-oncologic relevance’. Phytother Res. 5 (2018); 32(5):865-891.

5: Posadzki P, Watson LK, Ernst E. ‘Adverse effects of herbal medicines: an overview of systematic reviews.’ Clin Med (Lond). 2 (2013);13(1):7-12.

Medical Disclaimer

This website doesn’t provide medical advice – always consult with your own doctor for the best guidance.

Image Attribution and Licensing

Main image: ‘Lavender bedroom interior with a bed, pillows, wooden tray’ by bialasiewicz (used with permission and commercially licensed through Envato Elements).