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Aromatherapy for Sleep: What’s the Story?

Welcome to the soothing, yet nebulous, world of aromatherapy and sleep. The relationship between sleep and scent is a longstanding, complicated and fairly inconsistent one; you’ll be familiar with the comic film image of someone being brought back from unconsciousness with a quick snifter of some smelling salts or oils – but is there any actual truth to it?

Are there actual scents that help you sleep or wake you up?

This question isn’t simply a matter of finding the right smell to ease you into a deep sleep, or one that will help you spring awake ready for the day ahead (although, this is definitely a part of it, and we’ll get to that), but it has a very solid grounding in health and safety.

For example, can we detect the smell of smoke when we’re asleep? Or the scent of leaking gas?

Numerous studies have tried to come to a conclusive answer, and yet the best we have today is a series of conflicting evidence and anecdotal material to make our best judgment with.

Some studies have shown that pervasive scents have no power over someone in a deep sleep, such as this study carried out at Brown University in 2004 – but yet we have countless stories of people springing awake and dowsing house fires before their smoke detectors caught the scent, or catching gas leaks in the middle of the night.

The evidence, of both types, perhaps points to an insubstantial statement: some people can react to smells in their sleep, and some can’t.

So if you’re one of the lucky few who’s olfactory senses can influence your sleep cycles – let’s look at some of the scents you should be sniffing before bed and when you wake up.

Aromatherapy for Sleep

You’ll often see aromatherapy and sleep discussed in the same sentence, such as this sentence you’re reading right… now.

It’s long been believed that particular scents can invoke a sense of sleepiness and relaxation that are incredibly useful for quickly slipping into a nice, comfortable sleep; often these will take the form of teas or tinctures – but not always.

So what can you get a whiff of to gently nod you off to sleep? Here are the best scents to help you sleep…


Lavender is one of the most notorious herbal/natural sleep aids – not to mention, a near universal household scent these days – due to its effects over nervousness and general disposition. Many accounts tell tales of improved moods after using lavender tinctures and scent packets, as well as a lapse in anxiety symptoms.

Extra perk is that it really smells oh, so pretty.

Tip: Use dried lavender flowers, maybe with a spot of lavender oil, in a fabric bag and place beneath the pillow.


It’s not uncommon to see rice, and in particular Jasmine rice, in articles concerning foods that help you fall asleep.

This is partly due to the make-up of rice and its benefits with weight loss during the night, but also because the scent of the Jasmine flower has a longstanding reputation as being relaxing and soothing.

The scent is very common and found in many oils, air fresheners and lotions. Get thee some.


Another top contender in the battle against insomnia – Valerian is an effective soother against some of the issues that prompt restlessness. That said, although the scent has shown some encouraging effects when it comes to drifting off… It’s not the nicest smell out there.

Each to their own, though – you won’t know if you like it until you try it!


Not just a delicious flavoring for our teas, baked goods and ice creams, but also a lovely scent that doubles as an effective relaxant. Some studies even show benefits over blood pressure (aside from an underlying health issue, high blood pressure is also known to curb sleep).

You’ll notice a trend here; most effective scents create an atmosphere of calm tranquillity. With that in mind, you could find just about any scent that you, personally, enjoy has similar effects before bedtime. It’s a fun bit of experimentation!

Now, for the mornings…

Scents that Help You Wake Up

As we discussed, there is very little evidence of particular smells actually waking you from sleep – but there are plenty that are known to give you that much needed jolt, first thing in the morning.

Citrus fruits

The scent accompanying fruits, particularly citric varieties, are said to promote mental activity and promote a boost in serotonin (the ‘feel good’ hormone) – not to mention making for part of a healthy breakfast!

A great way to incorporate citrusy, perk-me-up scents into your morning routine is to opt for a citrus scented body wash for a totally invigorating morning shower!


Eucalyptus oil is one of those elements that seems to be the answer to everything, in some way.

It’s often used as a treatment for blocked airways (might be worth considering if you’re a serial snorer), but it also has a reputation of fending off mental fatigue and fogginess, otherwise known as Every Single Morning.


Rosemary is often associated with alertness and mental focus – so it’s no surprise that it can also be used as a smelly solution to morning grogginess.

Try it as an herb to sprinkle over/through your breakfast, or simply use the oil as a scent, whichever works for you!

Tip: Rosemary’s popularity isn’t just about wakefulness – it’s one of the best herbs for hair growth. So if your crown of glory could use some thickening (and your mornings a little more energy), choose a rosemary-infused shampoo and conditioner for your morning showers!


Peppermint has been garnering some praise for its waking properties in recent years, packing another punch to mental fatigue whilst giving you the nice little poke of energy you might need.

One of the best methods of getting this one in and around your nose might simply be to buy some peppermint flavoured toothpaste.

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