If you’ve ever struggled with sleep, you’ve probably been told to explore the world of aromatherapy as a natural antidote. Now, I love diffusers as much as anyone, but there’s nothing quite like the ritualistic burning of a scented candle to set the mood for rest and relaxation. Provided that you’re burning the right ones (that’s where we come in), candles can be a powerful form of aromatherapy, and help put you in the right headspace for a good night’s sleep.
To help you enhance your sleep, we sought help from the professionals to learn more about candles as aromatherapy, where they fit in your nighttime routine, and the scents that’ll help soothe and relax you as you get ready for bed.
Candles and the “Power Down Hour”
On the topic of sleep struggles, there’s often a lot of talk about the importance of a pre-sleep ritual, or as Dr. Michael Breus, PhD, founder of The Sleep Doctor calls it, the “Power Down Hour.” It’s the practice of setting a bedtime alarm for one hour before lights out, and using that time (in three 20 minute blocks) to prepare the mind and body for rest.
In short, the first 20 minutes should be spent completing any important tasks (sending that last work email, for example), the next 20 on hygiene, and the final 20 minutes on some form of rest and relaxation. Now here’s where scent comes in. “Aromatherapy could be used during the last two sections,” says Dr. Breus, adding, “you can have a candle going while you’re getting ready for bed, then [blow the candle out] and switch to a diffuser before sleep.”
But can aromatherapy actually work?
The answer is yes—with some caveats. Dr. Breus cautions that aromas are not the cure-all for your sleep woes.“You’re not going to cure your insomnia with a lavender candle,” he says—and we always recommend seeing your doctor if you’re really struggling. But there are some scents that can trigger a “relaxation response” in your muscles, allowing your body’s natural sleep process to take over.
“What we’ve seen with aromatherapy is that people tend to fall asleep a little bit quicker than they normally would have,” says the Sleep Doctor. To help you upgrade your nighttime routine, we tracked down the scented candles that’ll set the mood for some serious R&R—just make sure to blow them out before you hit the hay. And remember that fragrance (and sleep) is personal, so follow your nose to find the scents that help create the relaxing response you crave. (While you’re at it, why not combine aromatherapy with a stress-relieving rubdown with one of the best massage candles?)
I know, lavender has been at the center of the aromatherapy conversation for so long—but that’s only because it really works. Lavender essential oil touts a wealth of sleep supporting benefits, according to aromatherapist and founder of NYC's first Aromatherapy School, Amy Galper. "Anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, and sedating to the nervous system, lavender shares molecules that relax the body and ease the mind from overactive thinking," Galper says.
Best lavender candle
P.F. Candle Co.’s Ojai Lavender candle isn’t a regular lavender candle, it’s a cool lavender candle.“We like to say it’s been juiced up with notes of citrus,” say founders Kristen Pumphrey and Tom Neuberger, “This gives it a lively and full-bodied quality that blends well with the herbaceous and relaxing lavender.” And unlike some lavender candles whose fragrances can be a bit heady and overwhelming, Ojai Lavender has a soft yet distinguishable throw (candle speak for how well the scent carries in a room), that doesn’t irritate.
Lavender, mint, orange, and bergamot
“Rose helps ground and center you before bedtime,” says Elizabeth Trattner, AP, DOM, a doctor of Chinese Medicine who’s been working with essential oils for over 30 years. It’s been shown to help support relaxation, and combat anxiety by diminishing sympathetic stimulation (i.e. your body’s response to stressful or dangerous situations). It’s also a beauty staple, which makes sense because few things are more soothing than dousing my face and body in rosewater mist.
Best rose candle
A best-seller from Boy Smell’s spring floral drop, Rosalita is the best iteration of rose I’ve smelled yet—and one that you’ll want to burn all year round. It stars a luxurious base of Turkish rose petals, with the addition of warm amber and cedarwood—for that calming cocktail of grounding yet fresh scents that soothes and comforts pre-bedtime. “Rosalita is as lovely as her name suggests,” writes one 5-star reviewer, “So fresh and light.”
Turkish rose, cedar, amber, leather, and clove
Fresh, grounding, and a little spicy
Research has shown that the scent of Ylang Ylang (a flower with a rich, sweet scent native to the Philippines) can help support relaxation before sleep. There has even been a study crediting the flower with the ability to boost your self-esteem—which, if you’ve ever lied awake in a shame spiral all night, is a major plus before bed.
Best ylang ylang
This candle from Target blends Ylang Ylang with another relaxation favorite, jasmine. The result is a lush and inviting floral aroma that’s sweet and comforting—it’s a luxury candle at a budget-friendly price, essentially. Now if that doesn’t help you sleep at night…
Ylang ylang, jasmine
Sweet and comforting
It’s great as tea, Chamomile’s soft and soothing scent also makes for a beautiful candle. Just like a warm cuppa comforts the body before bed, inhaling the scent of chamomile essential oil has been linked to a reduction in stress and anxiety. "Chamomile is anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic—so, very soothing and comforting to the nervous system, especially when our emotions tend to stress our gut," says Galper. "It's great for relaxing muscle stiffness brought on by nervous tension."
Best chamomile candle
This chamomile candle boasts a sweet (but not overbearing) floral scent that also has an herbal freshness to it—perfect for helping to clear your mind before heading to bed. What’s more, every candle is hand-poured by women artisans at Prosperity Candle—a Massachusetts based candle company working to help women escape conflict and end poverty.
Sweet floral, herbal
Airy and fresh
Frankincense’s woodsy, earthy qualities make it particularly great for grounding and finding your center before bed. “[It’s] best for quieting the mind, and deepening and relaxing the breath so we can fall asleep and stay asleep," says Galper. For me, it’s the smokiness of its aroma that really makes me feel like I’m participating in a ritual—shifting my day away from responsibility and towards rest.
Best frankincense candle
Paddywax dedicated an entire candle collection to essential oils that support a sense of calm and wellness, and their Peace candle spotlights frankincense along with other relaxation favorites like sage, vetiver, and cedarwood. It has a deep, warm scent that immediately comforts, giving you that spa retreat feeling.
Frankincense, cedar, vetiver, sandalwood, and black pepper
Grounding, warm and spicy
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