6 Calming Scents That Can Help You Drift Off To Sleep More Easily

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Getting more restful slumber often involves either depriving or stimulating a certain sense. For example, listening to white, pink, or brown noise can drown out the little sonic disturbances that might otherwise keep you awake. And turning off the lights and installing blackout curtains can ensure a sleep-inducing level of darkness, preventing any stimulation of your sense of sight.

Your sense of smell is yet another means for boosting your ability to drift off with ease; in fact, a number of different calming scents can help you sleep deeply and soundly, according to sleep and aromatherapy experts.

Experts In This Article

How scents affect sleep

Because stress and sleep are closely linked—with more stress interfering with sleep, and sleep loss worsening stress—taking measures to destress before bed can help you clock better shut-eye. While that might look like reading a light book or listening to a meditation, it can also mean incorporating sensory de-stressors, like calming scents, into your nighttime routine.

To be sure, not all scents are created equally: Some scents can promote relaxation, while others can interfere with sleep by being energizing or stimulating, says sleep psychologist Shelby Harris, PsyD, director of sleep health at Sleepopolis.

Among the natural scents known to be calming and thus beneficial for sleep are chamomile, lavender, jasmine, and sandalwood, she says (more on these below). While citrus scents, like orange or lemon; mint, such as peppermint or spearmint; and spicy scents, such as clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg, are typically energizing instead. However, Dr. Harris cautions that everyone may have an individual reaction, so “what relaxes one person might stimulate another.”

How to include scents in your sleep routine

“Try to start using aromatherapy regularly before bed so that your body will begin to associate the scents with sleep,” suggests Dr. Harris. You can work the scents into your bedtime routine and adjust to fit your preferences over time, she says.

As for how to include calming scents in your sleep routine? You might light candles for sleep (just be sure to blow them out before actually going to bed), or spritz a scented pillow spray as you wind down. If fragrances don’t irritate your skin, you could also slip a pillow insert infused with a calming scent under your pillowcase; try Sleepy’s Scented Pillow Inserts ($30), which feature a blend of lavender, jasmine, and cedarwood.

Similarly, you could also try dabbing a small amount of a soothing essential oil (like lavender, chamomile, or bergamot) on your skin, provided you don’t have an allergy. Dr. Harris suggests testing for a potential allergy first by doing a patch test on the inside of your elbow. (If you notice any skin reaction, including redness or itchiness, steer clear of that oil.)

Other options for using essential oils include adding them into an aromatherapy bath or putting a sleep blend in a diffuser; certain diffusers, like the Pura Smart Fragrance Diffuser ($45), even allow you to set them on a timer, so you could have yours begin to release calming scents whenever you typically get ready for bed and turn off once you’ve dozed off.

Below, Dr. Harris and aromatherapist Amy Galper, author of The Ultimate Guide to Aromatherapy, break down six calming scents that can help you fall asleep and make your room smell dreamy in the process.

6 calming scents that will help you drift off to sleep more easily

1. Clary sage

Clary sage, which is in the mint family, is adept at reversing the effects of restlessness1—physical and mental alike. If you're tossing and turning because you don't feel physically comfortable, or if you find yourself ruminating about your never-ending to-do list, the scent of this calming essential oil may come in handy.

“This is one of my favorites because it has properties that are antispasmodic—so, stress that is manifesting in our bodies can be eased away by massaging the oil on the back of the neck, shoulders, feet, or anywhere else we feel tense,” says Galper. “It's also very emotionally grounding and sedating to the central nervous system, which is good for combatting an overactive id and excess worry.”

2. Lavender

The calming powers of lavender are well-known; indeed, studies have connected lavender’s scent to a relaxed nervous system2. “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. “Lavender also supports the breath, meaning it can help deepen and slow down our breathing so we can better rest.”

“Lavender supports the breath, meaning it can help deepen and slow down our breathing so we can better rest.” —Amy Galper, aromatherapist

While diffusing lavender essential oil is a straightforward way to use the scent, it can also be integrated in your sleep routine in other ways. For instance, you could buy a lavender pillow spray, drink some lavender tea, shower with lavender vapor tablets, lie down in a gigantic lavender field—whatever makes sense for you.

3. Rose

Rose has two very interesting roles when it comes to sleep. Research supports that the scent of roses is naturally relaxing3 and could be helpful in relieving stress and anxiety4. Research also suggests that rose scent can help improve learning5 while you're sleeping.

To take advantage of the benefits of these pretty petals, keep a bouquet of them on your bedside table or look for products that contain rose essential oils. There are a number of calming rose bath products and body lotions, too, such as the Fresh Rose Morning Body Lotion ($29) or Native Body Wash in Lavender & Rose ($9).

4. Chamomile

Chamomile has the profound power to calm down your mind and body, which helps to explain why chamomile tea is such a pre-bedtime stalwart. “Chamomile is commonly used to help promote relaxation and sleep [because] it contains compounds that act on the central nervous system to produce a calming effect,” says Dr. Harris. “Chamomile has been shown to reduce anxiety, improve sleep quality, and shorten the time it takes to fall asleep.

5. Frankincense

Frankincense is great for soothing heightened nerves6, so you can use it to boost sleep by burning frankincense incense on your nightstand. “This is best for quieting the mind and deepening and relaxing the breath, so we can fall asleep and stay asleep,” says Galper. “It's also anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving, which is good for physical stress brought on by anxiety.”

6. Your partner's scent

They say pheromones and smell go a long way in terms of attraction, so it’s no surprise that your partner’s scent can have a calming effect, too. A 2020 study following 155 participants who spent two nights with their partner’s scent and two nights with a control scent found that their sleep efficiency increased by more than 2 percent7 when they slept with their partner’s scent—an improvement akin to the effect of melatonin on sleep.

If you sleep alongside your partner, snuggle up and sniff, says Galper. And if you're spending long spans of time away from your S.O., snuggling up with one of their T-shirts should help promote a good night’s rest, too.

Frequently Asked Questions About Calming Scents

How does aromatherapy work to enhance sleep quality?

Aromatherapy is the practice of using aromatic essential oils from plants for therapeutic benefits. It’s thought that some of these essential oils have naturally sleep-inducing benefits, and you can access them by way of a diffuser, candle, spray, or other product that fills your airspace with the scent of the oil.

Beyond that, each essential oil will work slightly differently, says Dr. Harris. For example, chamomile works by reducing muscle tension and promoting calm, while lavender is associated with reducing anxiety and enhancing relaxation.

Are there any specific scents known to alleviate insomnia?

Some scents may help you relax and could prime you for bed (see above), but Dr. Harris says they likely won’t help with insomnia, particularly chronic insomnia. “If you are routinely having trouble with sleep, it's important to speak with your doctor or a sleep specialist in order to find long-lasting solutions,” she says.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Seol, Geun Hee et al. “Randomized controlled trial for Salvia sclarea or Lavandula angustifolia: differential effects on blood pressure in female patients with urinary incontinence undergoing urodynamic examination.” Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.) vol. 19,7 (2013): 664-70. doi:10.1089/acm.2012.0148
  2. Koulivand, Peir Hossein et al. “Lavender and the nervous system.” Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM vol. 2013 (2013): 681304. doi:10.1155/2013/681304
  3. Ikei, Harumi et al. “The physiological and psychological relaxing effects of viewing rose flowers in office workers.” Journal of physiological anthropology vol. 33,1 6. 8 Mar. 2014, doi:10.1186/1880-6805-33-6
  4. Mohebitabar, Safieh et al. “Therapeutic efficacy of rose oil: A comprehensive review of clinical evidence.” Avicenna journal of phytomedicine vol. 7,3 (2017): 206-213.
  5. Neumann, Franziska et al. “How odor cues help to optimize learning during sleep in a real life-setting.” Scientific reports vol. 10,1 1227. 27 Jan. 2020, doi:10.1038/s41598-020-57613-7
  6. Al-Yasiry, Ali Ridha Mustafa, and Bożena Kiczorowska. “Frankincense–therapeutic properties.” Postepy higieny i medycyny doswiadczalnej (Online) vol. 70 380-91. 4 Jan. 2016, doi:10.5604/17322693.1200553
  7. Hofer, Marlise K, and Frances S Chen. “The Scent of a Good Night’s Sleep: Olfactory Cues of a Romantic Partner Improve Sleep Efficiency.” Psychological science vol. 31,4 (2020): 449-459. doi:10.1177/0956797620905615

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