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

Photo: Getty Images/ Galina Zhigalova
Ever wondered why so many lavender products are often associated with sleep? Besides being a generally calming and relaxing scent, there’s actually scientific research and scholarly evidence that there may be certain scents that help you sleep. “Research has shown1 that smell and scent can affect how long it takes to fall asleep and overall sleep quality and quantity,” says cosmetic chemist and certified nose Vince Spinnato. “Distinct scents may promote better sleep, help people wake up in the morning, or even influence dreams and memory formation during sleep,” Spinnato adds.

“Distinct scents may promote better sleep, help people wake up in the morning, or even influence dreams and memory formation during sleep.” —Vince Spinnato, cosmetic chemist and certified nose

So, if you’ve ever sworn that the scent of lavender does help you fall asleep faster, there’s some science to that. However, lavender isn’t the only scent that can help you fall asleep: it turns out there are a few scents for sleep that all our experts agreed upon: including heavy-hitters like jasmine, sandalwood, and more.

Experts In This Article

We asked several experts to help point out the best scents that help you sleep, how to use them, how to safely buy essential oils for sleep, and which ones are better than others. If you’re curious about what scents help you sleep, read on.

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. This might also help explain why certain relaxing scents (like lavender) are also closely categorized in our brains as sleepy scents.

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

1. Start early

“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.

2. Put some essential oils on your pillow

You can try applying two or three drops to your pillow before bed, as herbalist and aromatherapist Betsy Miller, MSc, for Aura Cacia, suggests. If you’re traveling and would prefer something hotel-friendly, you can also try a pillow insert infused with a calming scent under your pillowcase, like Sleepy’s Scented Pillow Inserts ($30), which feature a blend of lavender, jasmine, and cedarwood.

3. Try a diffuser

“Aroma diffusers are an excellent option for those looking to add some fragrance to their bedroom without it being too overwhelming,” says Spinnato. 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.

4. Dab some drops on your skin

For a no-frills, classic way of incorporating scents that help you sleep, you can 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. Spinnato also suggests rubbing a few drops on your chest, hands, and neck as good starter spots for incorporating scents that help you sleep.

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.)

5. Make a mist

For a DIY option, Miller suggests adding two ounces of water and 24 drops of pure essential oil (more on why ‘pure’ is important below) to make a mist that you can spray onto your bedding.

How to safely use essential oils for sleep

Real quick disclaimer: “Essential oils are highly concentrated, so inhaling them directly can irritate the respiratory tract,” says Spinnato, adding that doing so may lead to “symptoms such as mild coughing, nose and throat irritation, or shortness of breath.” For this reason, it’s best to be careful about exactly how much essential oil you’re using (hence the specificity in directions like exactly 24 drops per two ounces of water) and to dilute them and avoid direct inhalation.

Don’t be afraid to take a break from them either if you find that you’re having a bad reaction to essential oils: “Even when diluted, an essential oil can cause a bad reaction if you use too much or too often, [even] if you’re note allergic or unusually sensitive to them. Essential oils go a very long way, so there is no need to overdo it,” Spinnato adds.

When buying essential oils, Miller says to look out for language that says things like, ‘therapeutic grade’ or ‘practitioner grade’ because there is no recognized grading system for essential oils in the United States.” Similarly, any essential oils that tout a label about being ‘food grade’ may also require another look, as A.) essential oils shouldn’t be ingested, and B.) the term food-grade actually refers to the packaging facility and not the quality of the oil, Miller explains.

Instead, look for “pure essential oils,” Miller explains, as this indicates that the oils haven’t been mixed with synthetic ingredients. It’s also good if the essential oil company you’re buying from is transparent about testing practices, Miller adds. Taking the time to ensure these basics can let you rest easier (pun intended).

11 scents that help you sleep

1. Sandalwood

“Sandalwood has a natural and earthy scent that can promote relaxation and calm you down, making it perfect for falling asleep faster,” says certified sleep science coach Julia Siemen. This is a rich, woody, and earthy scent that “reduces anxiety and makes you feel relaxed,” says Vince Spinnato, adding that “[sandalwood] is also shown to have sedative effects, making it an ideal oil for those with insomnia.”

2. Jasmine

Siemen also suggests jasmine as a scent that may be able to help you fall asleep easier. This “is a sweeter scent that is known for its calming properties. This can minimize anxiety and help promote restful sleep,” Siemen adds. If you’re looking for a scent that also promotes quality sleep, Spinnato also recommends this scent.

“[Jasmine]’s aromatic compounds have been shown to have a positive impact on the nervous system, inducing a sense of calmness and reducing stress levels,” Spinnato adds.

3. Sweet marjoram

This scent is typically associated with cooking, however, certified sleep science coach Carlie Gasia, explains that “it can be a relaxing scent that helps you fall asleep faster.”

Plus, Spinnato adds that sweet marjoram oil “contains compounds such as terpenes and rosmarinic acid that have been shown to have anxiolytic and sedative effects,” which not only allow you to calm down physically and mentally, but can also “induce the kind of deep, peaceful sleep that allows you to heal and recharge genuinely.”

4. Cedar

Another woodsy scent, Gasia says that “cedar has been shown to reduce the time it takes to fall into a deeper stage of sleep and increase deeper sleep in both humans and rats after exposure to its scent.” Cedar has a similar aroma to its woodsy cousin sandalwood, though, as Spinnato notes, it's a less expensive (and in turn, slightly less effective) alternative to sandalwood in reducing stress and anxiety.

5. Geranium

This floral scent is “often compared to rose in terms of uses, but has its own distinct aroma,” Miller says. “Geranium has a fresh, green and softly floral scent with a grounding and relaxing middle note.” she adds. This scent can partner well with lavender, Miller notes, so if you see anything that combines the two, you can rest assured that it’s relaxing.

6. Clary sage

Clary sage, which is in the mint family, may be able to help you feel less restless. 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.

Aromatherapist Amy Galper, author of The Ultimate Guide to Aromatherapy recommends massaging the oil on the back of the neck, shoulders, feet, or anywhere else you feel tense to feel the effects of clary sage.

7. Lavender

The calming powers of lavender are well-known; indeed, some studies have connected the scent of lavender to anxiety-reducing effects2. Galper notes that lavender can have anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, and sedating effects to the nervous system, in addition to helping ease the mind from overactive thinking.

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, shower with lavender vapor tablets, lie down in a gigantic lavender field nearby—whatever makes sense for you.

8. Rose

Research supports that the scent could be helpful in relieving stress and anxiety3 and can help improve learning4 while you're sleeping.

To take advantage of the benefits of roses, you can 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).

9. Chamomile

Chamomile has the profound power to calm down your mind and body, which helps to explain why chamomile tea is such a common 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.

Of the many foods that make you sleepy (looking at you, Thanksgiving turkey), chamomile in something like tea or smoothies for sleep may also be a good option to try for a light, pre-bedtime snack or drink. At the very least, chamomile is a lot easier and cheaper than fancy holiday bird.

10. Frankincense

Frankincense is great for soothing heightened nerves5, so you can use it to boost sleep by burning frankincense incense on your nightstand as you get ready for bed. Just be sure you're not drifting off to sleep with any open flames and ensure all ashes are donezo and disposed of safely before you actually close your eyes.

“[Frankincense] 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.” Not an incense person? You can also try giving yourself a pre-bedtime massage with some frankincense massage oil as well.

11. 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 percent6 when they slept with their partner’s scent—an improvement akin to sleep aids like melatonin.

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

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, Dr. Harris explains. For example, chamomile works by reducing muscle tension and promoting calm, while lavender is associated with reducing anxiety and enhancing relaxation. Other essential oils, such as lemon, may actually make insomnia symptoms worse7, since they’re often used as energizing scents.

Are there any specific scents known to alleviate insomnia?

Some scents may help you relax and could prime you for bed (like the 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.

Is lavender or jasmine better for sleep?

While both lavender and jasmine may help you drift off to sleep faster, there seems to be more published research linking lavender with less stress and more restful sleep than jasmine. With this in mind, if you find yourself in the Whole Foods aisles deciding between whether to go with a lavender or jasmine essential oil, maybe try lavender first. It’s a classic for a reason.

—medically reviewed by Angela Holliday-Bell, MD

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. Gaeta, Giuliano, and Donald A Wilson. “Reciprocal relationships between sleep and smell.” Frontiers in neural circuits vol. 16 1076354. 22 Dec. 2022, doi:10.3389/fncir.2022.1076354
  2. Yoo, Onyoo, and Sin-Ae Park. “Anxiety-Reducing Effects of Lavender Essential Oil Inhalation: A Systematic Review.” Healthcare (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 11,22 2978. 17 Nov. 2023, doi:10.3390/healthcare11222978
  3. 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.
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. Komori, Teruhisa et al. “The sleep-enhancing effect of valerian inhalation and sleep-shortening effect of lemon inhalation.” Chemical senses vol. 31,8 (2006): 731-7. doi:10.1093/chemse/bjl015

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