The sense of touch and the sense of hearing are most common when using sleep aids. But you can also use other senses, such as the sense of smell with essential oils, to improve sleep.

Many essential oils can help you relax both physically and mentally, so you fall asleep more quickly and keep insomnia at bay.

Essential oil in a brown glass bottle and lavender flowers on a wooden background.

In fact, there are so many essential oils on the market that you may become overwhelmed, trying to decide which ones to choose for this purpose.

In this post, we’ll highlight what we think are the top 2 popular essential oils known for supporting better sleep and rest.

We’re sticking to 2 because too many choices will add to the confusion over what to pick. You can try the most well-known oils before you begin experimenting with others.

We’ll also fill in some background on why and how these products do the lovely things they do, along with some cautions about using essential oils.

Top 2 Essential Oils to Help You Sleep


Lavender and vanilla essential oils are two of the top natural sleep aids for relaxing and better sleep.

1. Lavender Essential Oil

Lavender is one of the most well-known essential oils. It’s been studied extensively, and reports indicate it has anxiety-reducing properties, a positive effect on depression, reduces pain, and encourages relaxation and sleep.

Lavender also has a sedative effect, which is an excellent property for anyone trying to fall asleep. It’s no wonder it’s been used for so long as a natural aid to well-being and calmness.

One study with college students showed that lavender and sleep hygiene together had a positive effect on sleep, allowing them to wake up refreshed.

Lavender essential oil in glass bottle with dropper isolated on white background.

Feeling energetic and able to focus is a good result for college students who need to study and complete assignments. And, it’s equally important for anyone who struggles with sleep.

How Is Lavender Essential Oil Made?

Essential oils are made or produced in a variety of ways, depending on the plant being used and the method needed to obtain the oil.

In the case of lavender, the oil is extracted from the lavender flower by steam distillation. The harvested blooms are compacted into a still, and a boiler heats the bottom of the vessel to separate the oil from the plant.

A cold-water pipe through the center of the still causes the hot lavender oil to condense and run into another container, where the oil and water separate.

2. Vanilla Essential Oil

Vanilla essential oil produces a wonderful scent for people who enjoy the smell of sweetness and baking, or for people who have fond memories of baking in their home.

Scents are known to be a powerful memory trigger, even more than most people realize.

Scents like vanilla can swiftly transport even an older adult back to their childhood, and the memory of their mother baking cookies.

Vanilla sticks and essential oil with tealight candles on a white sand background.

Like lavender, vanilla has a long history of being reported to reduce stress, quiet the nervous system, have a sedative effect, and relieve depression and anxiety.

It’s another excellent product for sleep support and fighting insomnia.

It’s widely reported that in a Columbia University Medical Center study, people who smelled vanilla had more stable heart rates and blood pressure readings while completing stress tests.

It was notably more than for those people who took the tests without any scents present in their environment.

How Is Vanilla Essential Oil Made?

The interesting thing about vanilla essential oil is that it often isn’t an oil at all; it’s a form of semi-solid resin called oleoresin. It is extracted from vanilla beans using a solvent.

Other forms of vanilla oil are absolute or CO2 extract. The thick vanilla absolute is also extracted using a solvent and is very expensive.

The vanilla CO2 extract is obtained using carbon dioxide under high pressure, and it is extremely expensive.

The Science of Scents, Emotions, and Memories


As we mentioned, when discussing vanilla, scents are a very powerful trigger for memories.

Even the oldest people can be instantly sent back through time to their childhood by the scent of freshly ironed linen or the aroma of a favorite meal.

A senior woman in a garden smelling a yellow flower.

So, it’s not surprising to learn that our sense of smell is directly connected to our brain’s centers for memory and emotion.

The olfactory nerve sends information about what we smell to the brain. This information goes right to the limbic system, including regions such as the amygdala that control emotional responses and memories.

This pathway for scents is unique in that all the other senses send information to the thalamus first, which is like a relay station.

Smell is the only sense that doesn’t take the scenic route. It goes straight to the memory and emotion control box, making the reaction that much more powerful.

So, no wonder a rainstorm can evoke powerful images of playing in rain puddles and dancing on wet grass in bare feet as a child.

The History of Aromatherapy


From the early Egyptian, Chinese, and Roman cultures, up to modern days, the history of using essential oils for medicinal purposes is a long one.

The early Greek physician, Hippocrates (the Hippocratic oath), studied the effects of essential oils and promoted their use for healing and well-being.

An Hippocratic oath word cloud with a hand and marker against a white background.

These days, this very ancient practice goes by a modern term, aromatherapy. Scientists are still carrying out studies on this practice and discovering new things all the time.

Essential oils have scientific studies that support their use for:

  • Sleep disorders and insomnia
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Depression

All the above conditions tend to have a high level of connectedness and often feed off each other, contributing to a vicious cycle of mental issues and lack of proper restorative rest.

It’s easy to see why an essential oil that promotes calmness and relaxation will help with the fight against insomnia.

4 Ways to Use Essential Oils to Relax and Sleep


If you’re just starting to use essential oils, you’ll want some easy ways to add them to your routine. Here are 4 simple ways to get the beneficial scents of lavender and vanilla into your environment.

1. Add Essential Oils to Your Bath

You can add several drops of the essential oil to your bath water before you go to bed. It’s an excellent way to combine the scent with the relaxed feeling produced by a warm bath.

You can also get a quality bubble bath or bath bomb that has lavender or vanilla in it. Use them to fill your tub and the room with soothing scents.

2. Use an Essential Oil Diffuser

There are gadgets on the market called diffusers that disperse the scent of the oil into the air around you.

It’s best to follow the instructions from the manufacturer to determine how much to add and how to use your specific machine.

Wooden essential oil diffuser with candles on a table.

3. Make Your Own Spray

You can also add a couple of drops of oil to a cup of water in a misting spray bottle and spritz it in the air or on your linens.

If it’s your first time using essential oils, be sure to avoid contact with your skin until you know how you’ll react.

4. Use Commercial Products

There are many commercially manufactured products that you can use, and some are meant to be applied directly to your skin.

Proceed with caution if you are new to essential oils and follow instructions carefully, while watching closely for any adverse reactions.

Use these ideas or check with family and friends to see how they like to use essential oils.

Cautions When Using Essential Oils


Everyone reacts in an individual way to scents, with some people even having adverse allergic or sensitivity reactions.

You might even find some oils invigorate you instead of making you sleepy. Take careful note of your reaction, and others who share your space, and adjust accordingly.

If there are children in your home, you’ll need to store your oils safely out of their reach. They can be toxic if ingested.

Take care too if you have pets in your home. Animals can have a strong and harmful reaction to essential oils, especially if they accidentally consume them.


Like white noise machines and weighted blankets, essential oils are used by many people to get better sleep. Trying the two most popular choices of lavender and vanilla is a good place to start.

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