It’s no secret that smell is one of the most powerful senses we have. Have you ever caught a whiff of something, just for a second, that transported you back to a specific time of your childhood?
Our sense of smell, also known as our olfactory system, contains nerves and receptors directly wired to our brain. This system is used for smell identification, memory access, and emotional expression(1).
That’s why after walking by someone smoking, you might suddenly remember having dinner at your grandma’s house when you were six years old. It’s also why you can’t stand the smell of that perfume your ex used to wear.
Since our sense of smell is strongly connected to our emotions, we can use it as an opportunity to choose scents that help us sleep better.
Once you find the right scent(s) for you, it’s guaranteed to help you sleep better and longer (2).
It's Just Common Scents
Studies show that the scent of lavender is one of the most powerful sleep aids (3). It decreases heart rate and lowers blood pressure, which is perfect if you find your mind whirling with thoughts around bedtime.
Shown to have sedative effects on nerve activity and mood, jasmine also reduces heart rate, helping you calm down and drift to sleep quicker.
This scent is shown to aid depression and grief, relax the body, and ease minor aches and pains. This is good if you are going through a rough time and it’s affecting your sleep quality.
With its antidepressant qualities, vanilla is also shown to increase happiness while relaxing the body and mind.
Commonly used as a stress reliever in spas and places of relaxation, eucalyptus is a powerful scent that can relax your mind in order to prepare you for a healthy night of sleep.
With its zesty, fresh smell, lemon can make you feel clean and relaxed for bed. Paired with a clutter-free room, the sparkling scent can help your purge your thoughts and ensure a clear mind to combat insomnia.
The woodsy, earthy tones of sandalwood can help you feel grounded and provides a nice break from that stale office air. It’s also referred to as a mood balancer, due to its relaxing effect (4). (Cedarwood is a more affordable option and has the same earthy tones.)
With its citrus-like fragrance, the “zing” element in bergamot is less citrusy than lemon. If you enjoy citrus but find lemon too stimulating, this is the way to go.
How Does it Work?
Aromatherapy is an ancient practice that has significant success rates when used as a treatment (5). In essential oil form, different scents are made up of varying chemical properties and compositions that have different effects on the body.
The scents pass through the olfactory nerves straight to the brain, where the message is passed through our limbic system, which is responsible for emotion.
That’s why scents can make you feel.
After passing through our brain, scents affect the nervous system. That’s how researchers found that herbs such as lavender lower blood pressure and jasmine sedate the mind.
You can try experiencing these scents in several different forms, such as…
Candles: You can commonly find candles infused with essential oils at most stores. Burning your scent of choice for an hour before bed usually works.
Essential Oils: Depending on the oil you choose, there are different suggested ways to use them. For example, lavender oils can be rubbed between the palms and inhaled. Others, like eucalyptus, can be applied to the hairline across the back of your neck.
Incense: You can find incense in any major store. These are sticks infused with oils that release the fragrance when burned. It is not recommended for those with sensitivity to smoke.
Diffusers: Electronic diffusers use a water base to create vapors of scents, and you can usually put them on a timer. There are also “old-fashioned” diffusers, which are absorbent sticks that sit in the oils and slowly release the scent.
Pillow mists: These can be bought pre-made, but you can make it too! Place a couple drops of your favorite essential oil into a small spray bottle filled with water. Spray a fine mist on your pillow before bed.
Smell Ya Later!
You may have to try several different scents before finding what works for you. Hypothetically, any scent that makes you feel happy will aid your sleep.
By capitalizing on your olfactory system and its direct power over your well-being, you can literally smell your way into healthier sleep. The list provided above includes some of the scents with the highest success rates among large groups of people studied.
Sweet (smelling) dreams, just make sure to blow out that candle before hitting the hay!
(1) Rodriguez-Gil, Gloria M.Ed.“The Sense of Smell: A Powerful Sense." SEE/HEAR Newsletter, www.tsbvi.edu/seehear/summer05/smell.htm. Accessed 10 Jan. 2019.
(2) “The Best Scents for Relaxation and Sleep." Sleep.org, www.sleep.org/articles/scents-for-relaxation/. Accessed 10 Jan. 2019.
(3) National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. “Lavender.” National Institute of Health, www.nccih.nih.gov/health/lavender/ataglance.htm. Accessed 10 Jan. 2019.
(4) "Essential Oils for Sleep." Tuck, 9 Aug. 2018, www.tuck.com/essential-oils-sleep/
(5) "Trouble Sleeping? Try These Essential Oils for Sleep." University Health News, 11 Jul. 2017. Accessed 10 Jan. 2019.
It's no secret that smells can trigger memories & emotions, 😄 or 😢.
But did you know there are scents that help you sleep? 😴
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