Aromatherapy: Scents That Heal Insomnia

Traditional Chinese medicine makes use of aromatherapy to help people sleep better. What is aromatherapy? It is the practice of using the scent of essential oils derived from plants to heal various ailments, one of which is insomnia. Aromatherapy is used to induce calm, relaxation and has been proven to help ease anxiety and alleviate mild depression. People who practice aromatherapy can use healing scents to create different mental and emotional states, including sleepiness.

Aromatherapy for Sleep

Aromatherapy to induce calm, relaxation, and sleep has become so popular that some hospitals use premade nasal inhalers, which contain essential plant oils like lavender to help patients sleep better.

While there are aromatherapy scent devices on the internet, you can make your own aromatherapy sachet to put on your nightstand or by your pillow to alleviate insomnia.

Remember that each person can respond differently to the various scents of plants used in aromatherapy. Some types of aromatherapy use just one herb, while others combine herbs for maximal effect.

Commonly Used Essential Oils For Sleep

  • Lavender – Lavender can be used as an essential oil made from the lavender flower or as a sachet made from fresh or dried Lavender flowers. Research in Europe has shown that inhaling the scent of lavender promotes relaxation and sleepiness. One study was done on 56 patients in an ICU ward. Those who inhaled Lavender slept better than those who did not.

  • Vetiver – This root plant can be ground or distilled to make an essential oil for sleep induction. It has an earthy smell and can be mixed with Chamomile and/or Lavender.

  • Ylang Ylang – Ylang Ylang has been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine to promote good sleep. It has a nice fruity and floral scent that will induce a good night’s sleep.

  • Roman Chamomile – This is a type of chamomile that when inhaled induces a calm and relaxed state of mind that is perfect for going to sleep. It can be used in its ground or “loose” form in a sachet or used as an essential oil. It smells like flowers.

  • Bergamot – Bergamot is a cold-pressed oil that is derived from the peel or rind of the bergamot citrus fruit. This is to be distinguished from other citrus fruits, such as oranges or grapefruits, which tend to stimulate the senses. Bergamot is soothing and calming; it helps balance emotions so you can sleep better. You can use it in dried form or simply breathe in the essential oil. It blends well with other sleep-inducing herbal formulations used in aromatherapy.

  • Marjoram – This is a spice used not only in cooking but has great uses in the world of aromatherapy. It is a known muscle relaxer when inhaled and helps induce a more comfortable sleep.

  • Sandalwood – This is used primarily as an essential oil created from the Sandalwood tree. Put a few drops on a handkerchief or soft towel and sleep with it next to or on your pillow.

  • Frankincense – Smoke from the burning oil of Frankincense contains incensole acetate that helps to alleviate anxiety and depression, both of which are key factors in many chronic insomnia conditions.

  • Valerian – Valerian essential oil is one of the oldest and most studied in terms of helping to improve insomnia and quality of sleep. It contains compounds that activate GABA receptors in the brain and balances the body’s cycles that facilitate undisturbed sleep. Valerian essential oil also helps anxiety, depression and can improve mood. Anxiety and depression are two of the main causes of anxiety and the scent of this oil reduces negative energy and chemicals in the body to bring peace, calm and the ability to rest.

  • Clary Sage Clary Sage functions like Valerian by affecting GABA receptors in the brain. One study showed that clary sage essential oils offer significant anti-stress effects. This oil is also used for patients who suffer from depression.

How to use Aromatherapy

  • Essential oil diffusers are devices you can place on your nightstand so that the aroma of the essential oil can be diffused into the air, creating a wonderful-smelling therapy for the induction of sleep.

  • You can take any herb listed above and use them in fresh or dried forms to create a sachet you keep with you next to or on your bed. The aromas fill the air around your sleep space so that you don’t have as much trouble getting to sleep.

  • You can also dilute essential oil with vegetable oil and rub it onto the skin. It is especially good when placed on the back of the neck or on the soles of the feet for a comfortable environment for sleeping.

  • Essential oil candles are also available, just be sure to look for high quality products that note essential oil as an ingredient.

  • Essential oils can also be dropped into a hot bath to relax the muscles and mind as part of a nightly sleep ritual.

What Do All the Aromatherapy Scents Mean?

In setting up a meditation area for relaxation, or for use in yoga classes, many people use incense, candles and/or essential oils. Scent is a powerful and wonderful tool that can be used to fill a space or our bodies with qualities and symbolism to match the intentions or goals for any practice.

Sometimes, during Savasana (or corpse pose), one on the most relaxing parts of yoga practice where the body is completely relaxed, many instructors use scent in the room to aid in relaxation. My personal yoga instructor, for example, dabs a tiny drop of lavender oil on our necks during Savasana, Lavender has many properties to help soothe and relax,

So what kind of scents are available and what does one use? It really depends on what your goals are for that particular meditation or yoga session. Are you trying to relieve stress? Then you might use Lavender….Have you been fighting a cold? Then you might try Hyssop. Are you trying to gain energy and wake up? Then you might use Lemon or Peppermint.

Here is a list of some common essential oils and what they mean or what they can help achieve to get your started on your way to setting up the right mood or intention for your practice.

Lemon – Lemon is an energizer also helping as a disinfectant. It also has natural bleaching qualities. Along with that, it also serves as an energizer. The oil is extracted from the rind and juice of lemon and has a rich, fruity and warm scent.

Lavender – Lavender is a great stress reliever, promoting peace and well-being. Because of it’s stress relieving ability and can be used to treat anxiety, insomnia and stomach aches. The oil is extracted from the flowering spikes of lavender and has a sweet, floral and slightly sharp scent. As mentioned earlier, this is a great scent for savasana,

Hyssop – Hyssop has been around for centuries. It has healing properties that have been used by many throughout the years. It helps with cold and flu. It can also be used as a skin-improving agent, helping fight against blemishes.

Jasmine – known for its relaxing and soothing properties and can be, at times, used as an aphrodisiac as well. The oil is extracted from jasmine flowers and has a heavy and sweet dreamy scent. (Another good option for savasana!)

Basil – Helps with concentration. Also used in a wide variety of problem such as upset stomach, headache, flatulence, low appetite, lack of concentration, abrasions, sinus, muscle aches, migraine, gout and bronchitis. The oil is extracted from flowering tops and leaves of basil and has a sweet and spicy scent.

Chamomile – Used to promote sleep, relaxation and meditation. (That’s why so many people have a cup of chamomile tea at bedtime!) It’s relaxation properties and can be used to treat indigestion, peptic ulcers, nervousness, menstrual cramps, sore throat, burns and skin inflammations, vaginal infections, insomnia, sunburn, hay fever and sprains. The oil is extracted from chamomile flower heads and has a sweet, fruity and floral scent.

Sandalwood – This scent is popular for incense burning and is still burned in many homes today. It is a very sweet woody scent helping promote relaxation and spiritual harmony. Also, help with dry hair and skin. It can also be used to treat depression, dry skin, nausea, skin problems and stress. The oil is extracted from sandalwood itself and has an exotic and slightly spicy scent.

Rose – There are many different types of roses. They all have some differences in healing properties. Rose oil has soothing and calming abilities and can be used to treat scurvy and nervousness. It also promotes the feelings of love and peace. The oil is extracted from petals, hips and root bark of rose and has a light, sweet and floral scent.

Peppermint – A true energizer. Often used to help with muscle aches, fatigue, pain, gas, sore throat, digestive problems, stomach ulcers and nausea. The oil is extracted from leaves of peppermint plant and has a minty scent.

Eucalyptus – Powerful decongestant. Used for centuries to help with cold symptoms. It also has antiseptic qualities and can be used to treat nasal and chest congestion, asthma, sore muscles, cuts and abrasions. The oil is extracted from eucalyptus leaves and has a strong, fresh and minty scent.

Ginger – An energizing scent, ginger is widely used to help with nausea.

Nutmeg – Used by some to help with sleep and indigestion.

But what if your intentions are specific? What can scent do to solidify your practice intentions? If you are in a troubled relationship and need to evoke positive feelings towards that relationship, you might initiate a meditation session surrounding love and focus on that to heal that relationship. In this case you would have several choices of scent to aid in that intention.

Here are several themes and ways you can specifically gear your practice using scent:

Love, Companionship & Relationship

The scents of apple, cinnamon, clove, copal, gardenia, jasmine, lavender, musk, orange, patchouli, peppermint, rain, rose, vanilla, white jasmine, and ylang-ylang essential oil signify the different aspects of a relationship, such as love, companionship, affection and adoration.

Goals, Gains, Money & Success

The scents that signify material success, along with money, profits and aims, include the fragrance of allspice, almond, bergamot, basil, cinnamon, clover, dill, honeysuckle, lemon, pine, red ginger and sage essential oils.

Protection, Harmony & Well Being

Signifying the overall harmony of a person are the scents of angelica, basil, bay, bayberry, carnation, cinnamon, clove, coconut, dill, dragon’s blood, eucalyptus, frankincense, gardenia, geranium, heather, juniper, lilac, myrrh, narcissis, sandalwood and violet essential oils.

Inspiration, Psychic Awareness & Intuition

If you are looking for essential oils with scents that signify inspiration, psychic awareness and intuition; anise, cedar, chamomile, cinnamon, eucalyptus, frankincense, green tea, lavender, lemongrass, lime, lotus, musk, myrrh, peppermint, pine, rosemary, sandalwood, and valerian essentials oils will be the best bet.


Maybe your focus is to work on one of the seven Chakras that is of concern for you. The word Chakra is Sanskrit for wheel or disk. It signifies one of seven basic energy centers in the body which are the openings for life energy to flow into and out of our aura. Each of these centers correlates to major nerve within our spinal column. In addition, the Chakras also correlate to levels of consciousness, archetypal elements (Jungian concepts), developmental stages of life, colors, sounds, body functions, and more. Aromatherapy oils aimed at specific Chakras can be used in healing or working on those areas of concern during your meditation or yoga practices.

Aromatherapy has been used for centuries in different countries around the world. Many people have used aromatherapy to improve their mood, health and overall will being. Many people in our face-paced society are rediscovering the natural benefits of aromatherapy in their yoga and meditation practices as it aids in further solidifying your intentions of pure living and peace with oneself.