While our noses aren’t good at waking us up, they’re extremely useful in helping us power down for the night. “It’s one of the most powerful tools you have and, used properly, is more reliable than most sleep-aids,” says Robert Tisserand, an award-winning aromatherapy expert and author of books on the subject, including “The Art of Aromatherapy” and “Aromatherapy for Everyone.” As he sees it, the best path to better sleep is through the nose.
Tisserand’s logic is simple: Scents trigger all sorts of emotions. Fill your room with those that have calming or even sedative effects and you’ll be less likely to toss and turn. “It’s incredibly easy to improve your night’s sleep with scents,” he says. “It’s just a matter of knowing which to choose.”
Here are five of Tisserand’s favorite sleep-aiding scents.
It’s well-known that this bright smelling herb, which perks up everything from bathrooms to bland chicken dishes, helps reduce anxiety. “But it’s also ideal for troubled sleepers,” says Tisserand. A 2012 Wesleyan University study showed that men and women who breathed in its scent before bed spent more time in slow-wave sleep. Another study from Celal Bayar University in Turkey found that 50 students who inhaled diffused lavender oil during a 60-minute exam were less stressed than those who didn’t. Your move, tarragon.
Commonly found in perfumes and lauded for its mood- and libido-boosting properties, jasmine promotes deep sleep. In a 2002 study from Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia, patients who slept in a room where the scent was diffused throughout the night reported sleeping more soundly and feeling less anxiety upon waking. What’s more, patients who slept while sniffing jasmine showed more mental acuity and mid-day alertness than those who didn’t. “It’s a lovely, calming scent,” adds Tisserand.
“Lemon has long been used as a sleep aid,” says Tisserand. “And for good reason: It works.” His advice? Dab a few drops of lemon balm on your wrists before bedtime. A 2003 study from Northumbria University showed that rubbing lemon on your wrists enhances mood, brain function, and, indirectly, better prepares you for sleep.
The beloved citrus fruit has an anti-anxiety effect when inhaled, according to several studies. “In one, a group of researchers piped the scent into a dental office where patients were waiting to have teeth pulled,” says Tisserand. “All of the patients, it seemed, were less concerned about the procedure after they were exposed to the scent.”
Maybe it reminds people of freshly baked cookies or flickering candles. Whatever the case, the scent of vanilla has proven tension-relieving effects. In fact, a German study revealed that the scent lowered startle responses in both humans and animals. “There’s something universally calming about it,” he says.