Sleep Remedies – Lavender
Table of Contents
“Lavender is of a special good use for all the griefs and pains of the head and brain…[and] is good against the tooth-ache.”
You might think this excerpt was taken from a relatively modern book on herbal medicine (language aside, of course), but that’s not the case. It comes from “The Complete Herbal,” written by Nicolas Culpepper, M.D., in 1652.
While our ancestors did not yet make the connection between lavender and sleep, this popular herb was a go-to remedy for common ailments even in the 17th century. Even more interesting, 400 years later, lavender is still used as a medicinal herb for treating many of the same troubles.
Note: The content on Sleepopolis is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t be taken as medical advice, and it shouldn’t take the place of medical advice and supervision from a trained professional. If you feel you may be suffering from any sleep disorder or medical condition, please see your healthcare provider immediately.
How Does Lavender Help With Sleep?
Lavender and sleep have been inextricably linked for centuries, and for good reason. This herb (scientifically known as Lavandula angustifolia) “has long been studied for its anxiolytic (an anxiety-relieving drug) and sleep-promoting effects,” says Dr. Yelena Deshko, founder of the Timeless Health Clinic. Studies have even shown that the intake of oral lavender oil relieved anxiety about as well as a low dose of the sedative lorazepam.
Interestingly, studies have shown that both oral lavender and inhaled lavender can reduce anxiety and promote sound sleep. In one notable study out of Wesleyan University in Connecticut, participants were instructed to smell lavender essential oil one night and distilled water the next. At the conclusion of the study, not only did researchers find that lavender increased slow-wave sleep among the participants, but the study’s participants slept more soundly and reported feeling more energetic the morning after the nights they smelled the lavender.
What Lavender Products Can I Use?
Deshko tells Sleepopolis that “Lavender essential oil is traditionally used and approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) as herbal medicine to relieve stress and anxiety, and the herb can be used in a multitude of ways including capsules, teas, topical products such as lotions, creams or salves, room sprays or diffuser scents.”
Other popular lavender-infused products used to promote sleep include:
- Pillow sprays
- Shower/bath products such as bath soak or body wash
- Lavender scented candles
Our Tester’s Takeaway
Jessica’s Lavender Review: To get a good feel for the effectiveness of this product, I found a lavender spray for sleep that didn’t contain any other calming scents. I happened to start testing this during a time period when my brain really didn’t want to turn off at night, so I was excited to get a good read on the results.
The verdict: Lavender really can be calming at night, and while it helped lull me to sleep when I was thinking about things like TV show plot lines or what to make for dinner the next day, it wasn’t quite up to the task on nights where I had more pressing things on my mind. I also found the product was more effective when I was a little more liberal with the application — it worked best for me when I sprayed it on my pillow, sheets, and blanket.
Other Health Benefits From Lavender
The benefits of lavender go well beyond promoting good sleep. This fragrant herb can also be used to treat a host of ailments, both physical and emotional.
A Natural Pain Remedy
Lavender contains linalyl acetate and linalool, two anti-inflammatory compounds with powerful pain-relieving properties. One 2015 study showed that lavender essential oil effectively relieves pain and reduces swelling. But that’s not the most interesting part. Participants of the same study “rated lavender oil as offering pain relief comparable to the prescription medication tramadol when diluted with a carrier oil and applied topically.”
Moreover, there are plenty of studies to support the use of inhaled and topical lavender oil to reduce pain associated with headaches, toothaches, and post-surgical pain.
Lower Blood Pressure
While further research may be necessary, early research shows that inhaled diluted lavender essential oil reduces blood pressure and heart rate.
Other Medicinal Uses For Lavender
Beyond natural pain relief and lowering blood pressure, Deshko tells us that “lavender has been shown to exhibit anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, it can enhance the anti-septic activity of antibacterial agents, and may even have anti-depressant effects, especially when taken orally.”
Studies have also shown that lavender may also:
- Relieve asthma symptoms
- Reduce menopausal hot flashes
- Have antifungal properties
- Promote hair growth
- Treat skin blemishes
Side Effects Of Lavender
Lavender is usually safe in small doses. So anyone who prefers lavender tea or using the herb for cooking should have no problems. But while gastrointestinal issues with lavender are rare, topical use or inhalation of lavender may cause skin irritation or headaches.
Lavender is revered for its stress relief and relaxation properties. And there’s plenty of evidence to support its use for headaches and migraines. But while the inhalation of lavender oil may be a safe and effective treatment for headaches and migraines, there is some evidence to suggest that oral lavender can lead to headaches, increased appetite, and constipation.
Lavender is generally considered safe for use as a topical cream, ointment, salve, or balm, but in some cases, it can lead to allergic contact dermatitis (ACD). Skin irritation caused by lavender may present as itching or itchy, red, flaky rashes. If you notice signs of sensitivity or irritation, it’s probably best to discontinue use and see a doctor or dermatologist if symptoms persist.
Who Shouldn’t Use Lavender
According to Deshko, lavender has a very strong historical safety profile, but like most medicinal herbs, there are some notable precautions to keep in mind when using lavender.
Women Who Are Pregnant Or Breastfeeding
There’s a considerable lack of information and research on how lavender affects mothers who are pregnant or breastfeeding, so it may be best to err on the side of caution and steer clear.
People Having Surgery
Anyone with a surgery on their calendar should consider curbing their use of lavender as the day approaches. Lavender has some pretty powerful sedative properties. One study even showed that lavender oil significantly decreases blood pressure, heart rate, and skin temperature. Lavender, paired with anesthesia and other medications given post-op, could potentially slow down the central nervous system too much and cause some concerning complications. It may be best to stop using lavender at least two weeks before a scheduled surgery and be sure that your doctor and surgeon know you use it regularly if that’s the case.
Young Children, Particularly Young Boys
Parents of young children (boys in particular) may want to avoid (or at least speak with your doctor on the safety of) using lavender oil on their kids who have not yet reached puberty, as mounting evidence suggests that topical lavender oil is an endocrine and hormone disruptor.
“Caution should be exercised when using lavender essential oil in children,” says Deshko. “A study published in 2007 in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that repeated topical use of products containing lavender oil may cause prepubertal gynecomastia, a rare condition that results in enlarged breast tissue in boys prior to puberty.”
Similarly, people with hormone-sensitive cancers like breast cancer, prostate cancer, and ovarian cancer may want to reevaluate their use of topical lavender as well.
When To Talk To A Doctor
While people often think that medicinal herbs are safe because they come from the earth, that’s not always the case. The fact is lavender has proven sedative effects, so it may interact with both over-the-counter and prescription medications.
While you should consult your doctor before using any type of herbal or health supplement, this is especially true with lavender. People who use prescribed blood pressure medicines or sedatives such as Xanax, Valium, or Ambien are strongly cautioned to check with their doctors first.
We Tried It — Here’s What We Thought
Cody Gohl, former Sleepopolis staff editor: I think this might be my favorite remedy to date! I found the lavender to be an extremely effective sleep aid, helping me to both fall and stay asleep. While this prickly little floret didn’t knock me out per say, it did make me feel super relaxed and ready for bed.
And though I found all three methods to work, I liked the lavender spray for sleep best because you have more control and can really go wild if you’re a fiend for lavender.
The Last Word From Sleepopolis
Lavender has been used for centuries as a medicinal herb. While lavender and sleep go hand in hand for many people, there are plenty of reasons to keep some lavender in your medicine cabinet. Lavender can help with headaches, migraines, and other types of pain; it can help keep your blood pressure in check and maybe even temper your menopausal hot flashes. Anyone thinking about using lavender for any of the above is cautioned to check with their doctor first; lavender has some notable side effects, including headaches, skin irritation, and constipation.