Never in a million years did I think I would find myself in an aromatherapy store. I’m a man, for crying out loud! I’m in two fantasy football leagues…TWO! But there I was, right in the middle of a custom fragrance shop, smelling soaps and essential aromatherapy oils, all the while trying not to quote Ron Burgundy while I sampled a variety of scents - I’m gonna be honest with you, that smells like pure gasoline. How did I come to be in this situation, you ask? Because I was doing research for this very article on how different aromatherapy scents impact one’s quality of sleep.
In many settings, aromatherapy is used to foster a soothing and relaxed environment. Research shows that people who struggle with getting quality sleep can benefit from including aromatherapy into their nightly routines by adding a few drops to a bath or diffuser, lightly spraying a pillowcase, or using a scented pillow liner. I don’t usually wrestle with insomnia, and I like to think that my sleep schedule is relatively normal for a graduate student, but I was still interested in seeing if aromatherapy lives up to the hype. At the risk of damaging my street credibility, I decided to embark on a four-night experiment in which I tested out four different scents: lavender, chamomile, ylang ylang, and bergamot. I realize that there are a lot of factors that can affect one’s quality of sleep, but I still did my best to make this experiment as scientific as possible by maintaining some control variables. For instance, I slept in the same room on the same bed each night, tried to go to bed around the same time each night, and made sure to wash my pillowcase after each night so the scents wouldn’t mix. Without further ado, here’s the night-by-night breakdown of my experience with aromatherapy.
Night #1: Lavender
I kicked off the experiment with lavender, because this seemed to be the most recommended and familiar scent based on my research. It’s also the only aromatherapy scent that has its own fan site for lavender fanatics (I’m not kidding – the Internet never ceases to surprise me). Apparently lavender refers to a group of flowering plants in the mint family that can be found in parts of Europe, Africa, and Asia. Studies show that smelling lavender helps individuals spend more time in slow-wave sleep (also know as REM), the deep sleep stage that allows your body to restore itself. Since lavender is used in many perfumes, I expected my room to instantly smell like the headache-inducing cloud of fragrances you get bombarded with upon entering pretty much any department store. In actuality, lavender is a much more subtle scent that is known for alleviating headaches. Lavender has a fresh, piney, floral scent that isn’t overwhelming at all. Overall, I’d say that lavender had a relaxing effect and contributed to a restful almost eight hours of sleep.
Night #2: Chamomile
If you’re like me, you’re probably already familiar with chamomile because of its frequent use in teas, but it’s also a popular aromatherapy scent that is used for a variety of purposes. Chamomile aromatherapy is derived from a group of several daisy-like plants and can be used to relieve stress, headaches, muscle aches, and insomnia. It has also been used for centuries to cure a long list of digestive ailments. Many people compare chamomile’s scent to something resembling a mixture of herbs and apples, which I will say is a pretty accurate description. It definitely has a more pungent smell than lavender that stings the nostrils, but in a good way. I didn’t get the best night’s rest on this particular night, probably because I’m allergic to pollen and ragweed and didn’t realize that chamomile is closely related to the latter (a prime example of the importance of thorough research). I definitely prefer chamomile in tea form to aromatherapy, but you may have a much different experience than I did based on your allergies and smell preferences.
Night #3: Ylang Ylang (EE-lang EE-lang)
Purely based on the name, I was expecting something out of control and exotic like one of Bryan Fantana’s colognes in Anchorman. I was disappointed to find out that ylang ylang is neither illegal in nine countries, nor is it made with bits of real panther. It does originate from the Philippines and is derived from a fast-growing tree in the apple family with drooping yellow-green flowers. In online forums, the scent is described as anything from “a mixture of rubber and custard” to something soft and flowery to the smell of desire and romance. So basically, ylang ylang is probably the most interesting man in the world’s go-to fragrance. To me, it smells a little bit like black licorice. It is used to foster feelings of peace and relaxation, as well as to diffuse feelings of anger, irritability, and tension. It also apparently has a long history of promoting luxuriant hair, which is information that I will definitely file away for later use. Unfortunately I didn’t miraculously wake up with a head lettuce rivaling Fabio or Michael Bolton, but I did get a restful night’s sleep.
Night #4: Bergamot
Remember the halftimes of your childhood soccer games when one of the team moms would bring out orange slices? That’s kind of what bergamot smells like, if that mom and the rest of your fan section had a few too many Mojitos. This minty, citrusy essential oil is derived from the rinds of a fruit that looks a lot like an orange except for its greenish-yellow color. These fruit trees get their name from a town in Southern Italy where the essential oil was first produced and sold, but they can also be found in parts of Africa and Asia. Bergamot aromatherapy is used most notably to combat anxiety, tension, depression, skin issues, and respiratory ailments. It is also widely used in the perfume and toiletry industries (specifically in men’s’ fragrances, which I like to think restored my street cred a little bit).. Because bergamot’s scent is crisp in nature, I didn’t know how conducive it would be to falling asleep, but I did get a restful night sleep and woke up the following morning feeling refreshed.
In this limited sample, my experience with aromatherapy was largely positive. Bergamot was definitely my favorite and chamomile was my least favorite, but in general I found that adding aromatherapy to my nightly routine contributed to a relaxing environment that was conducive to restful sleep. If you’re having trouble sleeping or you’re simply curious, I recommend doing research and conducting your own experiment with aromatherapy to find out which scent works for you. I also recommend reading the other articles here on Sleep Geek for more advice on how to achieve restful sleep.
To find out more about the benefits of aromatherapy and sleep, check out:
What is your opinion on the relationship between aromatherapy and sleep? Is it a part of your nightly routine? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section!