I'm not good at falling asleep. Don't get me wrong; I love to sleep, but most nights, it feels more like an accidental miracle than anything else that I actually managed to doze off. I've tried my fair share of sleep hacks before — I've made my bedroom colder, kept my phone outside the room, I've tried meditating, I read before bed most nights — so I really, really wasn't convinced that trying essential oils to fall asleep would work at all for someone like myself. And yet, here we are.
Of course, I'd heard about all the benefits of essential oils and aromatherapy prior to diving into this experiment. Some of my closest friends swear by the stuff, and one of my favorite celebs Jenna Dewan Tatum has been into essential oils for basically half her life. I mean, the girl always looks so happy, so fresh-faced, and come on, she landed Channing Tatum as a husband, so like, she's clearly doing something right. If nothing else, I was definitely willing to give this whole thing a try to make my bedroom smell lovely, and not like my boyfriend's old socks and dirty tissues.
Despite my skepticism, I got myself a diffuser, a few basic essential oils, and I set out to discover which, if any, might finally help me fall asleep.
I'll be honest with you guys, I started my experiment with lavender oil because it was the only one I had any real faith in. Of all the essential oils out there that are said to be good for sleep, lavender definitely has the most science on its side. A 2005 study not only backs up lavender oil's sleep-promoting effects, but also its ability to give you more energy in the morning. Even more research suggests that lavender's scent can reduce overall feelings of stress and anxiety — aka feelings that routinely keep me up at night.
I hadn't yet set up my diffuser (it was stuck in the mail), so I went ahead and dabbed some of the lavender oil onto the soles of my feet (apparently this is one of the most effective ways to use it?) before I got into bed. It was a Friday night, and I had no plans the next day, so I happily laid my head down without setting an alarm for the next morning.
While I didn't necessarily fall asleep more quickly, I did notice that I fell into a really deep, really heavy sort of sleep that night — the kind of sleep where your body almost feels paralyzed when you wake up the next morning as you shake the cobwebs away. I can say with full confidence that when I woke up that morning, it was the most well-rested I'd felt in months.
Susan Griffin-Black, co-founder of EO Products says that, when it comes to falling asleep, "lavender is known to be the best." She tells Elite Daily the scent "has calming, soothing, relaxing properties that we feel and sense before it even registers in our brain."
After this first night, I knew that I was either about to be pleasantly surprised by how well this experiment would go, or I was about to wish the whole thing revolved around using lavender essential oil alone.
My success with the lavender essential oil had me feeling hopeful by the next night, when it was time to try using frankincense. My diffuser had also finally arrived in the mail, so I was curious to see how well that method would work in comparison to applying the oil directly to my skin.
According to Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, a certified doctor of natural medicine, one of frankincense's biggest benefits is its ability to lower stress levels and reduce negative emotions. As far as how that relates to your ability to fall asleep, Robyn Turner, a senior product manager in beauty and personal care at Arbonne, tells Elite Daily that "frankincense really brings the ability to center yourself." She specifically recommends frankincense for meditation, "because it really brings a heightened spiritual awareness."
After diffusing the oil in my bedroom for a night, I can definitely say that the scent is great for maintaining a steady rhythm to your breathing — something that, quite honestly, I often forget to do when I'm especially stressed out and can't fall asleep. While I didn't fall into the same deliciously deep sleep that the lavender scent induced, frankincense's scent was pretty relaxing in its own way. It was a bit lemon-y, a bit woodsy, and overall, it made me consciously focus on the patterns of my inhales and exhales, which is said to be a great way to fall asleep more quickly.
By this point in the experiment, there was one thing I was definitely beginning to notice, regardless of the specific scents I used: I really, really liked the routine aspect of using essential oils. I'm a creature of habit, and I'm a big believer in sticking to routines as a way to cultivate comfort, productivity, and, you know, that general feeling that you actually have your sh*t together in life.
Setting up my diffuser each night was simply another step in my overall bedtime routine, but more than that, it was quickly becoming another opportunity to focus solely on relaxation and the present moment, rather than what I might be able to stress about for the day ahead.
Having said that, the ylang ylang essential oil itself was a bit underwhelming. Despite the fact that research has shown the scent to be good for decreasing blood pressure and promoting relaxation, I felt pretty much no effect at all that night as I fell asleep. On the plus side, I'm kind of obsessed with ylang ylang's subtle floral scent — so, so pretty.
Guys, I have to be upfront and say I hated this one. I'm not sure if it was because I diffused clary sage in my room the night before my first day back at work after a long weekend, and I was therefore inherently doomed for a toss-and-turn night regardless of what I did, but all I know is it took me roughly two full hours to finally fall asleep.
Even though the results of a 2014 study argue that clary sage oil can have an "antidepressant-like effect" on you, all I felt that night was frustration — almost a wired kind of rage. All I know is I slept like absolute sh*t that night.
Turner has a theory for why I disliked clary sage so much: According to her, the oil "has a slightly stimulating effect," which isn't exactly what you want right before you go to sleep. What's more, she tells Elite Daily that "midwives [often] use clary sage to induce labor during natural birth," so uh, yeah, there's that. Overall, she recommends steering clear of this oil before bedtime.
Side note: I also low-key hate the smell of clary sage. It's way too reminiscent of tobacco for me.
I felt pretty jaded after my experience with clary sage, but I figured after that restless night, sleep had to be on my side, right?
Long story short, it was not. Between bergamot's unpleasant likeness to a citrusy cleaning product in terms of smell, and my boyfriend's random insistence at 12 A.M. on retelling the story of how he once got salmonella while living in California for a summer, I was basically doomed for another sleepless night.
By the time I did fall asleep, what was most notable to me about bergamot was how much it affected my dreams. I'll admit, I have pretty vivid, and mostly bad dreams a lot of the time (For perspective, I regularly dream of people I love dying in front of me, or sometimes I'll have dreams as stupidly anxiety-producing as getting caught snooping through a roommate's bedroom.), but surprisingly enough, my dreams had been pretty tame throughout the week of my essential oils experiment.
And then came bergamot, which caused my brain to conjure up totally new nightmares, one of which had me driving down an abandoned road with the window down, only to be attacked by a tiny, fan-helicopter-hybrid thing that entered my side of the car and sliced my neck open. In another bad dream that night, a friend came over to my apartment with a giant dog, who ended up clawing all the furniture in the house to shreds. Not so great for an oil that claims to reduce anxiety and stress, huh?
And The Winner Is...
In case it wasn't totally obvious, lavender oil was the definite winner for me in this experiment.
In fact, it wasn't just lavender oil's ability to knock me out that I loved so much. I've been diffusing lavender oil in my room nearly every night since wrapping up this experiment, and not only has it been helping me fall asleep more peacefully, it's also been making my dreams much more vivid, and it's been giving me a heightened ability to lucid dream, which is something I've only occasionally been able to do, and usually only at random. A lucid dream is when you're aware that you are in a dream as it's happening, and as a result, you can actually control what happens.
One night while diffusing lavender oil in my bedroom, I had one nightmare where I was walking on my usual route to work from the subway. It was snowing really, really hard, and suddenly, a huge gust of wind lifted me and everyone else around me off the ground, and we were basically all caught in what seemed like a cyclone.
Now, usually, a dream like this would just take me for a ride the whole night, and I'd probably get dropped by the wind, then carried back up, and so on and so forth, with no control over the events whatsoever. But with the lavender oil, I somehow found a way to regain control of my body while I was literally in the middle of the cyclone, and I floated back down to the ground with ease, totally unharmed. I remember questioning to myself how I was able to do that, and once it dawned on me that I must be dreaming, I woke up.
Lucid dreaming has always been a skill I've wanted to build on, especially since I've dealt with nightmares and bad dreams for a lot of my adult life. Having the power to control what happens in my dreams makes it so that I can wake myself up when I want to wake up — like when something too stressful is happening — rather than wake up in a cold, frightened sweat after my imagination has had its f*cked up brand of fun with me.
There's not a ton of research on the relationship between lavender oil and lucid dreaming, but the general thought is that because lavender can help you fall into such a deep sleep, you have a greater chance of being able to lucid dream. And, as Turner notes, "any time we release stress and connect with our inner spirit before bed, dreams will become more vivid, clear, and lucid."
All I know is that I'm definitely going to keep using lavender oil each night before bed — if not for a better sleep, at least for more control over my wild dreams.