Lavender for Sleep

By Sheryl Grassie

Lavender is a versatile aromatic herb that can be used to improve sleep. It has relaxing and healing properties and can be enjoyed in cooking, applied topically to the skin, or diffused into your room.

Lavender as a Health and Sleep Aid

Before our modern era, with scientifically produced sleep medicines, the world relied on things found in nature for pharmaceuticals. Lavender has been used for a variety of healing purposes for over 2,500 years, and was present in both Greek and Roman cultures. It was a popular ingredient in soap, and the name lavender comes from the Latin word lavare, which means “to wash.”

Beyond smelling good in soap, there are medicinal effects of lavender that help support all kinds of health conditions. Lavender has long been known for its relaxing properties that can help with sleep.

How does lavender help with sleep?

Lavender has an effect on the nervous system. It can induce a relaxation response that includes things like lowering blood pressure, decreasing heart rate, and dropping respiratory rates. It seems to have an effect on stress that actually alters brainwaves.

In combating insomnia, it increases the time spent in slow wave sleep (SWS), a sleep stage where the body works on repairing and healing. This is a very relaxed state of sleep, unlike rapid-eye movement sleep (REM) where we dream and may be more active.  Lavender also helps our muscles to relax. Overall, lavender can help you fall asleep faster and experience a better quality of sleep.

Research on Lavender for Sleep

There are a number of studies on the direct and indirect effects of lavender on sleep. Our bodies don’t work in isolated ways, meaning when something affects one thing, it may well affect others. This is definitely the case with lavender.

Research has linked the use of lavender to less anxiety and depression. Less anxiety can translate into less insomnia.  Lavender is linked to memory, and improved memory can be a derivative of improved sleep.

It can be difficult to isolate the effects of lavender as direct or indirect, especially when it comes to sleep. We know lavender helps relax muscles, a direct effect. But since relaxed muscles aid in falling asleep, then in that case, lavender has an indirect effect on sleep.

A study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine looked at sleep hygiene alone or sleep hygiene with lavender as a component in getting a good night’s sleep. The lavender groups reported better sleep and better waking states, meaning participants felt more refreshed after sleep.

A British study at Southampton University found that the effects of lavender improved sleep by 20%, which is considered statistically significant.

Most, if not all of the studies on lavender and sleep, are small sample studies, many with some pretty strong indicators regarding sleep. However, larger scale studies need to be done. A popular area of current research is the effects of lavender on neurological disorders, an area connected to sleep as well. The bottom line on lavender and sleep research is that there is still a lot to learn.

How to Use Lavender for Sleep

Just like there’s a long list of things that lavender can be used for, there’s an equally long list of forms it comes in and ways you can utilize it. To break it down a bit, Lavender can be used internally or externally with your body, or in your environment.

Take it internally

Lavender can be taken orally as a supplement, added to food dishes, or consumed in a liquid or dried form. It comes as an essential oil that can be ingested; make sure it is an essential oil and not just a fragrance oil which is not meant to be taken internally.

There are lavender drinks like lavender Kombucha, lavender tea, or lavender lemonade on the market or you can buy it dried and add it to recipes.

Could you just pick lavender in a field and eat it? The simple answer is yes, however, lavender has side effects when consumed and it is best to know what you are doing and exactly where you’re getting it from – get professional help with dosage and forms.

Use it externally

There are many forms of lavender that can be applied to your skin. Lavender essential oil drops can be placed on your wrists or other strategic acupuncture points on the body. The oil will be absorbed internally.

Lavender can be found in soaps, bath salts, lotions, shampoos, and even toothpaste. You can buy it as a skin spray. You can use one or more of these kinds of products before bed to support relaxation. How much you need to use in order to affect sleep may be a trial and error process.

Use it in your environment

Again, you have options as to the ways you use lavender in your home or when traveling. A common and popular method is to use lavender oil in a diffuser to force the scent into the air all around you. You can use essential oils or fragrance oil. The goal is to both breathe in the lavender oil and to disseminate it throughout your environment as a form of aromatherapy.

You can also purchase a variety of products containing lavender. There are lavender candles, lavender sachets, lavender pillows, and lavender eye covers for sleeping. You can also find lavender room sprays, lavender oil jars with sticks, and even lavender in bulk to place in a bowl like potpourri.

You can literally surround yourself with lavender internally and externally and, if the research is any indicator, it can help improve your sleep.

Where Can You Find Lavender Products?

Lavender products are inexpensive and readily available. You can find some forms in your local grocery store; supplements are more often found in health food stores or online. Candles, bath soaps, and lotions can be found online or in all kinds of local stores.

Essential oils are a bit trickier; you may need to shop around. Look for a distributer in your area, read reviews on the best quality essential oils, or visit a nearby co-op or health food store and ask for help.

Other Uses for Lavender

Research supports lavender for a wide variety of health issues like treating parasites, headaches, toothaches, skin inflammation, insect bites, hay fever, cold sores, hair loss, and the list goes on.

Lavender can act as an analgesic to reduce pain; it has anti-inflammatory properties making it good for skin damage like with sunburn or to minimize scarring. Lavender is a natural deodorant, is great for removing slivers, and is even touted as a natural wrinkle reducer.

It affects hormones and is used in treating issues with menstruation and menopause. To say lavender is popular and widely used is an understatement.

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