We spend so much time thinking about aromatherapy as a cure-all for different diseases, we forget that many conditions are made worse by stress and that often the best way to help someone heal is simply to give them space and opportunity to relax.
This article will consider the best oils for relaxation and some ways we can build them into our everyday lives. As always, we’ll make a list, drill down into why each is good, and then look at some relaxing essential oils blends.
How Fragrances Influence the Body and Mind
It’s believed that the sense of smell is the closest and most immediate to the brain. It has profound effects on mood, and apart from music may be the only thing that can help us travel through time. Just as a song takes us back to earlier memories, fragrance transports us and often resurrects people and places.
When we inhale an aroma, the molecules go up the nose and are absorbed into the mucous membranes. There, they are warmed, cleaned, and filtered. From there, they are transported to the olfactory bulb, a dime-sized piece of membrane home to no fewer than ten million fragrance receptors.
Each receptor is connected to a nerve taking information from the nose to the rain so it can make decisions about the safety of our environment.
Based on what it perceives, it will either trigger our sympathetic system to make us more alert or our parasympathetic system. This is responsible for the body’s ability to rest and restore.
Also Read: Best Essential Oils for Aromatherapy
Essential Oils' Scientific Benefits for Sleep, Mood, and Health
More recent research proves that our olfactory nerves also express GABA, the body’s calming neurotransmitter. Nerves also co-express, making other neurotransmitters alongside GABA, such as dopamine, glutamine, and serotonin. Serotonin involves around 300 bodily processes, but most notably, it is our body’s mood modulator.
Low levels of GABA are associated with anxiety, stress, and seizures. Increasing levels of GABA can only be beneficial.
While research into essential oils is still very much in its infancy, we can often find studies done in hospitals where nurses want to improve a patient’s ward experience. These studies show that people sleep better and feel much less anxious after inhaling essential oils.
What Are the Best Essential Oils for Sleep and Relaxation?
- Lavender Essential Oil
- Chamomile Essential Oil
- Geranium Essential Oil
- Rose Essential Oil
- Mandarin Essential Oil
- Melissa Essential Oil
- Frankincense Essential Oil
- Vetiver Essential Oil
- Valerian Essential Oil
- Yarrow Essential Oil
1. Lavender Essential Oil
Lavender is always going to head up the best essential oils for relaxation for the simple reason that it is so very relaxing! It is calming and soothing and is a superb essential oil muscle relaxant. Fantastic for helping you sleep, you can use lavender essential oil safely in the bath, massage oils, creams, and lotions.
One of the most remarkable aromatherapy skills is helping people to calm down very quickly. Often, though, it would be impractical to jump into a bathtub. If we’re stressed at work, it's good practice to practice grounding yourself using essential oil.
Lavender is often also recommended for chronic pain, and inhaling an essential oil muscle relaxant can do the trick without water. Simply remove the lid from the bottle and gently inhale the vapors. Breathe slowly and deliberately, allowing the essential oil molecules to enter your lungs. From there, they filter into the bloodstream via capillaries in the walls of the lungs to circulate through the body. At the same time, volatiles is sent to our brain to calm and relax quickly.
Just be careful not to use lavender essential oil all the time. Lavender tells skin sensors not to make more of the oily substance that protects and nourishes the skin, called sebum. If you use lavender essential oil too often, your skin will start to dry out after a while.
2. German Chamomile Essential Oil
There are three different oils called chamomiles. These are Roman Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) and German chamomile, also called blue chamomile, because the essential oil has a bluish hue (Chamomile Matricaria). Camomile Maroc or Moroccan chamomile is not chamomile but is still gorgeously relaxing and safe to use. Its Latin name is Ormenis multicaulis.
Chamomile plants are known as Physician Plants in botany. Strangely, when they are planted alongside other species, they make the rest of the border flourish. The chamomile essential oils work the same way, never really taking center stage but preferring to bolster their friends and make them the stars.
There is a definite feeling when you use chamomile, which is one of the reasons they rank so high as the best essential oils for relaxation. Picture a lovely tall daisy bobbing around in the wind on this long, slender, and delicate stem. Chamomiles dance in storms. It’s tough to knock them down. That stalk is resilient because it is flexible, and chamomile essential oils pass that quality along in their healing. Somehow, they say, “Ah well, it turns out it will be fine by me.” Once you embody this softer, more elastic energy, you tend to feel much more relaxed.
3. Geranium Essential Oil
In England, they have a radio program called Desert Island Discs, where the guest each week has to pick a couple of objects and records that they would simply have to have with them if they were stranded on a desert island.
For us, we’d need a bottle of Geranium essential oil. It is just so relaxing, is excellent for hormonal balance, and is our favorite of all the essential oils for relaxing bath treatments. Fantastic for long-term stress; it never gets old, just calming you more every time you use it.
Something that is not often spoken about is how essential oils have a cumulative effect, which means the longer you use them, the more often, the better they work.
Adding a drop of geranium essential oil to your bath each night is great practice. Lavender can be slightly problematic because, after a while, it will dry the skin. Still, geranium just keeps nourishing the skin, improving its condition while it calms your stress and helps you to sleep.
4. Rose Essential Oil
This is a bit of an expensive oil to just put in the bath on days when you are wound up, but sometimes we need more than just average boos. Rose is one of the best essential oils for relaxation after some kind of trauma or in times of emotional disturbance or grief. There is nothing like it for healing a broken heart.
In terms of sleeping, science shows it has a hypnotic quality that helps us to fall asleep faster and to stay asleep longer.
Trials have also been done on the effects of putting a drop of rose essential oil on children’s pillows after they have had operations. They seem to perceive pain less and be able to relax more.
Rose is also excellent for hormonal balance, so it can be worth investing if your mood suffers at certain times of the month. Research also shows that not only does it help women’s hormonal support, but it can also help to alleviate men’s sexual worries too.
Sadly, one of the times we need to relax most is during pregnancy but rose essential oil is a uterine tonic and should not be used until after the first 37 weeks of pregnancy have passed. Use geranium essential oil instead. That said, rose is one of the best essential oils for relaxation during labor.
5. Mandarin Essential Oil
We have added mandarin to the list because most of the others are essential oils for relaxation and sleep, but this one had a different quality. Instead of being sedative, mandarin is relaxing and uplifting, which is why it is often found in depression and aphrodisiac blends.
It's almost like mandarin oil chatters and giggles. She has a lovely upbeat quality that is fantastic if you have had a bad day at work, but you don’t want to take that out on the rest of the family.
Sniff mandarin essential oil is like you have pushed a golden key into a door to a whole different you; friendly, pleasant, and relaxed.
6. Melissa Essential Oil
Another one that can be a bit expensive, and so is probably not for everyday use. However, Melissa essential oil is lovely for relaxing people who have dementia. Specially blended with lavender, it can help reduce agitation and confusion and help them sleep better.
Really, one drop on a damp face cloth for them to inhale, or perhaps used in a lotion to do a relaxing hand massage, is best. This is a great essential oil to relax someone without too much intervention.
7. Frankincense Essential Oil
Frankincense slows the breath and is deeply relaxing. It is often used in churches, temples, and synagogues as a means of helping people to feel closer to the divine. There is tranquility to frankincense which means it is not your everyday relaxer, but it is one of the best essential oils for meditation. It quietens the mind and encourages introspection.
Frankincense is also one of the best oils for relaxation if someone has stress-related asthma or panic attacks. It calms and comforts but also opens the airways, making breathing easier.
8. Vetiver Essential Oil
Deep, deep, deep relaxation. Vetiver is tranquility itself. Imagine how vetiver's roots go deep into the earth, each measuring around 8m long and plunging vertically into the ground. In many countries, Vetiver is now used to prevent soil erosion because the plant anchors everything firmly.
This is a great essential oil to choose if you have the sense of “Stop the world, I want to get off” It is slowing and grounding. If someone is racing to get too much done, feels they don’t have time to stop, or cannot get out of their heads, Vetiver will soon put that right.
It’s one of the best essential oils for relaxation for sex. It brings the energy down into the body, away from the head. If you tend to have negative thoughts that get in the way, you could also try blending with cedarwood essential oil.
Again, this is an oil you can use as much as you like. It is a highly sustainable resource with plenty of Fairtrade investments going into impoverished communities in Haiti, where much of it grows. Add that to the fact that it will continue to nourish and protect your skin and work as an essential oil muscle relaxant, and you have a champion ingredient!
9. Valerian Essential Oil
Now, if Valerian essential oil didn’t smell like a pair of socks that even the filthiest tramp could no longer bear the smell of, it would hold the pole position of the best essential oils for relaxation. Unluckily, for Valerian, though, that is its fate. Some of the constituents in this oil work on the same receptors as benzodiazepines, making you slow, floppy, and listless.
This is a mega tranquilizer. But while it is one of the best essential oils for sleep and relaxation, we would rarely need to use it for stress generally. If someone has endured trauma or shock or is fearful, this is a great oil to switch the lights off. It is one of the best essential oils for anxiety.
It’s virtually impossible to stay alert when you have used this one. Another of the best essential oils for relaxation is Spikenard essential Oil, which also works fast when someone is petrified. Despite being one of the best essential oils for relaxation, spikenard did not make it on our list as it teeters on the edge of being an endangered species, so we would instead, it was only used for dire emergencies.
So is Valerian one of the best essential oils for relaxation massage oils? We’re not sure you want the tramp's feet in the bedroom, but if you add it to your bath or even put it on your feet and cover them with socks, it will have a tremendous effect.
One of valerian's redeeming creatures is that it does blend very well with some of the other best essential oils for relaxation. Valerian and mandarin are a lovely relaxing essential oils blend, as are valerian, geranium, and lavender.
10. Yarrow Essential Oil
Yarrow is so, so serene. It must be something to do with the blue azulene constituents. They are so gentle they almost feel holy. There is undoubtedly something very sacred about how yarrow heals. It has a tender touch that is hopeful and refreshing.
Yarrow is potentially not an oil you want to put in your bath, or use alone, not least because it is so expensive, but it is tremendous for adding to relaxing essential oil blends.
Also Read: Best Essential Oils for Energy
DIY Relaxing Essential Oil Blend Recipe
Essential Oil Muscle Relaxant Massage Oil
Method of use: A lovely blend for using as a back massage blend for aches and pains.
Safety: Not suitable for use during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.
How to Use Essential Oils Safely for Relaxation & Sleep
For sleep, we recommend a lovely warm aromatic bath of essential oils as the first choice. Since oils and water do not mix, putting them into a carrier is always safest. We like a teaspoon of honey or some milk, but you can also use any carrier oil available.
Remember that oils take nineteen minutes to absorb through the skin into the bloodstream, although you will inhale the molecules in the steam much faster. Therefore, it is best to try to lie in the bath for at least half an hour.
Both massage or simple oils applied to a lotion can be wonderful. In a lotion, you are letting the oils do the job themselves. We recommend using the lotion on the back of the neck and wrists several times throughout the day. That means the oils will have plenty of time to build up, and since essential oil efficiency seems to be cumulative, the more often you can use it, the better.
A massage is an art form that helps release tight muscles and bring a sense of calm.
Essential Oils for Relaxation and Sleep: Risks and Concerns
Please do not use essential oils in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy, and in the cases of rose and clary sage, essential oils not until 37 weeks have elapsed.
Always dilute your oils to a maxim of 3% in a blend. In lay terms, you can add 3 drops to a teaspoon of carrier oil. Incidentally, if you decide to blend your oils and have three oils, you can have 3 x 3 drops.
Also Read: Best Essential Oils for Sleep
Sometimes, the best essential oils for relaxation aren’t necessarily saved for luxurious baths or pampering massages; they are best used daily to anchor yourself in the here now for a calmer, happier life.