Lavender for Sleep and Relaxation: What You Should Know

We hate to break it to you, but your lavender lemonade is not the first of its kind.

As is the case with many herbs and flowers, lavender has been used for its relaxation properties for literal centuries. 

The ancient Romans would add lavender flowers to their baths and massage oils to enhance the overall experience and promote relaxation.

Similarly, in ancient Egypt, lavender was highly regarded for its aromatic qualities. It was used in cosmetics, perfumes, and ointments, including those used in spa-like rituals such as massages and beauty treatments.

The use of lavender in spa settings continued through the ages. In the 17th and 18th centuries, lavender was popular in European spa towns, where people would visit for therapeutic purposes and relaxation. Lavender-infused waters, oils, and sachets were utilized during bathing, massages, and steam treatments.

In the last century, lavender has further busted out of the spa cage. There’s now ample opportunity to bring its floral scent and flavor into your life. 

But how effective is it really as a sleep and relaxation inducer? Let’s dig in.

How Do People Consume Lavender?

Lavender has solidified on the shelves of candle shops, anywhere essential oils are sold, in cleaning products and more recently in a variety of drinks. But what are the most popular ways people use lavender in the home?

Essential Oil: Lavender essential oil is highly concentrated and potent. It is extracted from the lavender plant through steam distillation. Essential oils contain the concentrated aromatic compounds of the plant and are often used in aromatherapy. A small amount of lavender essential oil can go a long way in providing its benefits.

Fresh or Dried Flowers: Fresh or dried lavender flowers can be used to make infusions, such as lavender tea and some delicious lavender cupcakes. BUT … be careful. A little lavender goes a long way and that tea can go from a soothing treat to soapy task in the blink of an eye.

Extracts and Tinctures: Lavender extracts and tinctures are made by extracting the active compounds from the plant using solvents such as alcohol or glycerin. These liquid forms are more concentrated than infusions but less concentrated than essential oil.

So we know how people are most often using lavender in their homes. But ultimately, which is more helpful for relaxation and sleep: smelling lavender or drinking lavender?

Lavender’s Scent: Relaxation in the Air

The relaxing effects of the lavender scent can be attributed to a combination of factors, including the fragrance itself and its impact on the human brain and body. 

But what’s happening to induce relaxation? A few things.

First, as is often the case, there’s a neurotransmitter response. Your brain’s chemical messengers are almost always involved in your physical and emotional responses. The scent of lavender has been found to affect certain neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin, which plays a crucial role in mood regulation. Lavender can help increase serotonin levels, which promotes a sense of calm and relaxation.

At the same time, a hormonal response happens. The aroma of lavender has been shown to reduce the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. Cortisol is associated with the body's stress response, and by lowering its levels, lavender can help alleviate anxiety and induce relaxation.

Nervous System Modulation: Inhalation of lavender scent can have a direct impact on the autonomic nervous system, which regulates various bodily functions, including heart rate, blood pressure, and stress response. Lavender is believed to have a calming effect on the nervous system, promoting relaxation.

A 2015 randomized controlled trial compared the effectiveness of inhaled lavender on sleep quality and sleep quantity. In this study, sleep “quantity” refers to the number of minutes a participant in the trial slept. Sleep “quality” was measured with surveys and using a fitbit tracker worn overnight.

The trial found that those who practiced good sleep hygiene and inhaled lavender overnight had a measurable improvement in sleep quality.

The lavender and sleep hygiene group demonstrated better sleep quality at postintervention and two-week follow-up. The sleep-hygiene-only group also demonstrated better sleep quality but to a lesser extent.

A takeaway from the study was safe, effective, self-care interventions like the implementation of inhaled lavender and improved sleep hygiene are viable as a first option for attempting to treat sleep issues.

So if the scent of lavender triggers various responses in the brain and body eventually leading to better, but not necessarily faster sleep, what about consuming lavender orally?

Lavender Consumption: Especially Helpful for Anxiety

When lavender is consumed, such as in the form of tea or as a dietary supplement, it can also have an impact on relaxation and sleep. 

When orally consuming lavender, the compounds within it are able to impact the body and brain more directly. Lavender contains certain compounds, such as linalool and linalyl acetate, which have been found to have sedative and anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) properties. These compounds can have a calming effect on the body and mind, promoting relaxation and reducing stress and anxiety levels.

Creating calm is a big part of lavender’s value prop. And calm is great for sleep, but as far as how lavender specifically works when consumed to put someone to sleep … more research is needed.

But most data is very positive regarding its impact on anxiety - one of sleep’s great enemies.

A 2022 randomized, placebo-controlled trial found patients suffering from anxiety disorders had self-reported improved sleep quality when consuming Silexan - an orally administered essential oil from lavender. 

Interestingly though, analysis showed that 98% of the effect was caused by its ability to calm anxiety, rather than induce sleep itself.

This is no surprise, as results from a 2010 double-blind randomized study comparing lavender oil to a benzodiazepine for treatment of generalized anxiety disorder suggested that silexan effectively made generalized anxiety more tolerable with effectiveness comparable to Lorazepam. 

Overall, lavender has a rich history as a relaxation aid, dating back centuries to ancient civilizations. Its soothing properties have been utilized in various forms, from bath additives to perfumes and ointments. Today, both the scent and consumption of lavender have been shown to promote relaxation and improve sleep quality.

At Blossom, we understand the power of lavender in enhancing relaxation and promoting restful sleep. That's why we've carefully crafted our Vanilla Lavender Sleep Latte, combining clinically-effective levels of l-theanine, valerian root, and GABA with the soothing flavors of vanilla and lavender. It’s entirely plant-based, gluten-free and organic with no sugar added. And the best part is it’s so easy to make: just add water, mix, and sip your way to sleep.