Essential Oils For Sleep – Do They Work Better Than CBD?

Essential oils have been a part of folk and herbal medicine for centuries. Interestingly, even CBD has some “essential oil” inside of it. And both natural alternatives are used to improve one’s sleep.

If you’re having trouble sleeping, CBD oil has been helpful in getting people to get a good night’s rest. We recommend CBD oil from Wild Things CBD, My Natural CBD, and Populum.

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Essential Oils For Sleep – The Highlights

  • Essential oils have been used in folk medicine to aid in falling asleep for centuries.
  • More recently, CBD has become a popular medicine for treating insomnia and other sleep-related disorders.
  • Most essential oils induce sleep by slowing down the nervous system, reducing blood pressure or relieving anxiety.
  • CBD treats common symptoms that cause sleep disruption such as anxiety and chronic pain.
  • CBD oil on its own is a kind of aromatherapy because it contains terpenes, which are the same basic units that make up all essential oils.

What Essential Oils Are Good For Sleep?

Different essential oils trigger different aspects of the nervous system and therefore have different effects. For example, inhalation of peppermint essential oil increases lung capacity and inhalation capacity while orange essential oil may target serotonin transmitters, therefore having anxiolytic effects.

One of the biggest hurdles of the popularization of aromatherapy is that often, essential oils are available without any guidance on how to use them. It is important to recognize that different essential oils have different effects, and while some will be conducive to sleep, others will not.


Lavender is the most popular essential oil to use as a sleep aid. It was once common to put lavender flowers in a small bag under the pillow to encourage a good night’s rest.

Lavender essential oil is thought to act on GABAergic neurotransmitters and receptors to increase the inhibitory tone of the central nervous system. This produces a sedative and anxiolytic effect, possibly using this mechanism of action to induce restful sleep.


Vanilla essential oil, often considered the fragrance of love, might also be a sleep aid. However, the effects of vanilla on the central nervous system are not as well known or researched as other more common oils such as lavender, peppermint, and ginger.

In fact, it is quite difficult to find a true vanilla essential oil, as the plant is not full of aromatic oils the same way as rosemary or thyme. This is why vanilla is often sold as vanilla essence or perfume oil. In folklore, vanilla reduces stress and increases sensations of pleasure and love.


Rose is also considered to be the essential oil of love but has long been used for its therapeutic properties too. In the scientific context, rose essential oil has exhibited anxiolytic and analgesic effects.

Geranium has also been scientifically investigated for its anti-anxiety properties. The anxiolytic properties of both flowers may contribute to their ability to induce sleep.


Although jasmine essential oil is most commonly used as a treatment for depression and anxiety, there is no scientific evidence to support this. However, in one case study on the effects of jasmine when used in massage oil, patients rated themselves as more alert and stimulated.

In folk medicine, jasmine is also given as a treatment for chronic fatigue. With that in mind, while jasmine may reduce symptoms of depression or anxiety, it may not do so in a way conducive to sleep.


Citrus essential oils are most commonly used by aromatherapists to invigorate and stimulate their patients. One study suggests the use of limonene, a terpene present in lemon essential oil, as a part of an anti-stress everyday supplement.

However, for the most part, citrus essential oils are not recommended for use before sleep, but rather as part of a morning routine.


Sandalwood essential oil is most scientifically investigated for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities.  It affects the immune system by a number of different mechanisms and reduces damage to the liver that is caused by oxidative stress.

In religious practice, sandalwood is burned because of its ability to induce a state of meditativeness (not the kind that puts you to sleep). Sandalwood is not often recommended as an essential oil for sleep.

Can CBD Help You Sleep Better?

There are plenty of sources that claim CBD to be a sedative while many people use it every day as a way to do away with brain fog and stay more alert.

This can create some confusion as to how this cannabinoid should be used specifically for the treatment of sleep disorders. The most important thing to recognize is the symptom that keeps a person from sleeping; i.e., is it a metabolic issue, an anxiety issue or a pain issue?

CBD has different effects at different doses, and therefore, it is important to acknowledge which factor is disturbing sleep in the first place.

For example, insomnia has been independently associated with metabolic syndrome (a cluster of illnesses that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, obesity, etc.). For many with metabolism-related insomnia, it is not difficult to get to sleep but it is difficult to stay asleep.

On the other hand, there can be difficulty in falling asleep for those with chronic pain or severe anxiety. These two kinds of insomnia are different in their fundamental causes, and therefore treating them will be different. While CBD can work to manage both kinds, it will be used in completely different ways.

Relieves Anxiety Before Sleep

Anxiety is a common precursor for insomnia. Those who experience anxiety often have difficulty falling asleep rather than staying asleep. And one of the best researched medical applications of CBD is its ability to treat anxiety.

It has been proven countless times in scientific study, and in one study, in particular, CBD was investigated for its ability to both reduce anxiety and increase sleep quality. Researchers found that most patients’ anxiety scores decreased, but the sleep quality improved in the beginning and then fluctuated over the course of the three-month study.

The exact mechanism of action by which CBD reduces anxiety is still up for question. However, the most likely culprit is CBD’s effects on the serotonin signaling system. CBD may assist 5-HT1A neurotransmission (this receptor is a major serotonin receptor), therefore inducing an anxiolytic response. Drugs such as Zoloft and Prozac also target the serotonin signaling system and are often prescribed in the treatment of anxiety.

Improves NREM Sleep

There has not been an overwhelming amount of research on how CBD affects sleep per se. Rather, CBD has been associated with a number of different therapeutic effects which may ultimately lead to improvement of NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep.

For example, in this study, CBD was found to suppress anxiety-induced REM sleep. This is the kind of dreaming that would occur as a result of anxiety or over-stimulation. However, this effect of CBD on sleep is attributed to its effects on anxiety rather than its direct effects on sleep.

Helps With Sleep Apnea

At this stage, there are only novel studies available for analysis on the effects of cannabinoids on sleep apnea. However, the studies in question have only explored synthetic cannabinoids, Marinol and Nabilone. In both drugs, the synthetic cannabinoid mimics THC rather than CBD.

With that in mind, it is hypothesized that these synthetic cannabinoids affect sleep by targeting serotonin-mediated apneas. If this is true, CBD may also have a role to play in the treatment of sleep apnea, as it also targets the serotonin signaling system.

There is still much more research to be done on the effects of cannabinoids on sleep apnea before cannabinoids can be prescribed as a treatment for this sleep condition.

Improves Quality Of Sleep

As mentioned before, understanding the type of insomnia is arguably more important than finding a remedy, especially if CBD is the intended remedy. If you believe your insomnia is caused by anxiety, then CBD should be used as a treatment for anxiety.

If you believe your insomnia is caused by metabolic syndrome, then CBD should be used as a treatment for said metabolic syndrome. This is the way that CBD can help improve sleep quality; essentially by improving the overall health of the body.

We have not got any scientific evidence that CBD affects sleep in a direct sense other than at large doses, it is a sedative. What we do know is that CBD can target many symptoms that cause sleep disturbance such as digestive problems, anxiety, and chronic pain. Targeting these symptoms doesn’t just improve sleep quality, it improves the overall quality of life.

Essential Oils For Sleep – The Final Thought

It is unlikely for a naturopath, herbalist or aromatherapist to prescribe something specifically for sleep. There is an overwhelming understanding that sleep disorders are symptoms of other diseases rather than diseases themselves.

In this way, herbalists and aromatherapists use essential oils for the treatment of conditions such as chronic pain, anxiety, hypertension, and digestion to manage disturbances in sleep pattern. The same is true for CBD, which via other mechanisms, can dramatically improve sleep quality.