The Best Scents for Relaxation and Sleep

Scent has the power to get your attention (consider the cinnamon bun stand at the mall) and affect your actions (ever move in close to your partner when he’s wearing your favorite cologne?). It can also be a great tool to get better sleep. These five olfactory options can help enhance your slumber.

Lavender Long thought to contain a calming fragrance, this plant has been used to quell anxiety and agitation for ages. Its scent may slow down the nervous system, which relaxes the body and mind to improve sleep quality. Incorporating the scent into a relaxing massage by using a lavender-infused massage oil may have even more pronounced sleep-promoting effects.

Vanilla This fragrance is famous for being a potent relaxer. In fact, people who smelled vanilla while completing a stress test had more stable heart rates and better blood pressure readings than those who took the stress test in an unscented room.

Valerian It’s well known for its anxiety-reducing effects when taken orally. But the scent of valerian may further aid in helping you sleep: Rats who sniffed the pungent herb fell asleep faster and slept longer than those who didn’t. (Truth be told, valerian’s odor is reported to be less-than-fresh smelling. In the study with rats, the fragrance of roses gave a similar, though not quite as impactful, outcome. So if you can’t stand the smell of valerian, try the smell of roses!)

Jasmine With delicate white petals, this flower’s sweet smell packs a surprising sleep punch. People who inhaled the scent while they slept experienced greater sleep efficiency, less movement during slumber, and overall better quality sleep. Surprisingly, its effects were even more powerful than those of lavender!

Any scent you love Simply put, any fragrance that makes you happy can promote sleep. Your olfactory system is directly linked to the emotional center in your brain—so when you sniff something that brings back a good memory (like pumpkin pie) or makes you feel excited and full of anticipation (such as the smell of sunscreen), your body releases feel-good, relaxing chemicals that can set the stage for great sleep. Once you’ve found your sleep-enhancing scent, bring it into your bedroom. Buying a fragrant candle is an easy way to add fragrance to your space (just be sure to blow it out before your head hits the pillow!). You could also put a few drops of essential oil into a spray bottle with water and gently mist your pillow before bed, or sprinkle a few drops of scent onto a cloth or handkerchief and tuck it under your pillow. Sweet dreams!

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Put Your Stress to Rest

Too much stress can undermine a good night’s sleep. And poor sleep can lead to even more stress, which can lead to more trouble sleeping the next night, creating a vicious cycle. Over time, that pattern can lead to a higher risk of heart disease, depression, and even dental problems (thanks to clenching and grinding the teeth at night). So what can you do about it? Start by taking control of your stress, especially as bedtime draws near. Here are some ways to calm your mind and prepare for sleep.

Sample Some Calming Scents

Aromatherapy is one strategy that you can try. Simply breathing in the scent of lavender can instantly ease anxiety and help you feel calmer. Slather on some lavender-scented lotion, put essential oils in a diffuser, or put a few drops into the water that you use to wash your face in the evening.

Listen to Soothing Tunes

Music has a powerful ability to counteract the body’s stress response by slowing the pulse, lowering blood pressure, and decreasing the amount of stress hormones that are being pumped out. While slow, classical tunes are relaxing for many people, traditional music isn’t the only path to relaxation. Nature sounds, like rippling water, might be even more effective.

Write in a Journal

If a racing mind is keeping you up at night, the answer could simply be getting it all out of your head. One tangible way to do that: Spill it onto paper. Write down what happened during the day, what’s on your mind—whatever feels right to you. Make it easy by keeping a pen and notebook on your nightstand. Need a little help getting started? Consider a journal with prompts to inspire your writing.

Do Some Yoga

Whether you take an hour out of your day to visit a studio and take a class or just pull out a yoga mat in your living room to do some quick poses before bed, yoga can be a great way to relax your body and your mind. From its gentle stretches to its vigorous flows, yoga incorporates breathing exercises and meditative practices that help to reverse anxiety and get you ready for slumber.

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Interrupted Sleep: What Happens To Your Body

Get bored easily? Try a setup with a wide variety of furniture. Instead of two small sofas facing one another (as in the traditional layout), situate two chairs across from a chaise longue. Place two stools across from a single large sofa to complete a square layout. While it seems like white kitchens have been…

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There’s a reason that yogis always seem so upbeat and well rested: Practicing sun salutations, downward dogs, and other poses can be a great, natural way to improve sleep. And you don’t have to be a pro to benefit. People with insomnia who do yoga daily for at least eight weeks fall asleep faster and get more sleep at night.

Yoga may also be able to help if work, relationship, or other angst is keeping you awake long past bedtime. In fact, over 85 percent of people who practice yoga say that it cuts down on stress. So what are you waiting for? Pull out a yoga mat, grab a water bottle, and stretch and bend your way to better sleep with these moves.

Your Brain Isn’t as Sharp. When you wake up throughout the night, your cognitive ability (how fast you can think) and your attention span suffer as much as if you barely slept at all. This helps explain why driving when tired is so dangerous—you can’t react as quickly as you normally would to things like a car suddenly breaking in front of you.

You Can’t Remember Things. When sleep isn’t continuous, it’s much harder to learn new skills and make new memories. This also goes for things that you learned the day before a bad night of sleep—your brain needs a long stretch of sleep to commit what you recently learned to memory. It’s not the total amount of sleep that’s important, it’s that the time asleep wasn’t regularly interrupted.


Amyloid proteins, which are linked to Alzheimer’s disease, get removed from your brain when you get a good night’s sleep. But when people regularly have nights of interrupted sleep, brain imaging shows a buildup of those proteins.

Waking up throughout the night makes you a lot crankier the next day, unsurprisingly. Being roused from sleep just a few times each night is enough to increase the chances of developing depression.

There are lots of reasons why you might spend a restless night waking up every few hours, checking the clock, and feeling disappointed that it’s still nowhere near morning. Maybe there’s a new baby who has to be fed regularly, a sick dog who needs frequent trips to the backyard, neighbors who have rocking parties, or just a racing brain that makes staying asleep tough.

Whatever the cause, you’re bound to wake up tired the next morning. But that’s not all. There are a few other ways that waking up often throughout the night affects your physical and mental health.

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