Sound sleep is a key pillar of our well-being, as it restores and rejuvenates our minds, bodies, and senses. However, in the fast-paced world we live in today, sleep-related challenges are unfortunately a common issue for people. In our modern societies, we often find ourselves stretched thin in our quest to accomplish everything, leading to fatigue and burnout. Amidst the collective pursuit of success, we often neglect the vital practice of pausing, seeking rest, and attuning ourselves to the inherent wisdom of our bodies.

While the relationship between sleep and the sense of smell may not be immediately apparent, the intricate interconnectedness of the human body reveals a close and harmonious bond among sleep, olfaction, and aromatic medicine. 

Throughout history, people have recognized the profound impact of our sense of smell on the nervous system, the mind, and our ability to sleep. Aromatic plants have been a staple in reducing stress and anxiety, relaxing the body, supporting rest, and even influencing our dreams. For instance, Myrrh incense has a history of traditional use in inducing sleep, while plants like Jasmine and Lotus have often been employed to promote relaxation and inspire pleasant dreams. 

Inhaling soothing aromas can help the body and mind unwind, unveiling inner states of tranquility and, as a result, enhancing our ability to experience a restful night's sleep.

Let’s explore the relationship between sleep, the senses and aromatic plants a little deeper, and look at some ways to potentially improve poor sleeping habits.

Sleep and the Sense of Smell

Adequate sleep is vital to our overall well-being and cognitive functioning. During sleep, the brain undergoes various processes such as memory consolidation, emotional processing and the removal of waste products. Sleep also plays a key role in maintaining the immune system's functioning, as well as a healthy hormonal balance, which impacts things like metabolism, fertility, growth and stress levels. 

Sleep is necessary for maintenance of our sensory perceptions and memory functioning. In relation to olfaction, how well we sleep can influence how sensitive we are to detecting smells and plays an important role in regulating our ability to remember and associate odors [1]. 

On the other side of that, olfaction can have a significant effect on sleep patterns.  Odors have the power to influence how quickly one can fall asleep, as well as contribute to the duration and depth of sleep. That being said, if you have trouble with sleep in any capacity, aromatic medicine can offer a wonderful array of potential support.

Aromatic Herbs for Sleep


Chamomile is commonly known for its calming properties, making it a popular remedy for reducing stress and anxiety. It can help relax the mind and body, and create a sense of inner peace. Diffusing Chamomile essential oil in your home, or drinking a cup of warm Chamomile tea before bedtime can help relax the mind and improve sleep quality. 

It's important to note that although Chamomile is generally considered safe for most people, anyone with allergies to plants in the Asteraceae family (like Ragweed) should be cautious, as they could also be allergic to Chamomile.


Tagar is a relative of Valerian and when taken internally or used as an aroma, it can give a sense of heaviness and relaxation. Tagar is a wonderful plant to choose if there is restlessness, tossing and turning throughout the night, restless legs, feelings of anxiety, or a busy mind. 

Tagar has a sedative, relaxant effect on the nervous system and musculoskeletal system [2]. In this way, it can also be helpful to manage sleep issues related to bodily pain. Typically, Tagar is taken in powdered form and often in conjunction with other herbs in a formula. Always speak to your healthcare practitioner before taking an herb.


Bergamot can help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety, which can contribute to insomnia. Studies have also explored the use of Bergamot to decrease various types of pain in the body [3]. Bergamot oil is also thought to help reduce the blood pressure and heart rate, preparing the body for sleep.

A great way to use Bergamot for reducing either emotional stress or symptoms of pain is in the form of essential oil. A few drops can be added to a diffuser, or you can simply hold the essential oil bottle under your nose and smell it before bed. When diluted in a carrier oil and applied topically, Bergamot can provide relief from musculoskeletal pains, nerve pain such as sciatica, and tension headaches. 

Be sure to follow our Proper Essential Oil Dilution Chart & Guide when diluting essential oils for topical use. For skin safety, never apply an essential oil directly to the skin without dilution.


Nutmeg has sedative effects on the nervous system and can calm the mind and body down before bed. As a nervine, it has traditionally been used to reduce pain in the body both when used topically or internally. A great way to use Nutmeg is to add a pinch of fresh powder to warm milk before bed. Try it paired with Turmeric, Cinnamon and Cardamom for a tasty warming, spiced milk!


Lavender has the ability to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. The aroma of Lavender can lower the heart rate, slow respiration, and allow the body to move into a restful state. Lavender's antispasmodic and relaxant qualities can help to soothe the nervous system and alleviate insomnia. 

Simply smelling Lavender essential oil before bed, or putting a few drops in a diffuser is a great way to receive its calming benefits.

Other things to consider when trying to improve your quality of sleep:

Implement a daily routine and/or evening routine to support your circadian rhythm
Avoid screen time before bed
Dim lighting in the home at night time, turn off overhead lights, use warm lighting
Consider the comfort of your bed and pillow
Take a warm bath or shower before bed
Apply oil topically to your body, or just your feet, before bed (Be sure to wear socks or pajamas so protect your sheets from oil!)
Avoid eating too close to bedtime
Avoid having stressful conversations at night
Habituate going to bed at the same time every night
Make the evening home a quiet, peaceful place with pleasant lighting, sounds and scents
Practice deep belly breathing while laying on the bed before sleep
Develop a daily meditation practice
Visit a health care practitioner to explore if there are any underlying health issues affecting your sleep

Sleepy Time Nutmeg Golden Milk Recipe


A pinch of freshly ground Nutmeg

½ tsp of Cinnamon powder

½ Tsp of Turmeric powder

1 cup milk of your choice

Dash of maple syrup 

Add a pinch of Cardamom, Clove or Rose powder, or fresh Ginger (optional)


1. In a small pot on your stovetop, bring the milk and other ingredients to a simmer on medium heat. Make sure to stir occasionally so the herbs do not stick to the bottom. 

2. Once the milk is simmering, reduce the heat and let it infuse for a few minutes.

3. Pour the drink into a cup and then add a dash of maple syrup for some sweetness. 

4. Enjoy the drink close to bedtime!

Article Written By Dawn Gibson


1. G. Gaeta & D. Wilson. (2022). Reciprocal Relationships Between Sleep and Smell.
2. V. Dass. (2013). Ayurvedic Herbology East and West: An Ayurvedic Approach to Medicinal Herbs.
3. L. Rombolà, D. Amantea, R. Russo, A. Adornetto, L. Berliocchi, L. Tridico, M. T. Corasaniti, S. Sakurada, T. Sakurada, G. Bagetta, L. A. Morrone. (2016). Rational Basis for the Use of Bergamot Essential Oil in Complementary Medicine to Treat Chronic Pain.

© 2023 The Northwest School of Aromatic Medicine. All rights reserved.

*The statements above have not been evaluated by the FDA, and are for educational purposes only. This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This article should not be taken as medical advice. Please consult your physician before you use this information for health purposes.

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