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Everyone loves nice smells. Many businesses take advantage of this simple fact and use our love of aromas as a marketing tool by pumping scents into the air to draw customers into stores. However, scents can do more than just spark our appetites. Studies show that essential oils (aroma-producing oils) used in the form of aromatherapy may have positive effects on sleep.

A 2014 paper reviewed 15 different studies that examined the effects of scents on sleep. The study participants included both healthy sleepers and those with sleep disturbances, including insomnia. The majority of the 15 studies showed a correlation between a good night’s sleep and the use of lavender oil, peppermint oil, and jasmine oil scents.

Aromatherapy may also be useful in hospital settings. Researchers conducted a study on cardiac patients in a coronary care unit. They introduced rosa damascena, also known as the Damask rose scent, into the patients’ rooms each night, and the patients who received the scent reported significant improvements in both the quality and the duration of their sleep. Studies were also done in Korea on elders in long-term care hospitals and on angioplasty patients in the intensive care unit. In the long-term care hospitals, the study found that aromatherapy massages improved the elders’ sleep and skin hydration. In the ICU, angioplasty patients were given essential oils to inhale both before and after their procedures. The results showed significantly-reduced levels of anxiety when compared to the group receiving standard care.

Some studies have tried to find the chemical compounds in essentials oils that are responsible for these effects. One tested 17 essential oils and found that many have both antibacterial and antioxidant effects, opening the door to more potential uses of the oils. Another study found active compounds in a member of the honeysuckle plant family, finding that the compound demonstrated sedative effects on mice. However, not all of the allegedly beneficial essential oil treatments have conclusive evidence to show the effectiveness of its chemicals. More research needs to be done on these oils and the exact combinations of compounds that are effective.

Aromatherapy may not be for everyone. Certain people may have allergic reactions to essential oils, so always consult your doctor for official advice. Based on current evidence, however, aromatherapy shows potential both as a home remedy for sleep issues and as a complement to standard care in a clinical setting. So treat yourself to your favorite scent, and see what it can do for you!

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