Lavender aromatherapy as sleep aid

Integrative Medicine

Lavandula angustifolia Miller (synonym L. officinalis) and other species are found throughout the Mediterranean, Arabian peninsula, Russia, Africa, Europe, and the United States.1 A member of the Lamiaceace (mint) family, the plant has been used to treat insomnia.2 Linalyl acetate and linalool are active constituents that contribute to its calming and sedative properties.

Efficacy and safety

Studies evaluating the efficacy of lavender aromatherapy for insomnia are limited to single- and researcher-blind trials. In one study, 67 Taiwanese women aged 45 to 55 years underwent lavender aromatherapy twice weekly or sleep hygiene education as a control for 12 weeks. Patients with a Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (CPSQI; Chinese version) score greater than 5, indicating poor sleep quality, were included. The lavender group had a significant decrease from baseline CPSQI scores, with the control group unchanged.3   

A restful sleep in the hospital is often a challenge for patients and may result in the use of medications. A randomized study in 64 critical care–unit patients with ischemic heart disease evaluated sleep quality using Saint Mary’s Hospital Sleep Questionnaire, which quantifies sleep scores based on 11 items. Scores were assessed before and after three nights of either 9 hours of lavender aromatherapy or no intervention. The lavender aromatherapy group had significantly better sleep quality.4 

Another study of 50 patients had 3 mL of 100% lavender oil placed within 3 feet of their bedside in a glass jar for inhalation from 10:00 pm to 6:00 am, and the control group received usual care. The lavender group had significantly lower blood pressure readings between 12:00 am and 4:00 am, and their average overall sleep score was higher though not significant.

Inhalational dosing includes six drops (120 mg) for a 20-L bath or two to four drops of lavender essential oil in two to three cups of boiling water or automatic diffuser. Lavender aromatherapy is well tolerated, with no documented drug interactions or contraindications. Topical administration has resulted in mild dermatitis and photosensitivity.1,2 

Conclusion: blinding is a challenge in lavender aromatherapy studies, and evidence for its use is limited.

What to tell patients

First, discuss appropriate sleep hygiene when counseling patients with sleep disturbances. Advise patients to maintain a regular sleep pattern; limit use of the bed to sleep and intimacy; engage in relaxing activities before bed; avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine 4 to 6 hours before bedtime; and last, avoid extremes in temperature, noise, and light.6

Lavender aromatherapy can be safely used to help promote sleep. Tell patients to exercise caution with use of other sedative products, and warn of potential dermatitis if added to bath water. 

References

  1. Holist Nurs Pract. 2009;23(1):57–64 
  2. J Herbal Pharmacother. 2004;4(2):63–78
  3. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:740813
  4. Iran J Nurs Midwifery Res. 2010;15(4):234–9
  5. Am J Crit Care. 2014;23(1):24–9
  6. Am Fam Physician. 2009;79(2):125–30