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Ayurveda 101: Lavender for Sleep, Relaxation, & Anxiety Relief

You’ve had a long stressful day and can’t wait to get home, take off your shoes and relax into your favorite recliner. 

But your brain won’t cooperate.  It keeps right on running, reviewing the day’s ups and downs, and causing anxiety long after the office is closed. And tired though you are, you can’t seem to sleep, which ups your stress level as you worry about your ability to function at an important meeting tomorrow morning.

What to do? 

How about turning on your diffuser with a few drops of lavender essential oil just before sinking into your chair; or enjoying a long soak after adding lavender scented bath salts or essential oil to your tub; or covering your eyes with a lavender-filled eye pillow while you take a brief nap. And at bedtime try rubbing lavender essential oil into your feet, temples and wrists to  help you relax and fall asleep.

Lavender has a long history of calming, destressing and sending people easily into dreamland after a long day.  Originally from Arabia, it made its way to Europe with travelers who discovered it solves problems like aiding sleep and relaxation, soothing burns, relieving headaches, and treating insect bites, skin conditions, parasites and hair loss.

Its effectiveness may be why it was hung in doorways or sprinkled on pillows to keep away evil spirits.

Today, research supports lavender’s effectiveness for warding off the evil spirits of anxiety, depression, and insomnia while it helps lower blood pressure and increase calm.

And you can even grow it yourself so you can enjoy its beautiful blooms. When treated right, it flourishes in both indoor pots or outside where it adds abundant purple borders to your landscaping.

Using Lavender for Sleep

If you are prone to insomnia or occasionally restless nights, lavender aromatherapy via a diffuser near your bed may help you fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply.

A study of 64 patients with ischemic heart disease enjoyed significantly improved sleep quality when exposed to lavender oil aromatherapy.

In other research, students exposed to lavender aromatherapy at night found they were less sleepy on awakening the next day, suggesting they had enjoyed a better quality of sleep.

Women exposed to lavender aromatherapy for 20 minutes twice a week for 12 weeks experienced significant improvement in sleep quality.

And in a study of 31 men and women, exposure to lavender aromatherapy while sleeping increased the percentage of time participants spent in deep (slow wave) sleep. They also reported feeling more energetic upon awakening.

These are just a handful of studies that confirm the relationship between lavender and sleep. If you aren’t getting the rest you need, investing in a diffuser and some high quality lavender essential oil may be just what you need to turn things around.

Lavender Lifts Your Mood

Lavender is also valued for its calming and mood lifting effect. And what traditional healers have known for centuries, is now being validated by research.

Anxiety. Studies show lavender can help reduce anxiety in ICU patients, dialysis and  dental patients, hospital staff and individuals suffering from chronic pain.

Depression. In a four week study of depression and insomnia, 42 college women were exposed to lavender fragrance. Results showed lavender helped ease participants’ depression symptoms.

In another study, participants were given lavender tincture along with imipramine, an antidepressant. This combination proved to be more effective in treating mild to moderate depression than either lavender or imipramine alone.

Relax with Lavender

Stress causes havoc in your life. If you are in a continued state of stress, symptoms like raised blood pressure and a racing heart may occur often. Or perhaps you notice your breathing getting shallower and faster as you anticipate speaking in public or taking an exam.  

Outcomes like these in the face of stress are designed to help you deal with life’s challenges and obstacles. But when they become your daily life they can be the cause of a whole host of health issues, which is why you always want to have lavender on hand.  

Lavender helps calm your racing heart and frazzled nerves.

In a study of 20 healthy volunteers, researchers took measures of their blood pressure, heart rate and skin temperature. They also monitored their brain waves and got subjective feedback from participants, to evaluate their stress levels. 

Exposure to lavender oil via a diffuser caused participants to breathe a sigh of relief and describe themselves as feeling more relaxed.

Results showed “significant decreases in blood pressure, heart rate, and skin temperature,” indicating decreased stress levels. Brain monitor results showed increased alpha and theta brain waves, which are also associated with the calm and relaxed state of meditation.

Easy to Grow

Lavender’s origins are Mediterranean, but it has adapted to European climates and is popular in English herb gardens.  If you want some of these luscious blooms in your landscaping check with your local garden store to see if it will thrive where you live.

Plant it where it will get full sun and good drainage.  It doesn’t like acidic soil so prepare your beds accordingly and remember to prune it back in the spring to keep it bushy with lots of blooms.

You can also enjoy lavender indoors. To keep it happy, put it in a south facing window where it gets lots of direct light. Water it well, then let the soil dry out before watering it again. It prefers dry conditions and won’t appreciate continuously damp soil. Fertilize monthly during spring and summer.


Lavender is toxic to both dogs and cats. Cats are especially susceptible to poisoning via this route so keep them away from lavender plants and essential oils.  Symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, or constipation, swollen abdomen, reduced appetite, or fever. Contact your vet if your pet ingests lavender.

Avoid lavender if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.  Also there is evidence to suggest that it may disrupt hormones in pre-pubescent boys.

Lovely Lavender

If you are assembling a home medicine chest there are few items that have as much to offer as lavender.

Breathing in it’s heady scent will keep you calm and relaxed during a stressful day and help you get a good night’s sleep all night every night. And you’ll love the way it tames your anxiety and awakens you from a funk.   

Have a cut or an insect bite? Put lavender’s anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties to work. And remember to add it to coconut or sesame oil and massage it into your scalp to help prevent hair loss.  Have a headache?  Try a little lavender oil at your temples or breath it in with an inhaler or diffuser.

Add small amounts of culinary lavender to soups, salads or smoothies.  Or just enjoy its lovely scent in potpourri.  

Lavender is an all purpose herb—a medicine chest all its own.