To understand why aromatherapy works, you need to understand how powerful our sense of smell is. Smells are capable of evoking strong memories and emotions. They can also create a physiological reaction in our bodies. Smells can increase our breathing and heart rate and raise our blood pressure, or sooth and relax us. Studies have proven that some essential oils are effective in promoting relaxation, relieving stress, and facilitating restful sleep. Let us look at some of the best essential oils for stress relief and better sleep.


Lavender essential oil is one of the most popular and well-researched essential oils. Research has shown that the scent of lavender stimulates neural pathways in our brain that are connected to our emotional response and memories. Scientists have conducted studies on the effects of lavender on our bodies using electroencephalography (EEG) to measure brain waves and using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to detect changes in blood oxygen levels in the brain. They found significant changes in brain activity during lavender aromatherapy that indicated a more relaxed state. Other studies have shown that lavender has a calming effect on our bodies by lowering our blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature.

Lavender is excellent for promoting better quality of sleep, making it effective for mild insomnia. It is also useful for anxiety relief. It has been found to reduce depression and anxiety in women with postpartum depression as well as anxiety in numerous medical settings, such as in dental offices, intensive care units and during surgical preparation.


Bergamot essential oil is extracted from the peel of citrus bergamots, which are the fruits of the bergamot plant. Genetic research has shown that citrus bergamot is likely a hybrid of a bitter orange and lemon. Bergamot has been used in traditional Italian folk medicine for generations. However, recent studies have supported the ability of bergamot essential oil to relieve anxiety and tension. For example, five out of six clinical studies that took place between 2009 to 2013 have proven that aromatherapy using bergamot essential oil is effective for lowering blood pressure and heart rate and reducing stress. Other studies have shown that bergamot can provide relief for chronic pain.

Bergamot essential oil also contains several compounds that have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Clary Sage

Clary sage, or Salvia sclarea, is a herb native to the northern Mediterranean Basin as well as some areas in north Africa and central Asia. Clary sage essential oil is extracted from the flowering tops and leaves of the clary sage herb and it has been found to be have antidepressant-like effects when used in aromatherapy. A 2013 study also showed that inhaled clary sage essential oil was highly effective for significantly lowering the blood pressure and breathing rate of women undergoing a stressful medical exam.

Ylang Ylang

The sweet and floral Ylang ylang essential oil is extracted from the flower of the Cananga tree, a tropical tree native to India, Indochina, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Australia. Several studies have demonstrated that the aroma of Ylang Ylang can induce relaxation by reducing anxiety and lowering blood pressure and heart rate.