The Science of Sleep: How Lavender Extract Can Help You Sleep Better
The quality of our sleep affects the quality of our life
It plays a crucial role in our well-being and when we don't allow ourselves the proper rest - or are unable to get the rest we require, it depletes us. In recent years, the use of natural remedies to support better sleep cycles has been favoured over traditional pharmaceuticals. Lavender extract is one of the most effective of these.
What is Lavender Extract?
Lavender extract is a concentrated form of essential oil derived from the flowers of the lavender plant. (Lavandula Angustifolia.) The extract is made by steam distillation, which is a process that separates the essential oil from the whole plant. The resulting extract is a highly concentrated essence that contains the plant's active compounds, such as linalool, linalyl acetate, caryophyllene, camphor, and eucalyptol. These are responsible for the plant's therapeutic properties, including its sedative, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant effects.
Properties of the Key Compounds in Lavender Extract
Here's how the key compounds in lavender extract function: Linalool is a terpene alcohol that has a sedative effect on the body, which can help to reduce the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, promoting a sense of calm and relaxation. It also has anti-anxiety and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Linalyl acetate is an ester that also has a calming effect and contributes to the plant's unique aroma. It can also help promote relaxation and the reduction of stress.
- Caryophyllene is a terpene that has anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties, which can help to ease pain in the body and promote overall well-being.
- Camphor is a terpene that has a cooling and soothing effect on the skin, which can help to reduce itching and pain and also have a calming effect on the mind.
- Eucalyptol is a terpene that has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. It can help to reduce pain and inflammation. It can also support in clearing the nasal passages to promote better breathing.
Lavender Extract in Supplements
If you wish to supplement with lavender to support your sleep, the commonly accepted dosage is between 80mg - 160mg. The supplement Perfect Sleep formula contains 130mg of lavender powder. You want to find a supplement that contains between 25-45% linalool. If there is a dosage range or you’re not quite confident for whatever reason, perhaps try half the recommended dose to see how your body responds, as everyone’s physiology is unique.
The Benefits of Lavender Extract
Lavender extract has many additional benefits in addition to being an effective sleep aid. It can potentially support you with a number of issues. Here are some of the most common uses of lavender extract:
- Sedative Effects: The sedative effects of lavender extract are largely due to the presence of linalool and linalyl. Linalool has a sedative effect on the body, which can help to reduce the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, promoting a sense of calm and relaxation.
- Anti-Inflammatory And Antioxidant Properties: These effects are due to the presence of linalool, linalyl acetate, and other terpenoids. These are responsible for reducing inflammation in the body. Lavender extract has been known to help with eczema and dry skin, blotchiness, psoriasis, and acne.
- Anxiolytic Effects: Linalool has been shown to have significant anxiolytic effects, making it an effective anti-anxiety aid. Studies have shown it can also have a positive effect on depression and stress, helping to improve mood and well-being.
- Cognitive Function: The main compound responsible for the beneficial cognitive effects of lavender extract is Linalool. Linalool has been found to improve cognitive function by influencing the activity of certain neurotransmitters, such as acetylcholine, which plays a role in memory, attention, and working memory. Linalyl acetate has also been found to have some cognitive effects, although the mechanisms are not yet fully understood.
- Analgesic Effects: The main compound responsible for the analgesic effect is Linalool. Linalool is able to influence the activity of pain receptors in the body and brain. By binding to these receptors, linalool can help to reduce pain perception, promote relaxation and reduce anxiety, which can also help to improve sleep.
- Anticonvulsant Effects: Studies have shown that the essential oil of lavender can have an inhibitory effect on seizures, and may serve as an effective preventative measure in those with epilepsy. The anticonvulsant effects of lavender extract have been attributed to linalool, linalyl acetate, and other terpenoids.
Lavender Extract and Your Body’s Sleep-Wake Cycle
Your sleep-wake cycle is your body's 24-hour daily pattern. For most people, this consists of around 16 hours of wakeful activity and 8 hours of night sleep. This process is controlled by your body’s circadian rhythm. The body's circadian rhythm is an internal clock that regulates the timing of sleep and wakefulness. It’s controlled by a group of cells in the hypothalamus called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). These cells respond to light and dark, which helps regulate the timing of sleep and wakefulness. This ‘master clock’ controls many of our body’s biological functions such as the release of hormones, body temperature and of course the sleep-wake cycle itself.
How Can Lavender Extract Support Your Sleep-Wake Cycle
There have been many studies demonstrating the effectiveness of lavender extract on the sleep-wake cycle. A 2005 study investigated the effects of lavender oil on 31 participants that comprised a sample size of 31 young men and women. The participants were either given lavender extract or distilled water to inhale at approximately 11pm for 3 consecutive nights. The study was designed to observe both sleep and mood patterns. It was found that the inhalation of the lavender increased the percentage of deep or slow wave sleep (SWS) in both male and female participants. The lavender extract also increased stage 2 (light) sleep, as well as decreasing REM sleep, and the amount of time to reach the wakeful state after falling asleep in women with the opposite effect in men.
How Lavender Extract can Support Your Nervous System
As stated above, the presence of linalool with lavender extract is largely responsible for its ability to reduce the activity of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). This is key for those who suffer from insomnia, as a common symptom can often be an overactive nervous system. Lavender extract has also been shown to have a significant effect on multiple different nerve transmission pathways. The most notable of these is these is the GABA neurotransmitter pathway. Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter - a chemical messenger - that functions in the brain, and peripheral and autonomic nerves. GABA’s main purpose is to slow down your brain by blocking specific signals in your brain and spinal column. The GABA can then attach itself to the proteins in your brain known as GABA receptors. This then produces the resulting calming effect on the body through the nervous system. Linalool interacts with both the GABA and central to help the body come back down to a more regulated state.
What’s the Recommended Dosage for Lavender Extract and Associated Products?
When using lavender extract for sleep, it's important to follow the recommended dosage and usage instructions for whatever product you decide to use. The recommended dosage may vary from product to product, even if you’re using what appear to be almost identical essential oils, as each brand will have its own production methods and potentially use different varieties of lavender which have their own potency. Here are some of the commonly accepted dosages.
Lavender Extract in Supplements
If you wish to supplement with lavender to support your sleep, the commonly accepted dosage is between 80mg - 160mg. You want to find a supplement that contains between 25-45% linalool. If there is a dosage range or you’re not quite confident for whatever reason, perhaps try half the recommended dose to see how your body responds, as everyone’s physiology is unique.
Lavender Extract in Aromatherapy
If you wish to use lavender extract in aromatherapy, a typical approach is to use between one to 2 drops of lavender essential oil. This might be somewhere between 20 mg to 120 mg. This would be diluted in a base or carrier oil, added to hot water, in a diffuser, humidifier or applied to a cotton pad for inhalation. You might also want to explore lavender-scented candles or sprays, which can also have a positive effect on your sleep.
Lavender Extract: Precautions and Safety Information
Lavender extract is generally considered safe for most individuals when used as directed. However, some precautions should be taken when using lavender extract for certain groups.
Lavender Extract And Pregnancy
If you're a woman in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, there's a risk it could cause uterine contractions which may adversely affect the health of your baby. This is true of all essential oils, not just lavender essential oil. It's generally advised to avoid lavender essential oil throughout the entire term of pregnancy as well as during the breastfeeding stage.
Lavender Extract and Topical Skin Irritation
Many extracts and essential oils can bring about allergic reactions and skin irritations, and lavender extract is no different. It's well documented that lavender has been responsible for the onset of dermatitis. So if you do suffer from skin irritation, it might be wise to avoid using lavender, topically.
Lavender Extract And Interactions with Other Medications
It's been observed that central nervous system depressants such as benzodiazepines and barbiturates, may increase the psychoactive and sedative effects if combined with products that contain lavender extract Blood-thinning drugs may also lead to an increase in bleeding when taken at the same time as lavender. Lavender extract may also increase the cholesterol-lowering effects of drugs that lower cholesterol. So it's always wise to check with your healthcare provider before taking a course of supplements if you're already on medication.
Is Lavender Extract Safe?
Yes, Lavender extract is generally considered safe for most people when used as directed. However, it’s also important to note that lavender extract should not be used as a substitute for any necessary or ongoing medical treatment. If you have a medical condition or are taking medication, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional before using lavender extract.
What’s the Best Form of Lavender Extract?
There are many different varieties of lavender. All of them are part of the Lavandula genus, which is a member of the Lamiaceae (mint) family. Each variety has its own unique characteristics and therapeutic properties.
- English lavender: (Lavandula angustifolia) also known as true lavender or common lavender, is a perennial plant that is native to the Mediterranean. It is the most popular variety of lavender for essential oil production and is known for its sweet, floral aroma. It's also the most versatile variety of lavender, and it's used for a wide range of therapeutic applications.
- French lavender: (Lavandula stoechas) is a perennial plant that is native to the Mediterranean. It's also known as "Butterfly Lavender" due to the showy purple bracts that resemble butterfly wings. It's known for its sweet and fresh aroma, and it's commonly used for aromatherapy and perfumery.
- Spanish lavender: (Lavandula stoechas) is a perennial plant that is native to the Mediterranean and it's similar to French lavender.
- Italian lavender: (Lavandula angustifolia) is a perennial plant that is native to the Mediterranean. It's similar to English lavender, but it's less hardy and its oil is not as popular as the oil of English lavender.
- Portuguese lavender: (Lavandula latifolia) is a perennial plant that is native to the Mediterranean. It's also known as broad-leaved lavender and its oil has a different chemical composition from the other varieties. It's known for its powerful, camphor-like aroma and it's used for medicinal and perfumery applications.
- Lavandin: (Lavandula x intermedia) is a hybrid of English lavender and spike lavender, it's a hardy and fast-growing plant, and it's the most widely cultivated type of lavender for commercial essential oil production. It's known for its camphor and lavender aroma.
The Power of Lavender: How to Use it for Better Sleep
There are many more ways to use lavender, than simply just using the lavender extract. You can use both the whole lavender flower as well as the essential oil. Also, you might want to use a combination of products and approaches if you’re in need of significant nervous system regulation in order to help you sleep.
Here are some other products you might also want to consider:
Dried lavender sachets: These are filled with the whole lavender flower, and can be used in a variety of ways. They can be tumbled with your washing, placed within your bed sheets, or under your pillow. This will impart another level of lavender aroma that can aid you in falling asleep.
Lavender bath salts: Having a bath several hours before you go to bed helps increase the blood flow which can promote a sense of relaxation and calmness. The warm water can also help relax tense muscles, which, when aided with lavender bath salts can also assist you in getting to sleep.
Lavender eye masks: People decide to wear masks for differing reasons. They’re generally used to completely block out the light to assist you in getting to sleep, but you can also purchase eye masks filled with lavender that will in part a subtle aroma and assist you further in falling asleep.
NIH (26th Mar 2018) Essential oil of lavender in anxiety disorders: Ready for prime time? Retrieved on 17th January 2023 from, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6007527/
NIH (26th Mar 2018) Lavender and the Nervous System. Retrieved on 17th January 2023 from, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3612440/
NIH (7th Jun 2011) Effect of Inhaled Lavender and Sleep Hygiene on Self-Reported Sleep Issues: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Retrieved on 17th January 2023 from, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4505755/
NIH (2005) An olfactory stimulus modifies nighttime sleep in young men and women. Retrieved on 17th January 2023 from, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16298774/
NIH (4th Aug 2014) Antioxidant, analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects of lavender essential oil. Retrieved on 17th January 2023 from, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26247152/.