The Sweet Scents of Slumber



I jumped down the rabbit hole of essential oils (EOs) and aromatherapy ~18 years ago and never looked back.  Smell is one of the strongest connections we have to memory.  My first experience with essential oil occurred during a massage when the therapist used Lilac.  I immediately thought of my childhood.  We used to have this lone Lilac tree in the corner of the yard.  It was there when we moved in and was strong yet delicate.  During spring, it always had an abundance of frilly, soft blossoms that would blow in the wind and spiral to the earth.  It was magical.  After asking the therapist about the oil, she explained the difference between essential oil and artificial scents.  When I walked to the car in reflective bliss, I knew essential oils needed to be part of my world.

Almost twenty years ago, essential oils weren’t as readily available as they are today.  I began with self-education reading books by Valerie Cooksley and then took some workshops with Cynthia Loving and other experts in the field.  Now, I have an apothecary cabinet dedicated to my favorite oils, amber bottles, recipes and measuring devices.

lilac tree in corner

I’ve shared my love of essential oils with others.  When my daughter was brought into the world, the sweet aromas of Lavender, Chamomile and Ylang Ylang were a welcome comfort in the delivery room. Note:  it’s important to know which essential oils are safe during pregnancy.  When my mother-in-law was experiencing nausea from pancreatic cancer, I created a blend to assist and offer comfort.  Even the SAS population has cultivated calmness by attending YogAroma workshops and now Yoga Nidra.  It’s gratifying to share aroma recipes and have people stop by my office and inquire about what I have brewing in my desk (cauldron) diffuser.  I suppose I’m the witch of wellness and I embrace it.  So grab a broom and fly with me.  Your sanctuary for slumber awaits.

The essence of bliss begins with a little education.  When a very high quality EO is used, less of it is needed.  They are more concentrated than synthetic smells, so take the less is more approach.  I won’t get into my chemist days of looking at purity with gas chromatography, but I encourage you to read labels carefully.  Look for 100% pure, authentic EOs.  If they are labeled as “fragrance” or “potpourri” or “perfume” EOs, they are synthetic and not pure.  Just because the word essential oil is listed, doesn’t mean anything.  Genuine and authentic EOs are the most therapeutic and offer a fuller, original scent.  If there is a glitzy word in the description, it’s most likely working hard to earn your attention.

With the less is meditation frog and EOsmore approach, think one oil at a time.  Once you get more comfortable, you can look at blending.  Find out how a scent works with you.  One of the most utilized EOs that is economical is Lavender.  It is a proven stress and anxiety reducer and helps nurture a restful night’s sleep.  Look for Lavandula Angustifolia which is relaxing, not Lavandula Latifolia which is stimulating.  I recommend visiting a store in-person and testing there.  You can readily find EOs in organic grocery stores in the health and beauty area.  Often there are a few brands to choose from.

To find out how you interact, place a drop of a single oil on a cotton ball or tissue and rub it on the inside of your arm adjacent to the elbow.  Check in 15-20 minutes for any redness or itching.  If you have a known allergy to a plant or fruit, such as grapefruit, you will most likely be allergic to the “grapefruit” EO.  If you discover that you and your essential oil work well together, make a purchase.  I recommend purchasing a ½ ounce size bottle or smaller to begin with.

As far as storing, this is important.  Make sure your undiluted EO is stored in an amber, cobalt blue or colored glass bottle.  I know a couple of people who prefer stainless steel since they are clumsy (their words, not mine)!  Concentrated oils are corrosive and will eat through plastic.  If you purchase concentrated oils from reputable sources, they will already be stored in glass.  Diluted essential oils (ones you’ve mixed with carrier oils, lotions or other products that reduce the potency) can be stored in plastic bottles.  Personally, when I use plastic, I make small batches so that I can use it within a week.  If you need to purchase glass bottles for your EOs, you can do so either online or at the store where you purchased oils.  Make sure you don’t use rubber stoppers or eye-dropper lids long term when storing since the rubber breaks down over time.  Also, keep it out of direct sunlight and heat.  It will last much longer.  You can expect concentrated oils to last several years.  Pots of EOs found in ancient Egyptian tombs from thousands of years ago remain scented today.  I have two oils purchased over 16 years ago and they still smell great!  Note:  Keep out of reach of small children since the bottles aren’t kid-proof and are breakable.  Think of your pets too!  Is anything REALLY pet proof?  Keep out of reach of chewing animals.

Amber bottles

So you’ve got your oil.  Maybe it’s Lavender, Bergamot, Chamomile or Ylang Ylang.  All have been shown to assist with slumber.  All, but Ylang Ylang are safe during pregnancy; however, use 1% or less dilution of the Lavender, Bergamot and Chamomile during pregnancy if applying to skin.  I used Lavender during my entire pregnancy with a diffuser and a 1% dilution was used during massage and it was a great stress releaser.  Be aware that Bergamot is the only one of these four that has phototoxic effects.  Phototoxic means that you shouldn’t apply to skin and then be exposed to the sun or tanning booths as you’re more sensitive to burning.

Let’s get started with some recipes to catch some Zzzzzs.

MAGnificent Sleep Ointment

  • 1 ounce of magnesium oil (can be purchased in organic grocery stores and pharmacies)
    • Note: In 2009, the World Health Organization published a report indicating that 75% of Americans do not consume the Recommended Daily Allowance – RDA – of magnesium.  For more information on ways you can consume through your diet, contact the SAS HCC nutritionists and also read this article from the National Institute of Health.
  • 3 drops of Lavender (Lavandula Angustifolia) essential oil
  • 3 drops of Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum Nobile) essential oil
  • Place all ingredients into a glass, colored bottle with lid. Shake gently before each use.  You can use a spray bottle or simply place in hands and rub on feet.  Apply socks.  I do this ~30 minutes before going to bed.  This recipe will last 6-12 days.  Note:  Magnesium is also great for muscular pain and headaches.  I will use this concoction topically on my shoulders and neck.

Sleepy Time Bath

  • 15 drops of Lavender oil
  • 1 cup of Epsom Salts
  • Water for your bath (if you must have suds, use an unscented bath wash under running water)

Slumber Bath Salts

  • 10-12 drops of Lavender oil
  • 2 cups of Epsom Salt
  • 2 tablespoons of coconut oil or sweet almond carrier oil or olive oil
  • In a glass bowl, add salt and oil. Mix with hands or metal spoon.  Add Lavender and mix again.  Store in an airtight glass container.  I store mine in mason jars with lids and keep out of the light.  These are great gifts too and you can buy pretty amber bottles to store them in as well and tie a string around it with an attractive label.  I just gave my secrets away!

Calming Shower

  • So simple but yet so effective. Take a few drops of essential oil (your choice) and place on a washcloth that is saturated with warm water.  Simply breathe in the aromas from the washcloth as you’re in the shower.  You can also re-saturate with warm water and smell over and over again.  Tip:  If you have a stuffy nose in the winter months, Eucalyptus oil is dreamy.  It opens your sinuses and allows you to breathe easy and sleep peacefully.  It’s recommended that expectant ladies avoid Eucalyptus.

I’m Diffused

  • This is my all-time, easy way to breathe in relaxation. I have two diffusers – one at home and one at work.  You can get one too and it won’t break the bank.  Mine were under $25 each and they run for up to 6 hours.  All you do is fill it with water (distilled or tap), drop ~6 drops of your essential oil in and turn it on.  Most have an automatic shut-off.  I turn it on ~30 minutes before I hit the hay and have sweet dreams of serenity.  My favorite mix is Lavender and Ylang Ylang, but straight Lavender is blissful!

Want a printable version?  Mindful Slumber Recipes

aroma bliss

Bonus:  A fun way to use your senses at work and cultivate calm (and smell good too) is to purchase small glass roll-on bottles.  Add Lavender and Bergamot to them with a little carrier oil such as fractionated coconut oil.  Because it’s fractionated, it stays liquid at room temperature unlike other coconut oil that is solid under 75°.  Bergamot is citrusy and has been shown to reduce stress in addition to reducing anxiety.  The two blend nicely together and I even use this as an antiseptic spray after pumping gas.  Simply exchange the coconut oil for rubbing alcohol and place your items in a small spray bottle and you’ve got clean, fresh smelling hands after visiting the gas station.  I replenish this spray bottle twice a month.

So now that I’ve revealed mindful ways to set up your sleep sanctuary, visit a store that sells quality essential oils.  Plan some time to play and connect to your senses.  Tip:  Between smelling the variety of oils, take a whiff of coffee beans.  If you’re in a grocery store, this might be easy.  I have been known to carry a small container of coffee beans in my purse for this very purpose.  It’s basically cleansing your olfactory system.  Purchase your little bottles of serenity and any other items you might find helpful.  Once you get home, truly enjoy the process of creating tinctures of tranquility.  Do this task without any other external stimuli such as watching television.

Added bonus:  If you want something simple that goes a long way, put a few drops of Lavender in a spray bottle of water.  Mist your sheets lightly ~10 minutes before getting in and you’re well on your way to a peaceful night’s sleep.

Whatever method of aromatherapy you choose, close your eyes and bring your awareness to the breath.  Allow your inhales to move deeply and slowing through your body while releasing any stress and tension through cleansing exhalations.  If you get distracted with mind chatter, simply come back to the breath.  It’s always with you.  Sweet dreams!

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About Author

Celeste Cooper

Wellness & Fitness Manager

Celeste has been in the science, health and wellness field over twenty-five years. She began as a research chemist with a concentration in genetics and nutritional biochemistry. After working in the medical field, she saw the need to follow a path of proactive wellness and prevention. After receiving her Masters in Health Education, she ventured into the mind/body world receiving training in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Yoga. Shortly after, she received the 2003 Wellness in the Workplace Award for a large health system in the state of Virginia. In 2004, Celeste joined SAS Institute, Inc. and continues to be passionate in her position overseeing Wellness and Fitness. She believes curiosity and collaboration bring insight and new ideas which bring out the best in everyone from team members to those who are making healthy lifestyle changes. Believing that the body knows how to heal if given the proper tools, Celeste earned certifications in Aromatherapy and Essential Oils, Classical Chinese Medicine and Homeopathic & Naturopathic Medicine. She earned her Doctor of Naturopathy degree in 2020. Celeste is a published author and practices what she preaches and teaches. She is a nationally recognized Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES) and has advanced certificates in Integrative and Functional Nutrition, Genetics and Genomics. She is an Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (E-RYT) with the National Yoga Alliance, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Instructor, Functional Medicine Certified Health Coach (FMCHC) and Certified Yoga Therapist (CYT).


  1. Amanda Pack

    I LOVE my E.O.s. Lavender helps me relax both when I go to bed as well as in the middle of the night after being woken up by one of my kiddos. I keep lavender by my beside table and apply 1 drop neatly (non-diluted) to my temples for those middle of the night wakings and I'm back to sleep in a few deep breaths! Speaking of kiddos, they also benefit from the MAGnificent Sleep Ointment. Apply to the bottoms of their little feet at bedtime or when they wake from a bad dream to help them get right back to sleep. We also use lavender in their daily bedtime bath and when they're stuffy, I add a couple drops of eucalyptus. Thank you Celeste for sharing these delightful recipes!

  2. This post came at such a great time! I have been interested in learning more about EOs and lavender has always been a favorite scent of mine. I will have to go to Whole Foods and try out some of the tips you mentioned. Thank you!

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