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For thousands of years people have relied on plants and herbs for their medicinal properties, using them to create healing remedies, including as aids to promote rest and combat insomnia

“There is a long, written tradition of plants helping people to sleep,” says Monique Simmonds, Ph.D., deputy director of science at London’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. “If you go back to ancient Chinese medicine or Roman times, you find documentation of plants associated with sleep. Historically, for example, jasmine from Kashmir, with its fragrant flowers, was added to bath water to help people relax and decrease stress.” 

Now, there is clear evidence that plants have the power to soothe us and help us de-stress and relax, Simmonds tells Thrive. “The scent  from a plant like lavender is not just something that we pick up with the receptors in our nose. We know scientifically that its essential oils are absorbed simply by inhaling or smelling them, they get into our blood, and in fact cross the blood-brain barrier into our brain. The essential oils from lavender have a calming effect, modulating our nervous systems.” 

“We’ve known that plants influence the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide, helping to improve the quality of air in a room, but recently we’ve discovered that the surface chemistry of the leaves can also play an important part in helping to improve air quality. There is no doubt that having plants in the bedroom can impact your well-being,” Simmonds says. “It will not only add to the quality of your sleep, but you’ll also wake up feeling more refreshed.”

Here are Simmonds’s recommendations for the types of plants to introduce into your sleep sanctuary:

1. Jasmine

Jasmine releases a sweet aroma that can relieve anxiety and improve the quality of sleep. The scent has an impact on the receptors in our nervous system that results in a calming effect. It will have a more powerful impact, by the way, if it’s in flower. As for taking care of your plant: Water it regularly and make sure it gets enough sun.  

2. Snake Plant

The plant’s tall, skinny leaves get to work at night by emitting oxygen and purifying the air. There are no flowers, so there’s hardly any scent. But research, interestingly, has shown that the leaves help to remove harmful chemicals in a room, as well as absorb background odors like sweat or hairspray. 

3.  Valerian

A traditional remedy for insomnia, scientific studies have shown that valerian’s sweetly scented pink or white flowers have a soothing effect. When the plant is in flower, just breathe in or inhale the perfume to stimulate sleep. You can also brew a calming tea from the root extract, which you can buy in powder form or extract from your plant. Valerian loves light — your plant needs six hours of direct sunshine. 

4. Lavender

Lavender is known as the purple power plant because of its long-standing reputation as a relaxation aid. It has been proven to lower heart rate, blood pressure, and stress levels — promoting deep sleep. Lavender cultivated in warmer climates will release more essential oils and have a greater impact. Give your potted lavender plenty of warmth and sunlight, and water sparingly. Watch this for more on the science of how lavender works to reduce stress and help you sleep.

5. Peace Lily

A study from NASA revealed that the peace lily is effective at cleansing the air and promoting sleep. According to the study, it’s wonderful at removing ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene from the air. Easy to care for, the delicate white petals don’t need much light — just water your lily once a week. 

6. Aloe Vera

Widely used to soothe burns and skin irritations, aloe vera is also great at producing oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide at night, purifying the air, and promoting a good night’s sleep. Also included in the NASA study, it helps fight harmful toxins in the room. 

7. Chamomile

Chamomile tea is popular across the globe as a bedtime drink, but the plant itself has excellent calming properties. Like lavender, the essential oils extracted from the flowers have a relaxing effect and can help people who suffer from nightmares. The plant contains an antioxidant called apigenin that affects certain receptors in the brain to encourage sleep. 

8. Passion Flower

The passion flower is beautiful and has a soothing scent, which helps induce sleep and can instantly improve your mood. Another natural healer, when taken as a herbal remedy, it’s reported to relieve anxiety and even pain. Keep your passion flower near a bright window. The soil has to remain moist, but not wet. 

9. Gardenia 

Another great plant to keep close to your bed. The potent scent from the gardenia flower is a stress reliever. A natural tranquilizer, without any harmful side-effects, of course, it affects the quality of your sleep — helping you to enjoy a longer, calmer, restorative night’s rest. 

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  • Elaine Lipworth

    Senior Content Writer at Thrive Global

    Elaine Lipworth is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster who has reported for a variety of BBC shows  and other networks. She has written about film, lifestyle, psychology and health for newspapers and magazines around the globe. Publications she’s contributed to range from The Guardian, The Times and You Magazine, to The Four Seasons Hotel Magazine,  Marie Claire, Harpers Bazaar,  Women’s Weekly and Sunday Life (Australia). She has also written regularly for film companies including Fox, Disney and Lionsgate. Recently, Elaine taught journalism as an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University. Born and raised in the UK, Elaine is married with two daughters and lives in Los Angeles.