Sleep apnea is one of the most common sleeping disorders affecting people in America and worldwide, second to insomnia. It is a sleep-related breathing disorder, meaning that it can make you stop and start breathing in cycles while you sleep.
There are two kinds of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea, the most common kind, and central sleep apnea, which is a disorder of the brain.1
Can essential oils for sleep apnea help? In this article, we’ll take a look at the research, 9 essential oils for sleep apnea that could support the condition and symptoms, and more.
Causes and common treatments for sleep apnea
A range of causes can lead to sleep apnea, depending on the type. These include:
- Naturally narrow airways
- Inflamed airways (allergies, respiratory condition, etc.)
- Obstructed airways due to obesity or being overweight
- Problems with brain and nerves communicating to muscles used during sleep
Main signs you have sleep apnea are excessive snoring or waking up abruptly at night choking or fighting for breath. Daytime fatigue, brain fog, sleepiness, morning headache, depression, or inability to feel refreshed after sleep could be symptoms, too.
Sleep apnea may also increase risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or mental health conditions. It can also interfere with daily life, mood, and even memory. 2
Treatments for resolving sleep apnea or its symptoms include:
- CPAP machine (to aid with breathing while sleeping)
- Lifestyle changes (e.g., dieting and exercise to lose weight)
- Oral appliances
- Tonsillectomy or adenoidectomy
- Surgical options
- Natural or home treatments3
Can essential oils help with sleep apnea?
Some conventional treatments can help resolve sleep apnea and symptoms altogether—though not always. Because some approaches are invasive and surgical, and may only help manage the condition, some shy away from these treatments and try alternative approaches instead—like essential oils and aromatherapy.2
Best essential oils for sleep apnea
Research shows that while essential oils for sleep apnea through aromatherapy cannot cure or get rid of the condition, they could be competitively effective, less invasive, and more pleasant management alternatives.
According to research, the following are the best 9 essential oils for sleep apnea.
Most research on essential oils for sleep apnea focuses on lavender, indicating that it may be one of the best for helping with the condition. Lavender promotes better sleep and may also have a mild respiratory supporting effect.
A nurse’s research-based evaluation recommended lavender aromatherapy for helping sleep disorders, including sleep apnea and its symptoms.5
Another study tested lavender essential oil directly, finding that it reduced sleep disturbances in those with sleep apnea with great success when used long term.7
Yet another study chose lavender essential oil aromatherapy and found that it helped improve respiration during sleep.8
Vetiver is another essential oil strongly associated with promoting better sleep and lowering anxiety, like lavender. It, too, has been a top candidate for research exploring how it can help sleep apnea issues.
In one study alongside lavender, vetiver essential oil was tested in people with sleep apnea. Not only did it improve sleep—aromatherapeutic vetiver decreased inhalation and increased exhalation, which can improve the sleep apnea cycle.8
Vetiver is also shown to be therapeutically anti-inflammatory according to research. This could explain its benefits to breathing during sleep: it may reduce inflammation of airways.9
Unlike lavender and vetiver, eucalyptus essential oil has not been studied for sleep apnea specifically. It is not a sleep-promoting natural remedy, either.
However, eucalyptus oil in aromatherapy is strongly associated with improving breathing and respiratory health, which could benefit sleep apnea.
Eucalyptus’ active ingredient, eucalyptol, is one of the most common commercially used natural plant constituents for soothing inflamed airways as a decongestant—an ingredient in chest rubs, cough drops, and more. This gentle and popular natural herb improves breathing in coughs, colds, and flu—showing it’s about helping the symptoms, regardless of the condition.10
Much like eucalyptus, thyme essential oils are popular natural ingredients in many over the counter decongestants—especially thyme’s active volatile oil, thymol.
While thyme has yet to be researched for sleep apnea specifically, it too has a proven track record for improving breathing and respiratory issues. Research establishes it as one of the best natural remedies not only for airway inflammation but also congestion.11
Could this mean it helps sleep apnea? It’s very likely it could support the breathing issues related to the sleeping disorder, as one of enduring aromatherapy favorites for diffusers and humidifiers while sleeping.
The cool, comforting sensation of spearmint—when either gently inhaled or topically applied—immediately makes one think of easier breathing and clearer senses. This is why spearmint could be a great home remedy for sleep apnea symptoms.
It’s an even more popular remedy for easy breathing than either eucalyptus or thyme, with its cooling active ingredient (menthol) being added to cough drops, lozenges, diffusion blends, humidifiers, chest rubs, nasal strips, and more just for this purpose.
Sleep apnea sufferers may want to give it a try—though it still hasn’t been studied for the condition specifically.12
For a stronger mint kick to ease breathing, sleep apnea sufferers can try peppermint essential oil, which has a stronger menthol effect on congestion than spearmint.
Peppermint contains more menthol than spearmint, explaining its more intense aroma and thus higher therapeutic potential. Research shows it even has benefits for serious viral respiratory diseases that impact breathing, meaning it ought to provide some margin of benefit for sleep apnea breathing.13
As an added benefit, peppermint oil is also shown to help with the pain of headaches and migraines, which sleep apnea sufferers can also struggle with.14
The spicy, pungent taste of ginger in a well-prepared dish—or its aroma whiffed from essential oils—can have sinus-clearing effects as many people know well. This is why, for thousands of years, ginger has also been a potent herbal respiratory medicine as well as culinary spice.
As a powerful anti-inflammatory, ginger has been used to soothe the airways of people experiencing respiratory infections, sinus blockages, allergies, hay fever, asthma, and more. People with sleep apnea may experience similar relief for breathing as these conditions—even though ginger has not been trialed for the sleep disorder specifically.15
Oregano remains the crowned king of essential oils for fighting respiratory issues, especially having to do with colds and flus. These powers could be put to good use for the breathing problems of sleep apnea, too.
Part of oregano’s power comes from thymol, the same plant compound found in thyme that is commercially used as a decongestant. As a close relative to thyme, oregano contains plenty of the compound, too. Research also proves that it helps reduce congestion by cutting down on airway inflammation, an issue that could lead to or worsen some sleep apnea cases.16
The essential oil of chamomile could help sleep apnea in two ways. For one, it promotes healthier, sounder sleep; and two, chamomile also soothes airway inflammation as an anti-inflammatory.
Has chamomile been tested for sleep apnea? No—not like lavender or vetiver, which may be the most researched essential oil tools for sleep apnea.
However, chamomile has a strong suite of studies and traditional use behind it suggesting that sleep apnea sufferers should give it a try. It could help you sleep better while dispelling any inflammation that could be causing or making your nighttime sleeping issues worse.17
When combined with other essential oils, like lavender and vetiver, it may be even more effective!
To use the above 9 essential oils for sleep apnea
Follow product directions or health professional recommendations for aromatherapeutic use of these oils in a diffuser or humidifier at night, while you sleep, to experience benefits.
3 sleep apnea essential oil blends
Essential oils may be a great way to help manage sleep apnea and its symptoms at home. However, there is still a dearth of research on them, and they may not be as effective as some conventional treatments.
That said, many natural healers and aromatherapists will recommend essential oil blends to enhance the effects of one oil on its own. If you’ve tried one or more essential oils for sleep apnea and have yet to experience relief, try these blends together—they could be more effective.
Sleep-supporting blend – Lavender, vetiver, and chamomile
If restless sleep, frequent wakeups, and fogginess during the day are your biggest sleep apnea struggles, try this blend of sleep-supporting oils. These may also have a subtle anti-inflammatory benefit on your obstructed breathing too, though their primary purpose is to bring balance to your sleep cycle. Issues with stress or anxiety on top of sleep apnea are a good reason to choose this blend as well.
Mild inflammation-supporting blend – Ginger and oregano
These oils are more stimulating and awakening. These properties make them a good choice for improving the inflammation and breathing issues of someone with sleep apnea, but who doesn’t struggle with the irregular sleep side of things—getting decent shuteye through the night no matter how much they snore. Opt for this blend too if severe cold, cough, flu, or viral infection worsens your sleep apnea issues as well.
Strong obstruction-supporting blend – Eucalyptus, thyme, spearmint, peppermint
These 4 herbal essential oils form the ultimate arsenal for sleep apnea breathing issues. Though they won’t support the sleep side of things, each of these oils has potent benefits for clearer breathing, reducing airway inflammation, and ridding you of congestion that could add to your sleep apnea symptoms. If some better sleep is needed, you can combine this blend with the sleep-focused combo.
Try essential oils for sleep apnea
Sleep apnea can have life-changing and inhibiting effects, as sufferers themselves may know well. For those who don’t have it, more people suffer from sleep apnea than you may realize. It can also be easy to overlook symptoms in yourself.
If you’re dealing with mild symptoms that could be sleep apnea, trying these essential oils and blends could safely bring you relief and help you manage symptoms at home when used correctly.
However, if you start to having severe insomnia, daytime sleepiness, memory loss, or loud snoring that wakes you and your partner or family up from sleep often, it may be time to see your doctor and explore more effective conventional options.
About Adrian White
Adrian White is a certified herbalist, organic farmer, and health, food, and agriculture freelance writer—and upcoming author. She is a past contributor to Healthline with bylines in The Guardian, Civil Eats, and Good Housekeeping. Adrian is also the co-owner and operator of Jupiter Ridge LLC, an organic farm growing diverse vegetables, mushrooms and herbs.
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