What to Know About Essential Oils for Sleep Apnea

Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on July 17, 2023
4 min read

Sleep is an essential part of life. Our bodies repair and regenerate when we sleep. Problems with sleep can affect your quality of life and leave you feeling tired and irritable throughout the day. ‌

If you’re constantly sleep deprived, the consequences can be worse. A regular lack of sleep can affect your overall health and cause you to develop medical issues like heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. 

Sleep apnea is a condition that makes you wake up multiple times throughout the night. With this condition, you wake up more than once or twice. You can have 30 sleep disturbances or more in an hour. ‌

These sleep disturbances are caused by pauses in your breathing. The pauses can last anywhere from 10 seconds to around one minute. When your brain realizes you’re not getting enough oxygen, it wakes you from your sleep enough for you to breathe again. The cycle then repeats itself. ‌

If you have sleep apnea, you could sleep for the recommended eight hours per night and still wake up feeling unrested. Sleep apnea can be caused by different factors like your individual anatomy, genetics, cigarette smoking, and obesity.‌

There are three types of sleep apnea:

  1. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This is the most common type. It happens when a blockage in your throat prevents air from entering your lungs.   
  2. Central sleep apnea (CSA). CSA is caused by a lack of signaling from your brain to your body. Your brain controls your breathing (respiratory) muscles while you sleep. When there is a problem with that signal, it can lead to you not getting enough oxygen.
  3. Complex sleep apnea. This is a combination of both types of sleep apnea, also known as mixed sleep apnea. 

It’s common for people to have sleep apnea without knowing. You might not be aware of it unless someone close to you tells you of your sleep characteristics or you have sleep testing at a clinic. ‌

There are some signs to look for that signal sleep apnea, including: ‌

  • Interrupted breathing throughout the night, or long periods without taking a breath 
  • Loud and excessive snoring (in obstructive sleep apnea)
  • Headaches in the morning
  • Fatigue during the day
  • Problems focusing or having a limited attention span‌

If you suspect you might have sleep apnea you should speak to a doctor. 

Sleep apnea affects up to 9% of adults in the U.S. Due to its nature, however, many cases go undiagnosed. It’s known to affect more men than women.‌

Sleep apnea can lead to serious health problems if left untreated. Some of those issues can include: ‌

  • Stroke 
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic seizures (epilepsy
  • Irregular heart rhythm 
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart attack 
  • Heart disease 

When you have sleep apnea, it’s important to treat the underlying cause. The most common treatment for sleep apnea is to sleep with a machine. It forces oxygen into your lungs with a portable machine.

It has a comfortable face mask that you wear throughout the night. The face mask can be fitted so that it holds your jaw or tongue in a certain position. This makes sure it helps you breathe. The machines are called continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or bi-level positive airway pressure machines (BiPAP).‌ There is also an implantable device called Inspire which is an upper airway stimulation system that consists of a small impulse generator.

In recent years, essential oils have become popular as a natural remedy for sleep issues including sleep apnea. There is limited research on the topic, but so far several findings show that aromatherapy through essential oils could help you get a better night’s sleep. ‌

Essential oils are pressed from aromatic plants. They’ve been shown to promote sleep in several groups of people with different health circumstances. They work by promoting the production of two chemicals in the brain: endorphins and serotonin. ‌

Serotonin can help produce melatonin in the brain. Melatonin signals to the brain that it’s time to sleep. Endorphins promote relaxation and sleep. ‌

There’s a range of essential oils available on the market today, but only a few have been shown to improve sleep quality. ‌

Peppermint oil. A small study showed that peppermint oil can help people with sleep apnea get more restful sleep and lessen sleep disturbances. Peppermint oil can also help improve the way your brain functions and improve your mood. ‌

Lavender oil. Lavender oil has a positive effect on sleep. Study participants who used it before bed reported a more restful sleep and fewer disturbances during the night. ‌

Eucalyptus oil. Eucalyptus oil has been shown to reduce mucus in your sinuses and airways, which could help you to breathe easier while sleeping. 

One study also showed that when using an essential oil spray or gargle, participants' bed partners reported one symptom of sleep apnea — snoring — decreased. 

Essential oils are usually applied topically to the skin or inhaled. You can use a diffuser to distribute the essential oils in the air.‌

Alternatively, you can apply drops of oil to a hot towel. Place it over your nose for a few minutes as you breathe in.‌

If you choose to apply the oil topically, keep in mind pure essential oils could be harsh on your skin. Add a few drops to another oil — such as almond or coconut oil. This is known as a carrier oil. Apply the mixture to your skin. ‌

Don’t eat or ingest essential oil without a doctor’s recommendation.