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Sniffing Lavender Helps Sleep, Study Suggests

September 8, 1995 GMT

LONDON (AP) _ The sweet smell of lavender oil helped four elderly insomniacs fall asleep quicker and sleep longer, and worked just as well as sleeping pills, a researcher said.

Three of the four nursing home residents, all over the age of 65, had been taking sedatives but were able to stop after sniffing lavender, said Dr. David Stretch, a researcher at the University of Leicester.

``On this limited, preliminary study, we got evidence to say there might be an effect,″ said Stretch, adding that a large trial would be necessary to verify the findings.

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His report is published in a letter in this week’s edition of The Lancet, a British medical journal.

``The results are very intriguing and very consistent with what we and others have found,″ said Dr. Alan Hirsch, director of the Smell and Taste Research Center in Chicago.

Hirsch suspects lavender may have an even more powerful effect on young insomniacs because people tend to lose their sense of smell with age.

The three participants who had been taking sleeping pills every night, stopped taking them two weeks prior to the study.

They had trouble sleeping without any treatment. But the aroma of lavender, investigators found, worked just as well as sleeping pills.

The other subject, who was not taking sedatives, slept much better with lavender.

Hirsch said the olfactory bulb, the nose’s nerve center, lies close to the brain’s reticular activating system, which controls the sleep-wake cycle.

He speculated that chemicals in the lavender oil flowed through the nose into the brain, somehow altering the biology of the sleep center.

Stretch said he did not know whether the lavender oil worked like a drug, altering brain chemistry, or whether its effect was simply as a placebo.

``Smells are very difficult to study in the sense of being able to say whether anything is pharmacological or psychological,″ said Stretch.