A small study, published in the British medical journal Lancet, seems to show that the fragrant oil of the lavender plant helps insomniacs sleep longer and more deeply.
The study was performed on four nursing home patients, all over the age of 65, and all afflicted by insomnia. Three of the patients, who'd been taking sleeping pills every night and had difficulty sleeping without medication, were able to sleep soundly after a few sniffs of lavender oil. The fourth reported sleeping much better, too. The study found, in fact, that the oil worked every bit as well as prescription sleeping pills.
Researcher's aren't sure why lavender oil works — larger studies are needed to support their claims, they say — but they point out that the olfactory bulb, the nose's smell-sensing nerve center, is located close to a section of the brain that controls the sleep/wake cycle. It's possible, they say, that chemicals in the oil react with receptors in the brain.