Need tips for using aromatherapy for stress? Lavender essential oil reduced stress and improved sleep among patients in ICU, according to research.Aromatherapy with lavender essential oil reduced stress and improved sleep among patients in an intensive care unit (ICU), according to recent research.

The study, “The effects of aromatherapy on intensive care unit patients’ stress and sleep quality: a nonrandomized controlled trial,” involved 60 lucid patients admitted to the ICU of a university hospital through the hospital’s emergency room. Half the patients received aromatherapy and served as the experimental group, whereas the other half received no aromatherapy and served as the control group.

Subjects admitted to the ICU between July and August 2016 were assigned to the control group and received standard care only. Subjects admitted to the ICU between September and October 2016 were assigned to the experimental group and, in addition to standard care, received aromatherapy on two consecutive evenings.

The first aromatherapy session took place at 9 p.m. on the subject’s first night in the ICU, and the second aromatherapy session took place at 9 p.m. on the subject’s second night in the ICU. During each of these sessions, three drops of lavender essential oil were applied to an aromastone and subjects were instructed to inhale deeply 10 times. The aromastone was then hung nearby on the bedrail and the subject went to sleep.

The main outcome measures in this study were stress and sleep quality. Perceived stress was measured on a numeric rating scale, and objective stress was measured on the stress index, which is an assessment of stress based on heart rate variability. Blood pressure and heart rate measurements were used to assess stress as well. To measure sleep quality, the researchers used the Verran and Snyder-Halpern Sleep Scale.

The above outcome measures were evaluated twice before any intervention took place—once within an hour of being admitted to the ICU and again at 8 p.m. the same day. The evaluations took place again at 8 a.m. the next two mornings, after subjects in the experimental group had received the evening aromatherapy sessions.

Results of the research showed a significant improvement in perceived stress, objective stress, blood pressure, heart rate and sleep quality among subjects who received aromatherapy as compared to those who received standard care alone.

“The results revealed that aromatherapy alleviated stress and improved sleep quality in intensive care unit patients after two days of the experimental treatment,” state the study’s authors. “These results demonstrate that aromatherapy affects stress and sleep quality, thus indicating its value in nursing interventions.”


Authors: Eun Hee Cho, Mi-Young Lee and Myung-Haeng Hur.


Sources: College of Nursing, Eulji University, Daejeon, Korea. Originally published online in December 2017 in Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.