Lavender, which was used to perfume the baths and underwear of the Romans and employed for at least 1,000 years in various folk remedies, may help older people overcome insomnia, a small study suggests.
The researchers, who reported the findings in the current issue of The Lancet, a medical journal, noted that doctors often prescribed powerful hypnotic drugs for older patients with insomnia.
They said the drugs could have serious side effects.
Dr. David Stretch of the Greenwood Institute of Child Health at the University of Leicester in England and his colleagues tested whether lavender oil could replace drug treatment for insomnia in older people.
Four geriatric patients in a nurs ing home, three of whom had been on tranquilizers for one to three years and one who had received no previous medication, were tested by measuring their sleep for six weeks.
For the first two weeks, measurements were taken while the patients used their regular medication. In the next two weeks, patients were removed from medication. And in the last two weeks, the patients’ ward was perfumed with the scent of lavender by using a diffuser and lavender oil.
“To our slight surprise we found that there might be something after all to the old wives’ tales,” Stretch said.
The results suggest that although removing medication significantly reduced the number of hours spent asleep, the use of the odor of lavender returned the time spent asleep to that obtained through medication.
Patients were also found to be less restless during sleep.