Updated: April 2, 2020
The Benefits: Plants for Sleep
Having plants in your bedroom can benefit you in several ways:
- Fragrant plants, such as jasmine, gardenia, and lavender give off a fragrance that has been shown to calm nerves and help people sleep.
- Having plants in your room can have a positive effect on your mood and health (see the Columbia University study for seasonal affective disorder). A study from Kansas State University concluded that surgical patients who had plants and flowers in their room had lower blood pressure, ratings of pain, and anxiety than patients in the control group who didn't have them.
- Some plants emit water vapor. The water vapor can help prevent the mucous membranes of the nose and throat from drying out, leaving a person more susceptible to viruses, bacteria, and allergens.
- Some plants produce negative ions, which are prevalent in waterfalls and after rainstorms. There are air purifiers that produce negative ions that attach themselves to mold spores, bacteria, viruses, and other allergens and reduce the chances of people becoming affected. Large amounts of negative ions, which is ozone, is bad for your health. The FDA requires that indoor medical devices can only produce a maximum of 50 ppb (parts per billion) of ozone, but plants emit way less than this.
- Some plants have been found to absorb toxins from the air such as benzene, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde. The science that backs this claim isn't strong and is discussed below.
There's a myth that sleeping with plants in your bedroom is bad for you. It may be a misunderstanding of how plants respirate. Many plants give off oxygen during the day and carbon dioxide at night. Some have misunderstood that plants produce carbon monoxide, which is lethal in high doses. It could also be misunderstood how much carbon dioxide that plants produce. The amount of carbon dioxide that plants emit at night is far less than a person or pet sleeping in the same bed produces, and therefore not a concern.
Removal of Toxins
Though there's a debate on how effective plants are for removing toxins from the air, as well as how much oxygen they supply to a room, we know that they serve these functions. Critics claim that the amount of oxygen added to a room by a plant is negligible, the amount of toxins they absorb is debatable.
Many articles about some plant's ability to remove toxins from the air cite a 1989 NASA experiment where NASA was trying to find ways to improve air quality for astronauts in space. The problem with this and other studies is that the experiments placed plants in small spaces that were sealed off from outside air, and that NASA used activated carbon filters in the soil, (and a small fan which is what many air purifiers use). In a normal home setting, the air in your home mixes with outside air throughout the day. Though the argument could be made that many people don't sleep with their windows open and people in the house aren't opening doors to the outside, so the air exchange is happening very little at night.
Critics of the NASA experiment and other studies with plants in enclosed spaces argue that the best way to increase indoor air quality is to let fresh air into your room (as long as you're not in a high pollution area), to have a good air purification system, and to get rid of the pollutants in your room.
Notes on Our Top Choices
If you believe that even a little air purification combined with the other benefits of having plants in your bedroom is worth it, we divided our top choices into fragrant plants and air purifiers.
The issue with the fragrant plants is that they need sunlight, which can be a problem for people who live in areas without lots of sunlight. Some of the air purifiers, though they tend to not be as colorful, don't require as might sunlight. For each plant, we list very basic care requirements.
Tips for Keeping Plants in Your Bedroom
- If you're looking for the benefit of additional oxygen, keep the plants close to your bed.
- If you or your partner have allergies to mold, be aware of it's making symptoms worse. According to Dr. Alan Redding, an allergist at Piedmont Healthcare in Georgia, houseplants can have mold in the soil, and that's not necessarily a bad thing, but if you find that you get a runny or stuffy nose or watery eyes, you may be reacting to the plant.
- Don't keep toxic plants in the house if you have young children or animals. Visit Treehugger to see the 30 plants that are harmful to pets.
- Be aware of what conditions your plants need to thrive. For example, don't purchase plants that require direct sunlight if you can't get that in your bedroom.
The Best Fragrant Plants to Help You Sleep
Jasmine is commonly found in essential oils and teas, coming from the Himalayas and Western China.
There are many studies, such as one from Wheeling Jesuit University that found that jasmine was more effective than lavender and no odor in creating higher quality sleep. Participants were measured for how long it took them to fall asleep and how much they moved. Those who breathed jasmine rated their anxiety levels lower, performed cognitive tests quicker upon awakening, and it created a higher level of awareness in the afternoon, helping students focus on studying.
According to Gardening Know How, not all jasmine flowers are fragrant. Pick a species that is, such as jasminum polyanthum. Jasmine requires direct sunlight in the spring and summer, indirect light in the winter, and only need to be watered until the soil is moist (and less after the bloom declines). Use porous soil.
It prefers cooler temperatures and can tolerate up to 4 hours per day of direct sunlight.
Gardenias are a fragrant plant from China and Japan that have also been shown to be helpful for sleep. German researchers tested hundreds of fragrances to determine their effect on GABA receptors in humans and mice. They found that chemicals in the gardenia flower could enhance the activity of the neurotransmitter GABA that helps regulate excitement in the brain, acting as strongly as some pharmaceutical sedatives.
Gardenias require bright, indirect light, for at least 4 hours per day and high humidity levels. If your bedroom isn't very humid, you'll need to spray them with water regularly.
Lavender is a beautiful plant native to the Mediterranean, Arabian Peninsula, and Russia that has a wonderful fragrance that has been shown to promote sleep. According to The Old Farmer's Almanac, Victorian Era ladies stuffed their pillows with lavender to help calm their nerves.
Lavender plants require full sun, well-drained soil, and require deep but infrequent watering when the soil is almost dry.
According to the ASPCA, lavender can be toxic to cats, dogs, and horses.
The Best Air Purifying Plants
Golden pothos is one of the plants from the NASA study. It removes toxins, mainly carbon monoxide and formaldehyde.
It's also a low maintenance plant-it can grow in low light areas. Water it only when the soil is completely dry to avoid root rot. The Flower Shop Network recommends fertilizing it once per month with a 20-20-20 fertilizer.
The only drawback of this plant is that it's poisonous if eaten, so you don't want to keep this plant at home if you have children or animals.
The snake plant is from tropical and sub-tropical regions of Africa, Asia, and Europe. The most common species in gardening is called mother-in-law's tongue, but there are around 70 species of snake plant, and it removes formaldehyde, benzene, xylene, toluene, and trichloroethylene from the air. It also converts carbon dioxide to oxygen at night.
Gardening Know How claims that if there was a prize for the most tolerant plant, this plant would be one of the top choices. It requires indirect sunlight and not a lot of water. In fact, you can not tend to it for weeks at a time and it will still look great. The main thing you have to be careful about is not to overwater it as it can destroy the roots, and you need to use a free-draining soil or soilless potting mix (which can be bought at a garden center or by combining equal parts peat moss, perlite and/or vermiculite, and sand).
The snake plant is poisonous to humans and animals.
The spider plant removes formaldehyde from the air, which is a common carcinogen found in many household products and items.
Joyous Garden says that spider plants are one of the easiest plants to take care of. They require little water, and it's best to wait until the soil is dry until you water them so the roots don't rot. Use a sold that drains well. They do better in bright light but do fine in lower-light conditions. You only need to fertilize them with an organic fertilizer in late spring and early summer.
Aloe vera is one of the oldest mentioned plants in historical records, dating back to ancient Egypt, China, and Greece. It's said that Cleopatra used it as well as Alexander the Great for healing for his soldiers.
It's famous for its many uses: healing sunburns, cuts, insect bites, minor burns; helping dry skin, reduces constipation, and it reduces blood sugar levels. But it's also an air purifier.
Good Housekeeping explains that aloe vera does best with a lot of light. Water it heavily once every 2 weeks, once the soil is dry. It's best to pot it in a terracotta pot (they dry faster than other pots) with well-drained soil, such as equal parts sand to potting soil.
Though aloe has many health benefits for humans, it can be toxic to animals. According to the Pet Poison Hotline, it's mild to moderately poisonous to cats and dogs, so don't keep it in an area where they can eat it, and be careful if you apply it to your skin and it gets in contact with the animal.
The peace lily is another plant on NASA's list of toxin removers. A native to tropical rainforests of America, it's a low-maintenance houseplant that isn't a member of the lily family but a member of the Araceae family.
Research from Japan found that the peace lily was especially effective for getting rid of toluene and xylene from the air. It also absorbs mold spores from the air into its leaves.
According to Pro Flowers, peace lilies prefer light partial shade and have been known to survive in rooms with no windows! It prefers a temperature range of 65-85 degrees, and it doesn't tolerate cold drafts well, so keep it away from vents and open doors during the winter if you're in a cold climate.
Water it when the leaves start to droop a little bit, usually once per week.
This plant needs to be kept out of the reach of children and animals as it's toxic when eaten.
The elecampane is indigenous to Europe and Asia and is similar to a daisy yet it's known for its ability to treat a cough and lung diseases such as bronchitis, COPD, and asthma. It has also been found to be effective against bacteria that are a cause of many major infections, as well as improving stomach function and for treating nausea and diarrhea. Elecampane has also been used for killing hookworm, roundworm, threadworm, and whipworm that can live in the intestine.
Elecampane prefers sun and moist but well-drained soil.
English ivy is native to Europe and Western Asia and can clean the air of mold. It's an aggressive plant and a great climber, so you have to be careful if you have it growing outside-it can climb a tree and block the tree's exposure to sunlight, making it more likely to fall.
They are easy to care for-keep the soil moist and it only requires indirect sunlight. It's not recommended to keep if you have pets or children as it's fruit is poisonous to both animals and humans.
Compare the Best Plants for Sleep
Keeping plants in your bedroom can be a helpful way to increase the quality of your sleep and reduce the amount of time it takes to get to sleep. If you're not good with plants, another option is to experiment with aromatherapy, which is very simple. You can find a high-quality essential oil and rub it on your neck or temples before bed. You can also mix the oil with water and either witch hazel or alcohol and spray your pillows and linens. Or you could follow the old Victorian method and put some dried fragrant flowers into your pillow or into a sachet that you put in your pillowcase.
Professor Hatt, from the Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf (whose study was cited above), explains that "We have discovered a new class of GABA receptor modulator which can be administered parentally and through the respiratory air. Applications in sedation, anxiety, excitement, and aggression relieving treatment and sleep induction therapy are all imaginable. The results can also be seen as evidence of a scientific basis for aromatherapy."
Keeping plants in your bedroom to help you sleep can help you. But if you have trouble getting to sleep, staying asleep, or going back to sleep once you wake up, get educated about the basics of a good sleep hygiene program and talk to a sleep specialist.