You’ve probably heard that sprinkling a few drops of lavender essential oil on your pillowcase at night will help you get to sleep faster (anything to catch more z’s, right?). It’s true: Natural oils are revered for their relaxing and calming properties, but essential oils for concentration can also be extremely beneficial (although we seem to forget it at times). You see, certain oils are actually able to stimulate the brain almost immediately, resulting in better focus… and sometimes a little mood boost, too.
Chances are you’re thinking, How does this all really work? Well, the emotional hub in our brain is directly linked to the olfactory epithelium in our noses, and this tissue communicates the effects of fragrance to our mind. “Aromatherapy is used to cure a variety of maladies while boosting other bodily processes,” says Emily Feldon, a certified health coach. “In particular, essential oils can profoundly improve memory, helping to boost both your focus and your recall time.” Speaking of focus, we’ve rounded up the top five essential oils for concentration for when you just need to get things done.
A recent study found that students who worked in a room with the fragrance of rosemary essential oil in the air actually scored 5% to 7% higher on memory tests. The findings were not all that out of the ordinary, said Mark Moss, one of the researchers working on the study. He explained that the herb has been associated with memory for years and even references a line in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet: “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.”
Of note: To reap the full effects of any of these oils, either inhale the scent or rub a few drops into your wrists, palms, or scalp (avoid this particular oil if you’re pregnant or suffer from epilepsy).
Lavender is often thought of when it comes to promoting relaxation (remember what we said about putting some on your pillowcase at bedtime?). But a Japanese study actually discovered that, when inhaled during a work break, this essential oil can improve your concentration once you get back to the tasks at hand. The research specifically focused on students on their recess (some were exposed to lavender oil; others to jasmine essential oil, which didn’t have any effect).
Of note: The study points to the fact that lavender’s ability to lessen stimulation and decrease stress was likely helpful in allowing the students to take an appropriate break and refresh themselves for their next round of work.
In case you didn’t know, peppermint is actually a cross between a spearmint and water mint plant. According to a study conducted in 1991, inhaling peppermint essential oil is helpful when it comes to sustained attention tasks, those that “require observers to remain alert and to detect infrequent and unpredictable stimulus events over prolonged periods of time.” A good example of this would be if you worked in quality control—you would need to be on your A game and focusing for long periods of time. (Although let’s be honest: Many of our careers require us to be thinking on our feet most of the time.)
If you want a milder scent, opt for cyprus oil. “This evergreen scent can help to increase concentration without suffusing your entire house with the scent of licorice, à la basil essential oil and some of the other more pungent oils,” says Feldon. What’s more, it blends well with other essential oils.
Of note: A go-to concentration blend is one drop of cyprus, two drops of cedarwood, two drops of lemon, and one drop of pine.
Seriously, the punchy, fresh scent of lemon alone could wake us up. In one study, inhaling lemon essential oil helped improved participants’ ability to type—workers who inhaled this fragrance made 54% fewer errors (wow!). Another study found that using a lemon essential-oil blend in aromatherapy helped to improve cognitive function in a group of Alzheimer’s patients (they inhaled lemon and rosemary oils in the morning and lavender and orange oils at night).
Of note: Breathing in this citrus essential oil will also give you natural stress relief.
Tell us—what did you think of these essential oils for concentration? Let us know in the comments if you have any others to add to our list.