Benefits of Bitter Orange Essential Oil for Anxiety and Sleep

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Obtaining much power from its peel or citrus rind, bitter orange is an important essential oil that can help combat anxiety and sleep difficulties in various groups, such as heart patients and postmenopausal women

Essential oils have been known since time immemorial for their wealth of health and therapeutic uses. Among their broad applications are tackling anxiety and sleep problems plaguing modern humans -- issues that are often rooted in a barrage of diet, lifestyle and stress-related factors.

Bitter orange (Citrus aurantium) essential oil is popular for its ability to address anxiety and sleep difficulties. Essential oils from the dried peel of unripe bitter orange fruits flavor drinks and liquors, as well as garner interest in the food industry for their antimicrobial activity.[i]

The plant part typically used is the peel or citrus rind, while the essential oil is usually extracted by means of cold pressing.[ii] The essential oil has a yellowish orange to greenish orange hue, a thin consistency and smells like a cross between sweet orange oil's sweetness and grapefruit oil's slight bitterness.

This essential oil is useful for a range of conditions, including colds, constipation, flatulence, dull skin, mouth and gum health, flu and slow digestion. In combating stress and the consequent anxiety and sleep effects, here are a few wonderful ways to maximize this gift from nature.

Bitter Orange and Anxiety

A study found inhaling the essential oil is effective in reducing anxiety and stress levels in patients undergoing coronary angiography.[iii]

In a single-blind, randomized controlled trial in 80 subjects in Iran, the patients were randomly divided into two groups: a group that inhaled bitter orange essential oil for 15 to 20 minutes about an hour before angiography and a control group that inhaled distilled water. Their Spielbergers State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) results and vital signs were recorded before and 20 minutes after the intervention.

The anxiety scores and vital signs of the essential oil group -- including blood pressure and pulse rate -- significantly decreased while the control group showed no significant change in both areas.

In a 2015 trial, researchers tested bitter orange alongside lavender in resolving anxiety in postmenopausal women.[iv] Bitter orange significantly reduced anxiety scores of postmenopausal subjects compared with the control group, with no significant difference in performance from the lavender group.

Bitter orange also offered the same benefit and an anxiolytic effect to patients with chronic myeloid leukemia, who had reduced signs and symptoms linked to anxiety.[v]

Bitter Orange and Sleep

A similar trial in 2015 compared the effects of lavender and bitter orange on sleep quality among postmenopausal women.[vi] The first group received 500 milligram (mg) capsules of bitter orange or lavender flower powder, while the second group had 500 mg capsules of starch.

Using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Inventory, the study found that bitter orange and lavender significantly improved the mean sleep score of the first group compared with the second one. The results suggested that both can be used for enhancing sleep quality in that cohort of women.

C. aurantium essential oil's flexible uses include the following:

  • Potential healing of the gastric mucosa[vii]
  • Management of pain and inflammation[viii]
  • Antimicrobial and antioxidant properties, serving as a sound ingredient source for food and medicine[ix]
  • Reduced fatigue, such as in hemodialysis patients[x]
  • Improved symptoms of premenstrual syndrome[xi]

Safety Value

Assessments of bitter orange over the years vouch for the overall safety of the extract, both in food and dietary supplements at commonly used doses.[xii] Reviewing the potential dangers of bitter orange extract, a study concluded:

"The data indicate that based on current knowledge, the use of bitter orange extract and p-synephrine appears to be exceedingly safe with no serious adverse effects being directly attributable to these ingredients."[xiii]

While essential oils can be greatly beneficial to your health, it is always best to be cautious. Always dilute them properly, diffuse them regularly and consume them only under the guidance of a knowledgeable holistic health care practitioner.

If you're looking for a natural, cost-effective way to solve your anxiety and sleep problems, then essential oils are worth exploring for their potential to be part of your arsenal of healing tools. The database is a good place to start with 287 abstracts of essential oils research.


[ii] Julia Lawless, The Encyclopedia of Essential Oils (Updated Edition) (London: Harper Thorsons, 2014), 151-152.

[v] Fernandes Pimenta F et al "Anxiolytic Effect of Citrus aurantium L. on Patients with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia" Phytother Res. 2016 Apr ;30(4):613-7. Epub 2016 Jan 20.

[ix] Hsouna A et al "Characterization of essential oil from Citrus aurantium L. flowers: antimicrobial and antioxidant activities" J Oleo Sci. 2013 ;62(10):763-72.

[xiii] Stohs S et al "The safety of Citrus aurantium (bitter orange) and its primary protoalkaloid p-synephrine" Phytother Res. 2011 Oct;25(10):1421-8. Epub 2011 Apr 8.

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