The objective of this study is to determine the effects of 12 weeks of lavender aromatherapy on self-reported sleep and heart rate variability (HRV) in the midlife women with insomnia. Sixty-seven women aged 45-55 years, with a CPSQI (Chinese version of Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index) greater than 5, were recruited from communities in Taiwan. The experimental group (n = 34) received lavender inhalation, 20 min each time, twice per week, for 12 weeks, with a total of 24 times. The control group (n = 33) received health education program for sleep hygiene with no intervention. The study of HRV was analyzed by time- and frequency-domain methods. Significant decrease in mean heart rate (HR) and increases in SDNN (standard deviation of the normal-to-normal (NN) intervals), RMSDD (square root of the mean squared differences of successive NN intervals), and HF (high frequency) of spectral powers analysis after lavender inhalation were observed in the 4th and 12th weeks of aromatherapy. The total CPSQI score of study subjects was significantly decreased in the experimental group (P < 0.001), while no significant difference was observed across the same time period (P = 0.776) in the control group. Resting HR and HRV measurements at baseline 1 month and 3 months after allocation showed no significant difference between the experimental and control groups. The study demonstrated that lavender inhalation may have a persistent short-term effect on HRV with an increase in parasympathetic modulation. Women receiving aromatherapy experienced a significant improvement in sleep quality after intervention. However, lavender aromatherapy does not appear to confer benefit on HRV in the long-term followup.
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