Having good sleep hygiene is essential in our always-on, tech-obsessed, Netflix-bingeing-in-bed, night owl society. But even if you follow the recommended bedtime “rules,” getting a restful night’s sleep can still be elusive. Instead of turning to pills and potions, give a little indoor nature therapy a try: Numerous plants are experts at improving air quality and encouraging relaxation—with certain varieties even eliminating toxins, emitting oxygen, and absorbing carbon dioxide and fumes.
Erin Marino of iconic NYC-based online plant shop The Sill explains, “In addition to emitting oxygen and humidity, plants produce negative ions, similar to the way many air-purifiers do. The negative ions attach themselves to and effectively remove any particles in the air such as dust, mold spores, bacteria, and allergens. And the presence of negative ions has also been shown to increase psychological health, productivity, and overall well-being.”
Plus, having some green around will naturally perk you up: For city dwellers, a bedside plant may be your only connection to nature. Read on for the best indoor plants to help you make the most of your sleeping hours—as well as tips on the plants you should most definitely avoid.
“These gorgeous leafy plants are particularly effective at absorbing formaldehyde,” says Marino. The philodendron boasts a satin-like finish on its leaves and a wide, almost majestic reach, which will make a statement in your bedroom—but at only a max of eight inches tall, it’s still apartment-friendly. The leaves come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with the brazil and silver options being two of our favorites.
An abundance of burgundy leaves make the common rubber tree quite the stunner, and super low-maintenance to boot. It’s a great toxin remover, according to Marino—purifying the air, making sure it’s ideal for a good night’s sleep. All you need to do is water it weekly and make sure it gets some light on a daily basis, and you’ll have an amazing sleep buddy that’ll help you rest easy.
Known for its calming and soothing properties, lavender is a go-to ingredient in aromatherapeutic oils, scented candles, and body care products. Go for the real deal, and usher in a dreamy sleep by keeping a plant bedside—just make sure this sun-thirsty plant gets plenty of light. There are numerous lavender varieties, but French lavender has a reputation for being one of the easier varieties to grow indoors. Imagining yourself frolicking in a field in Provence will also help lull you to sleep.
Snake Plant (aka Mother-in-Law’s Tongue)
While few of us actually want our mother-in-law (or her tongue) anywhere near our bedroom, this amusingly nicknamed plant is a welcome addition. In addition to filtering habitual toxic offenders (like formaldehyde), the snake plant releases oxygen at night while simultaneously taking in carbon dioxide.
The transporting fragrance of jasmine is exotic and heady yet cozy at the same time. The scent can be on the strong side for some, so consider putting this visually beautiful climber at least a few feet away from your bed. The flowers themselves bloom over the course of weeks, lending a steady scent that also has been shown to reduce anxiety levels.
Included in the cactus family because of its ability to store water, the “Christmas” variety is much more whimsical and colorful than the spiny, needle-covered desert versions that typically come to mind. In addition to producing lovely flowers in December, Christmas cacti are excellent air purifiers—just make sure you strike the right hydration balance.
Aloe vera is a great, easy-to-maintain plant for brown thumbs, and it serves numerous purposes. In addition to purifying the air and releasing oxygen, this succulent is useful if you forget to moisturize or burn yourself. Simply snap off the end of an “arm,” and rub the gel to soothe the spot and help it heal.
Fragrant yet not overpowering, gardenias are a scented, flowering sleep aid. Novice gardeners should know that they can be divas, requiring a careful balance of light and humidity. Gardenias should also be kept away from drafts and direct sources of hot air (so don’t set it on the radiator right below your window). The payoff for these high-maintenance beauties could be better z’s: An organic compound found in gardenias has historically been used in traditional medicine and has been found to promote sleep and to reduce anxiety in more recent studies.
Although they are not the most showy of indoor plants, what spider plants lack in glam, they make up for in pollutant-fighting abilities. This humble greenery ranked best at removing formaldehyde from the air by a NASA study. Spider plants are also pros at absorbing odors.
Like the spider plant, English ivy was named a top air cleanser for chemicals, and it also makes quick work of airborne mold. Since the sniffling, sneezing, eye-irritating effects of allergies and asthma can have a big impact on sleep, this plant is a no-brainer and poetic-looking addition to your bedroom. Just keep it away from dogs, cats, and kids.
Although the red-edged dracaena’s roots are in Africa, you can find it at many local garden stores throughout the U.S. It’s hardy, adds an unexpected dash of red, and is efficient at removing grossness like formaldehyde and VOCs. Red-edged dracaena can grow up to 15 feet, so be sure to leave it ample space to stretch and suck up all those pollutants.
Want a low-maintenance plant that doesn’t need a ton of watering or sunlight? The Peace lily could be your girl. Peace lilies were another high ranker in NASA’s study—they remove toxins like benzene and formaldehyde from the environment. These perennials also release small amounts of moisture while removing airborne microbes so your sleep isn’t disturbed by certain allergens. Keep the Peace lily away from kids and pets, and take notice when her flowers droop and get her a drink, and you’ll have a happy bedroom addition for years.
Plants to Avoid: Oleander, Dumb Cane, Caladium
Oleander (pictured above) is a flowering shrub that grows well indoors, but it tops the list of poisonous plants; all parts of oleander (including its sap) can be fatal if ingested. If you are living without kids or pets, this pretty plant can be used decoratively, but we’d keep it out of the bedroom: No one needs to worry about bumping into it in the middle of the night. Caladium is another plant to steer clear of in the bedroom, especially if you have little humans or animals around. Along with being poisonous, it could provoke a reaction in those with sensitive skin.
Finally, although chewing the leaves of a Dumb Cane sounds less than appealing to most of us, it’s another plant we won’t be picking up at the garden store. Symptoms of Dumb Cane poisoning include burning mouth or throat and damage to the cornea. While claims of its toxicity may be dramatized, there are simply too many other, less poisonous plants around for us to lay awake at night worrying about exposure.
This post was originally published on April 5, 2017. It has been updated with new information.