What’s a Dream Pillow?

By Maria Ramos
Last Updated: August 15, 2018

Dream pillows—small, soft cloth bags filled with a blend of aromatic ingredients—are also called comfort pillows, sleep pillows or herb pillows. They are similar to sachets filled with potpourri that are traditionally placed in closets, dresser drawers, with stationery packs and even hung on doorknobs; the point is to impart a pleasing scent to the atmosphere of the enclosed space. The main difference between the typical sachet and the dream pillow is the intended use. A dream pillow, true to its name, is supposed to help induce pleasant slumber.

Pile of dream pillows in varying colors

What’s the History?

This is by no means a new innovation. Before the conveniences of modern medicine, herb pillows were more prevalent and almost a necessity. Apart from ingesting and applying folk remedies topically, the use of fragrant sachets was commonplace; particularly in Europe. Herb pillows stretched the use of gathered or cultivated herbs and were also non-invasive, primarily relying on an aroma-therapeutic effect to provide relief. There are more esoteric uses of herb pillows—to provide protection from evil, to encourage precognitive dreaming, and even to attract a lover—but for the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on sleep.

The practice dates back to the 16th century and even earlier; although some accounts detail more direct approaches, such as placing moist leaves on a person’s forehead or sprinkling dew from leaves on bed linens.

Vintage dream pillows

What’s in It?

Infants and small children were comforted and safely lulled to restful sleep with the scents of herbs like Catnip, Dill, Lavender, or Mugwort—which were encased in little pillows placed in their beds or sometimes even sewn into their toys. The herbs mentioned are just examples, though. Formulations have varied throughout the ages. An early 17th century formula for the contents of a sleep pillow included dry Rose leaves with powders of Mint and Clove. In the 19th century, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and George III of Great Britain both used a “Pulvinar Humuli”—or a Hops-filled sachet—as a sleep pillow.

In general, dream pillows contain one or a combination of fragrant, relaxing and sedative herbs; usual ingredients are Chamomile, Hops, Skullcap, Valerian, and more. Various herbs from the mint family are also frequently included; such as Peppermint or Lemon Balm—and of course, the most common by far, Lavender. An enduring contemporary variation of the dream pillow is one containing Lavender or a blend including it; due to the popularity of the herb as a medicinal aromatic and its pleasant fragrance.

A pair of dream pillows with lavender

Homemade dream pillows, once they lose their fragrance, are typically simply opened up to replace their contents—which is why a popular form of the dream pillow is the sachet with a drawstring. You can also use essential oils, but note that the herbs should be completely dry before the pillow is sealed up, in order to avoid possible rotting of the plant material. If you’re wondering why homemade pillows seem to lose potency faster than commercially available ones: Some dream pillow makers use herbal fixatives—such as Orris Root or Benzoin—as an adaptation the practice of old, which was to use animal fixatives like Ambergris to prolong the fragrance of the herbs within.

How Do You Use It?

Today, dream pillows are used not only to induce and enhance sleep, but also to encourage dreams and help you remember those dreams after you wake. Consistent use of dream pillows also allows you a measure of comfort whenever you travel or have to sleep in different places, like airplanes or hotels or even hospitals. A familiar scent helps when you’re in an unfamiliar situation.

To use a dream pillow, simply place it inside your favorite pillow—if it’s the flat kind—or anywhere near your head. The idea is for you to be able to take in the scent as you drift off and while you are sleeping.

An assortment of dream pillows

How Do You Make One?

The idea is simple. The execution can be as detailed and elegant as you want, but as long as it is functional, what a dream pillow looks like is not important.

First, the pillowcase. If you can sew, you can use leftover scraps of fabric or parts of old blankets, scarves, or clothes—preferably cotton or another natural, breathable material—to create a small pillowcase or pouch that can be sealed. For easy access to the contents, you can tie it shut with twine or yarn. You can also just buy a small pillow or pouch with a drawstring or an easy to use zipper.

Create your own blend of sleep inducing botanicals; you can easily look up formulas online, make one of your own, or even start with just one herb like Lavender or Hops. To add a personal touch, you can even include ingredients that are not necessarily soporific, but may evoke calming nostalgia; like Rosemary, Cedar or even a spice like Cinnamon. Prepare a mesh bag that fits into your dream pillow and fill it modestly with your herb mixture. Don’t put too much, as the ingredients need room to breathe! If you are making a dream pillow to be slipped into your normal pillowcase, consider the fact that it also needs to be as thin and flat as possible while still retaining a scent.

All that’s left after fitting the mesh bag into the dream pillow is to seal it up. Once this is done, place the result in or near your normal pillow for sleeping, and enjoy a good night’s rest. Sweet dreams!