5 Ways To Use Essential Oils For Better Sleep
Research shows that we spend up to one-third of our lives sleeping. In fact, sleep is a basic human need, much like eating and drinking, and is crucial to our overall health and well-being. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t getting the sleep that we require and it’s affecting our health in the process.
BENEFITS OF SLEEP
The good news is that we’ve seen major scientific advances in understanding the relationship between sleep and mental health in the last 10 years. Dr. Phyllis C Zee, Chief of Sleep Medicine in the Department of Neurology at Northwestern School of Medicine discovered that “sleep enhances the ability to remove waste products from the brain—which can harm brain function.” And Dr. Parrino, an Associate Professor of Neurology at Parma University, Italy learned that “extending our sleep period improves our mental and body performances during the day and enhances our dreaming experience, as REM stages are mostly concentrated in the final portion of sleep, which is often curtailed by the urging rules of modern life.”
QUALITY OVER QUANTITY
We know that getting enough sleep helps us function in our everyday life. It reduces the risk of work-related and driving accidents, helps with the secretion of melatonin and protects our natural circadian clock, which can prevent premature aging.
But recent studies suggest that sleep quality rather than quantity has a greater impact on the quality of our life and how well we function during the day. In fact, it’s poor quality sleep that has a greater negative impact on health, well-being, and satisfaction with life.
So, how can we be sure that we’re getting good sleep?
There are generally three elements that constitute good quality sleep:
Duration: the length of sleep should be enough to be rested and alert the following day.
Continuity: Sleep periods should be seamless without fragmentation.
Depth: Sleep should be deep enough to be restorative.
THE ROLE OF OUR SENSE OF SMELL
In aromatherapy, we’re always looking for ways to support good quality sleep, and our sense of smell can be a great ally. So, you should understand that there’s a good and a bad time to utilize this wonderful sense.
The truth is that your sense of smell is not a reliable source for keeping you asleep at night. In fact, science has shown us that the most helpful sense during our time of sleep is our sense of hearing. It was a 2004 study conducted by Brown University which discovered that while sound can disrupt sleep, scents cannot. People cannot rely on their sense of smell to awaken them to the danger of fire.
So, what does that mean for aromatherapeutic support?
Well, another interesting study, also conducted by Brown University researchers, found that a person’s ability to smell may vary throughout the day based on their circadian rhythm. They found that, on average, the peak of smell sensitivity was at the beginning of our “biological night”, or about 9 p.m.
Researcher, Dr. Rachel Herz speculates that this could be for evolutionary reasons. It might be to ensure the greatest sense of satiety during the important end of day meal, it might be a way of increasing mating desire, or maybe it’s a way of scanning for nearby threats before bedding down for the night.
SUPPORT BEFORE SLEEP, NOT DURING
Since we’ve learned that our peak smell sensitivity is right before we go to sleep and not during sleep, it’s a wonderful time to most effectively integrate essential oils into your nighttime routine.
Here are 5 ways you can incorporate essential oils to support higher quality sleep:
Indulge in a massage - about one hour before bed, massage sore areas like your neck and shoulders, as well as sore legs and feet. The massage will help to regulate your body temperature, improve your circulation, relieve anxiety, and ease muscle tension.
Try this: use a carrier oil such as jojoba wax (my favorite and used by massage therapists), vegetable oil or olive oil and mix in a 2% blend of warming essential oils such as Ginger (Zingiber officinale), Black Pepper (Piper nigrum), and Juniper Berry (Juniperus communis). The oils provide movement and help release tension in fatigued muscles.
End of Day Journaling - often the source of our inability to sleep is the amount of “noise” we have in our head from the day. One way to help release the tension in the mind is to “download” the information that’s clogging our brain. Journaling can be a great way to release a myriad of thoughts and help transfer them to paper.
I recommend “free-thinking” journaling, meaning write in free form, just letting the thoughts flow onto the page. Here an essential oil blend can be a great companion, with the aroma helping to focus the mind and encouraging thoughts to flow more easily onto the page.
Ask yourself: what were my 5 favorite parts of the day and then write down anything that did not go as you had hoped that day. For the challenges, write down an alternative ending. This helps visualize a different outcome and calms the mind.
Try this: put a drop of essential oil on a cotton ball, or use a diffuser, and place it near you as you write. I recommend focusing and calming essential oils such as Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ct camphor), Frankincense (Boswellia carterii) or Australian Sandalwood (Santalum album) at the end of the day to help you relax and open the mind.
3. Diffuse a blend of essential oils in the bedroom - winding down after a long day is vital to helping you fall asleep. Essential oils can play a supportive role in creating a calming environment for you to fall asleep.
Try this: 15 minutes before going to sleep, prepare the bedroom by diffusing your favorite calming essential oil blend such as Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia), Sweet Orange (Citrus sinensis) and Cedarwood (Juniperus virginiana). Leave the room and close the door behind you. Now simply allow the scent to fill the space. When you’re ready to go to bed, turn off the diffuser and you’ll have a sleep sanctuary in which to fall asleep.
4. Make a warm foot bath while you read a book or watch TV - it might seem like I would recommend that you take a soak in the tub, but, in fact, Japanese researchers have found that you don’t have to dip all of you in the hot water, to get the benefits of a bath. Just dipping your knees and toes in hot water has the same effect. Read the study here.
Try this: essential oils can be a great aid in helping to soothe muscles, including feet. Consider a blend of essential oils that provide relief for sore muscles such as Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia), German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) and Frankincense (Boswellia carterii). However, remember to add a dispersant to the essential oil blend, as oil and water don’t mix and the oils can cause skin irritation.
5. Meditate - 10 minutes before you go to bed, take the opportunity to sit quietly with no distractions. Meditating is a wonderful way to focus the mind, to bring more clarity and emotional calm. While simply closing your eyes and focusing on the body is a wonderful way to practice mindfulness, an alternative approach can be using scent as your guide.
Try this: find a quiet place to sit. Place a drop of your favorite scent (essential oil, perfume, spice, herb, etc.) in front of you. Now close your eyes and focus on the scent. Notice how it evolves over time. Track in your mind how it comes in and goes out of your awareness. Try connecting it to something familiar, a joyful experience you had. Feel that in your body. Continue “listening” to the scent for 5 minutes.
You can also read about how to reduce stress through mindful aromatherapy here.
Sleep is critical to our health and well-being, and incorporating essential oils can be an excellent way to assist you in a good night’s sleep.