Insomnia is a huge problem these days. We struggle to sleep because of stress, because we take in so many stimulants throughout the day, because there are so much background noise and light pollution in cities, and because there are so many things that can over-stimulate us. Some people find that exercise in the evening leaves them buzzing and wide awake. Other people try to doze off by reading on their phone or tablet – but find that the light from the screen makes it harder for them to fall asleep.
So what’s the solution? Well, good sleep hygiene (avoiding coffee, spicy foods and screen time before bed) can help, but if your lifestyle isn’t conducive to that then it may be that essential oils are the answer. There are many essential oils that are soporific, meaning that they can make you sleepy – and what better way to doze off than to a pleasant scent that transports you into a more peaceful and relaxed state?
Everyone will have their own preferences when it comes to essential oils. The science behind how each oil works is not always fully understood – some act on the olfactory system, some have active ingredients that bind with CB2 receptors, some are anti-inflammatory or have mood-balancing elements. It’s a good idea to try a few different oils – one at a time – until you figure out which ones will work the best for you. Be cautious if you are taking any prescription medications, because there are some oils that interact with certain medications, either increasing or blocking their effects. Talk to your doctor before you start any new supplementation including aromatherapy treatments while on a course of prescription medications.
Eight Essential Oils That Can Help You Sleep
Lavender may be the most popular essential oil for sleep treatment because it is known to have calming effects.1 It helps to induce a more calming state in your brain and helps to reduce stress. This means that you’re in a position where your body is physiologically prepared to sleep, and mentally you are ready to sleep as well. Lavender is a great aromatherapy plant and it is sometimes used as a complementary therapy for stress. 2 However, it is important that you use it carefully, and sparingly. As an aromatherapy oil it is generally considered to be safe but there are some concerns that it may have estrogenic effects when used topically, which means that it may not be ideal for men to use.
Chamomile tea is something that is considered to be the default ‘go to sleep aid’, and with good reason. It’s soothing, calming and relaxing, and as such, it is a perfect ‘wind me down’ drink. The essential oil Roman Chamomile has been found to be effective in helping to reduce stress, and can also be used to combat mild cases of insomnia. One thing that it does not get enough credit for, however, is its ability to help reduce nightmares and night terrors.3 This is a very interesting characteristic of this fascinating oil!
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Bergamot is a citrus, and the oil comes from the peel. Bergamot essential oil is unusual for a citrus oil in that it has a calming, rather than stimulating effect. It is a good choice for people who are looking for help to find emotional balance, and it makes a good addition to any aromatherapy blend intended to help with sleep. One thing to be aware of with Bergamot, however, is that it can create photosensitivity, and this means that if you are going to apply it to the skin you should make sure that you keep that area of the skin covered when you go outside.4
Sandalwood serves as a mood-balancer, and it can be grounding and calming. It is, however, an expensive essential oil. It is in high demand, and supply is limited because the trees that sandalwood oil comes from being over-harvested. In recent years, the authorities in India clamped down on the illegal harvesting of sandalwood, and prices skyrocketed. Demand is still growing today.5 Sandalwood is prized in the world of alternative therapies, and because of this people are willing to pay premium prices for it. The traditional uses of sandalwood in Ayurvedic medicine are many and varied, with proponents of the oil saying that it can help with everything from the common cold to digestive problems. Many of these uses have not been properly tested in clinical trials, but the idea of using Sandalwood as a relaxant and as something to promote sleep is a popular one. Finally, Sandalwood as a treatment for stress is something that is research-backed.6
Cedarwood is another oil that is popular with people who appreciate a woody scent. It is an affordable oil in comparison to sandalwood, and it can help people to relax. It helps to reduce stress by stimulating the production of serotonin, and it can also elevate your mood. Cedarwood acts as a natural sedative, and because of this, cedarwood oil can help combat insomnia. The active ingredient in cedarwood oil is a terpene called cedrol. This actually has a faint aroma, but the other parts of the oil help people relax, and it is thought that cedrol’s action is not merely an olfactory response. Interestingly, cedrol’s sedative effect can even be helpful in the presence of caffeine.7
Clary Sage is an essential oil that has a lot of health benefits. It can work to improve your overall wellbeing. Clary Sage oil include terpenes called linalyl acetate and linalool as well as many other active ingredients such as alpha-terpineol and alpha-pinene. It is a natural anti-inflammatory agent, and it can help to boost your mood and relax your mind, with some studies suggesting that it is even more effective a relaxant than lavender oil.8 The pain-relieving effects are also useful. One study, conducted on women suffering from menstrual pain, found that the women using clary sage oil experienced both pain relief, and a reduced duration of pain compared to a control group.9
Valerian root is a great sedative, and it is one that is found to facilitate the sedative effects of other herbal remedies, as well as other sleep-inducing medications. Indeed, where some of the other oils in this list are useful as relaxants and will help you to doze off, valerian root oil is a strong sedative that will make you sleepy to the extent that it is not advised to take it if you are driving, operating heavy machinery, or need to be awake for other reasons. Doctors will sometimes recommend medicines made from Valerian root for people who suffer from sleep disorders, including insomnia. Unfortunately, many people find that Valerian root does not have a pleasant odor, and in fact, MONQ® has discontinued using it in their Sleepy Diffuser formula for this reason.
There has been clinical research performed on the use of valerian root, with 12,000 people have taken part in studies where the root is used for periods of up to 28 days. Medicinal amounts of valerian are considered to be safe for short-term use, but long-term safety is unknown, and while it is thought that valerian is possibly safe for children to take, more study is needed.10
Peppermint won’t make you sleepy on its own, but it will help you to sleep better once you doze off, so it is still worthy of a mention. Peppermint is anti-inflammatory and a natural decongestant, which means that people who struggle to breathe when going to bed may find it helpful.11 The invigorating aroma sometimes works to wake people up, so peppermint may or may not work for you, but many people find that using it to clear their heads, and then using something else to help them get sleepy, works far better than dosing up on over the counter decongestants and then taking stronger sleep aids.
How to Use Essential Oils to Promote Sleep
There are many different ways to use essential oils. Some people will use them by massaging the oils onto the skin, some are best taken as a drink, and some are best inhaled, or with a dab of the oil on the upper lip. A more modern method is to bring a little-heated mist into the mouth, and then exhale through the nose, allowing the active ingredients, including the various terpenes that were mentioned above, across the olfactory bulb. The Sleepy MONQ Essential Oil Diffuser is used in this fashion, for instance.
With something like peppermint, it makes sense to have a steam bath to allow you to inhale as much of the oil as possible into the sinuses. Some other oils can be used in aromatherapy candles, or in a wicking/diffuser kit. Mixing a small amount of a relaxing oil or a sedative oil into an aromatherapy base can help you to enjoy the relaxing results over the course of the night.
If you are going to use a burner or a candle, then be careful. Do not use a candle anywhere that could be dangerous if it gets knocked over. Keep it out of reach of children and pets, and also out of the way of curtains, soft furnishings and upholstery, because of the fire risk.
Sleep Better Every Night
You can get sleepy with aromatherapy and with good sleep hygiene, but you won’t be able to just sip a cup of chamomile tea and doze off automatically. If you want to truly get a great night’s sleep and feel energized then you will need to get into a good routine that you follow every evening.
Of course, if you work unusual shifts you may not be able to stick to a consistent routine, and then you will need to use other tricks to allow you to sleep well – or use one of the stronger essential oils such as valerian. For those who do have a standard 9-5 job, or who are at school or college, however, the importance of a routine should not be underestimated.
Try to go to bed at the same time every night, and try to get up at the same time every morning. Consider getting a sleep tracker that helps you to wake up naturally by monitoring your heart rate and your body temperature. These will then link into your alarm, and wake you up at a suitable time – so if you’re in light sleep 30 minutes before your alarm is due to go off, it will wake you up then, instead of waiting for the exact time that the alarm was set for. Sleep is cyclical, and you will feel better and more alert if you wake when you are in a light sleep pattern, instead of being roused unexpectedly from deep REM sleep.
And of course, try to avoid using stimulants of any sort whenever possible, and particularly in the evening or night. It doesn’t necessarily make sense to use nootropics to concentrate, caffeine to stay awake, chamomile and lavender to relax and valerian to sleep if you can simply get enough rest, eat right and stay well hydrated. Figure out what works for you when it comes to things like exercise. Some people do well getting up early and exercising then. Some people find that they are most motivated in the middle of the day. Some people find that exercising in the evenings makes them tired and ready to sleep as soon as they get home. However, do be aware that doing so may, in fact, interfere with a normal sleep pattern. You may struggle with an adrenaline dump after exercise and find that they cannot doze off, even resorting to taking melatonin.
Essential oils are known to offer a lot in terms of relaxation, stress-busting, sedative effects, mood balancing and more. Whether you use them in an aromatherapy context or get a massage to add an extra element of pampering and relaxation is up to you. The benefits are unquestionable, however, and you should quickly find that essential oils give you huge benefits.