A good night's sleep is one of the most important components of a healthy mind and body. If you've changed your bedtime routine and sleep environment to improve your sleep quality but still find yourself struggling with insomnia, experimenting with essential oils may help you get the recuperative sleep your body needs.
What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are concentrated liquids containing the aromatic compounds that give certain plants their characteristic scent. These oils are extracted from the plants through distillation, expression, cold pressing, and other methods so that they can be used in foods, cosmetics, household products, and therapeutically.
How Do Essential Oils Benefit Sleep?
When molecules of essential oils are inhaled or absorbed through the skin, they can affect the nervous system and various body functions by triggering the release of hormones and other chemicals. When used in combination with good sleep hygiene habits, such as maintaining a regular sleep/wake schedule and avoiding electronics before bedtime, the right essential oils can help soothe your mind and body for a more restful and recuperative night's sleep.
What Are the Best Essential Oils for Sleep?
Finding the right essential oil to help you sleep may take a little trial and error, but here are a few of our favorites:
- Lavender – Various scientific studies show that lavender reduces anxiety, stabilizes mood, promotes relaxation, and slows nervous system activity, which can improve sleep quality.
- Vetiver – Known to relieve stress and nervousness that can lead to insomnia, vetiver also helps ease muscle and joint pain that can keep you awake at night. Note that it has a rather strong, earthy smell that may take some getting used to.
- Ylang Ylang – Derived from the flower of a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia, ylang ylang has a sweet floral aroma that calms the nervous system and lowers the heart rate and blood pressure.
- Cedarwood – Featuring a woody scent reminiscent of grandmother's cedar chest, cedarwood's familiar smell can help calm the brain and make you feel more grounded after a long and hectic day.
- Bergamot – Derived from the peel of a fruit, bergamot has a refreshing and calming citrus scent that can help balance runaway emotions that may prevent you from getting a good night's sleep.
And here's what Dr Axe has to say about essential oils for sleep…
Best Practices for Using Essential Oils for Sleep
While using essential oils isn't necessarily complicated, there are important guidelines to follow to avoid allergic reactions and other potential complications:
- Consult your medical practitioner – First, make sure to speak with your medical provider before using any type of essential oil. While safe for healthy adults when used correctly, essential oils are extremely potent and may be contraindicated for those with chronic health conditions, pregnant or nursing women, and individuals who take certain medications.
- Look for the highest quality essential oils possible – Lower quality brands often contain fillers and contaminants that can affect the oil's properties as well as its safety for certain applications.
- Start conservatively – Until you're aware of how you'll react to certain essential oils, it's best to start with small, diluted amounts. If you experience any type of reaction, such as a rash, upset stomach, or trouble breathing, make sure to stop using the oil and consult a medical professional as soon as possible.
“Synthetic or inorganic substances do not contain any ‘life force'; they are not dynamic. Everything is made of chemicals, but organic substances like essential oils have a structure which only mother nature can put together. They have a life force, an additional impulse which can only be found in living things.” — Robert Tisserand
3 Ways to Use Essential Oils for Sleep
Essential oils for sleep are typically used aromatically, topically, or internally. Keep in mind that certain application methods may not be appropriate for all oils. It's also important to follow the manufacturer's guidelines for recommended uses.
Our olfactory senses are closely related to the brain's limbic system, which is why a particular scent can instantly conjure up memories of a certain person or place. Aromatic uses of essential oils are particularly effective for the same reason. The following are a few ways to use essential oils aromatically:
- Place the oil in a diffuser that uses ultrasonic vibrations or cool air to disperse the oil molecules into the air.
- Inhale the oil directly from the bottle or by applying it to a cloth, pillowcase, or cotton ball.
- Place a few drops of oil in a pot of hot water or a cool air humidifier.
- Add the oil to distilled water or alcohol to use as a perfume or cologne.
Many essential oils can be applied directly to the skin but it's best to exercise caution and perform a patch test before applying it to a large area, especially if your skin is particularly sensitive. Most oils carry a label advising how best to use them:
- A designation of “neat” means that the oil is generally safe to apply to your skin without dilution.
- A designation of “sensitive” means that the elderly, children and anyone with sensitive skin should dilute the oil before application.
- A designation of “dilute” means that the oil is extremely potent and can cause irritation to virtually any skin type if used undiluted.
It's a good idea for the elderly, children, and pregnant or nursing women to avoid using these oils topically without talking to a health care provider first.
Popular topical applications for essential oils include massages; reflex points on the feet, hands, and ears; and in baths and personal care products.
Certain essential oils can be taken internally by adding them to foods, beverages or in capsules. This method carries the highest risk of adverse reactions and isn't appropriate for all individuals or oil types, so be sure to consult your health care provider and do plenty of research.
Remember that patience is key when learning how to use essential oils for sleep. The same oil may elicit different responses in different people. If you find a particular oil overpowering, try changing the amount, using it in a different way, or combining it with another scent to make it work for you!