Do you find it hard to get to sleep, even when you’re really tired? Do you lie awake tossing and turning, ruminating on the events of the day? Research shows that 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep. If you’re among them, it may be time to consider trying a natural, drug-free remedy – essential oils for sleep.
What are essential oils?
Plants contain oils, and many of these substances have healing properties. An essential oil is a highly concentrated plant extract that can be used as a medicine. They are extracted from the plant through mechanical pressing or via distillation.
Each essential oil has its own unique chemical structure, smell, rate of absorption, and set of medicinal purposes. You need a lot of plant matter to make a relatively small amount of oil. For example, it takes 220lbs of lavender flowers to create 1lb of lavender essential oil.
These oils are used as the basis of aromatherapy. This is a complementary treatment that alleviates physical and psychological discomfort via the inhalation or application of essential oils. People have been using aromatherapy for at least 6,000 years.
How do people use essential oils?
Essential oils can be used via aromatic, topical, and internal application methods. Aromatic application consists of releasing the oil molecules into the air without making contact with the skin. For example, you can spray diluted oils around a room or add a few drops to laundry.
Topical application entails placing essential oils on the skin. They can be combined with body lotions, placed on cloths to make compresses, or added to a bath.
Essential oils can be purchased in pure or diluted forms. You should never apply an undiluted essential oil directly to your skin, as this may cause a chemical burns and sensitivity to sunlight. Oils must be mixed with a carrier oil. Most people use olive, almond, or coconut oils.
The right concentration for topical application depends on the client and the type of treatment. Mixing 3 drops of pure essential oil with a teaspoon of carrier oil produces a 1% solution. This is suitable for daily or whole-body use in adults. For treating small areas, a 5% concentration is considered safe.
Finally, essential oils can also be ingested. This is known as “internal application.” For example, you can add essential oils to dishes and hot drinks or take them as supplements. Because they are highly soluble, the molecules are quickly transported around the body.
Many high-profile aromatherapy organizations state that you should not ingest any essential oil without supervision. This means asking a doctor or qualified aromatherapist for guidance. For example, the Alliance of International Aromatherapists does not endorse “internal therapeutic use” unless recommended by a trained health practitioner.
How essential oils can help you get a good night’s sleep
According to Medical News Today, aromatherapy has been shown to work well in cases of anxiety, depression, agitation, and insomnia. A study carried out by Taiwanese researchers showed that lavender-based aromatherapy improves sleep quality when given in twice-weekly 20-minute sessions.
Most people find the scent of lavender to be soothing. In one study, hospital patients reported better sleep when 3ml of 100% lavender oil was placed beside their beds. Lavender is highly versatile, making it the most commonly-used oil in aromatherapy. It quickly soothes an overactive mind.
This oil has a relaxing effect and can also soothe the symptoms of allergies. If you find it hard to sleep because your nose is blocked, this may be the oil for you. It is a good choice for people who suffer mood swings alongside insomnia. Finally, geranium can also regulate periods and alleviate menstrual cramps.
Not only does ylang-ylang have a sedative effect, but it will also fill your room with a lovely floral scent. Under professional guidance you can use a couple of drops in food and drink to enhance the flavor. It also improves the appearance of the hair and skin.
In a 2016 study of aromatherapy treatment in cancer patients, 64% of participants reported that frankincense improved their sleep. It helps keep the body’s temperature stable, promoting deep and restful sleep. Some aromatherapists recommend that their clients place two drops of diluted oil under the tongue.
Marjoram’s earthy, herbal scent is renowned for inducing drowsiness and promoting deep sleep. It works by regulating the nervous system, inducing a sense of calm. Marjoram is also a popular cooking ingredient and can be used in both dried and oil form.
The scent of cedarwood promotes melatonin production in the brain. This induces sleep. Traditionally, it is also said to improve mental focus. In addition, it promotes muscle relaxation and so is ideal if you have a tension headache. Note that it isn’t suitable for internal application, even under the guidance of a professional.
With its strong sedative properties and relaxing scent, chamomile oil is an effective sleep aid. It is useful in relieving emotional tension, anxiety, grief, or general over-sensitivity. It is one of the gentlest essential oils for sleep and is usually safe for use in children and pets.
Although people often assume that citrus scents are uplifting and revitalizing rather than sedative, they can be a wonderful sleep aid. Orange oil is also rich in antioxidants and contains compounds that encourage healthy cell metabolism. This promotes general wellbeing and energy levels.
Bergamot lowers heart rate and blood pressure, promoting deep sleep and relaxation. It is a deep citrus scent that makes an appealing air freshener. Although it is a sedative, it also inspires feelings of optimism.
Vanilla can trigger feelings of nostalgia and security, helping you drift off to sleep. It is especially popular with children.
How to apply essential oils before bed
- Take a bath: Essential oils can be used to create a soothing bath to help you relax before bed. You can mix a tablespoon of carrier oil with 2-10 drops of essential oil and add to the bath. However, because oil floats, this method can result in a greasy bath. Instead, you can dilute the oils with aloe vera jelly.
- Use a diffuser in your room: After adding water and a few drops of essential oil, all you need to do is switch it on and enjoy the fragrance.
- Spray the oil on your pillow: Spray a 2-5% solution of essential and carrier oils lightly over your bedding.
- Facial steaming: Add 2-10 drops of pure essential oil to a large bowl of hot water and carefully inhale the steam. You can also buy special facial steaming kits that make the process easier and safer. Do not inhale oils for longer than 20 minutes at a time. Prolonged sessions can lead to headaches and other side effects.
- You can also inhale an oil by placing a few drops on a tissue and breathing deeply, as in this video:
- Rub the oil on your skin: As long as you have diluted the oil, you can place a few drops on your palms, wrists, forehead, toes, chest, or neck.
- Add essential oils to your usual night cream: Mix oil into your favorite face cream or hand lotion and apply it as usual before you go to bed.
Your brain will soon come to associate the scent of an oil with relaxation if you use it regularly. After a few nights, you will automatically start feeling sleepy as soon as you smell the oil.
Blending one or more oils together
If you want to benefit from the properties of multiple oils at once, you can use a blend. You can buy readymade blends in health food stores, or you can make your own.
To keep things simple, mix the oils in a 1:1 ratio. Popular combinations include: Lavender and marjoram, frankincense and lavender, and orange and bergamot. If you want a more adventurous blend, try combining lavender, bergamot, cedarwood, and frankincense.
Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to blends. If one oil doesn’t work for you, just try another!
Are essential oils safe to use?
Essential oils rarely cause any side effects. Research shows that they work well for many people with mild to moderate sleep problems. They can also be used alongside Western medicine. Aromatherapy is generally safe but ask your doctor for advice if you are pregnant or have a long-term health condition. Some oils are dangerous for unborn babies.
Whenever you use a new oil, carry out an allergy test. First, it with a carrier oil to produce a solution that is at least twice the strength of that you plan to use. Gently rub a few drops of the solution on the inside of your forearm. Wait 48 hours. If you do not experience any kind of allergic reaction, it is safe to proceed with the treatment.
If you are taking any medication, ask a doctor or pharmacist about potential interactions before ingesting any essential oils. Be sure to mention any non-prescription treatments you are using, along with those prescribed by your health practitioner. If you believe you have had an allergic reaction to an oil, it’s best to avoid it in future. Never put oil in your eyes or ears.
Using essential oils with children and pets
Children can also benefit from essential oils. However, special precautions apply. Young children require less concentrated solutions than adults. For example, the recommended dilution range is 0.25-0.5% for those between 3-24 months, and 1-2% for those aged 2-6 years.
Aromatherapists Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young of the Tisserand Institute supply detailed safety information on their website, tisserandinstitute.org. On the site, you can find detailed concentration tables and recommendations for safe essential oil use. Remember that children are naturally curious. Keep essential oils out of their sight and reach.
Pets can also benefit from the power of essential oils. For example, lavender and myrrh can help create a calming environment that will help a puppy settle in their new home. Diluted oils can be applied on the tips of the ears, along the spine, or sprayed on a pet’s bedding. You can also use diffusers and water misting.
However, it’s best to ask a vet for advice because every species reacts differently. Moreover, you need to make sure that your pet doesn’t have any underlying health conditions that require conventional treatment. If they are taking any medication, make sure that it doesn’t interact with essential oils. Always stop using an oil if your pet shows signs of distress or sickness.
Getting started with essential oils
Essential oils – both in pure and diluted form – are available from most stores that sell health food and alternative medicine. Some regular pharmacies also stock them. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Ask the store assistants for advice if you aren’t sure how to dilute or apply an oil. Store them in a cool, dark place and take note of any “Use by” dates on the bottle.
Alternatively, you could book an appointment with an aromatherapist. They will be well-versed in the safe use of essential oils and can teach you how to use them at home. Contact your local health center or ask friends for recommendations. Check that your therapist is registered with a reputable organization such as National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (naha.org).
Essential oils are an accessible, drug-free, safe, and effective remedy for sleep problems. If it feels like you’ve tried everything to get a good night’s rest, why not pick up a couple of oils today?