Essential oils are natural compounds that are extracted from plants. These oils have been around for centuries and are used in many cultures for medicinal purposes, cooking, perfumes, and cosmetics. Recently, essential oils have been growing in popularity for their healing and calming effects when used for aromatherapy. If you are one of the millions of people suffering from difficulty sleeping, you might want to consider adding essential oils to your nighttime routine.
How to use essential oils for sleep
There are generally three ways to reap the benefits of essential oils:
- Inhaling. The most common method of using essential oils is inhaling, which is usually done using a diffuser. A few drops of the oil are put into the diffuser and the oil molecules are dispersed through the air for you to breathe them in.
- Direct application to the skin. When applied in this manner, the body can absorb the molecules as the permeate through the skin. Because of the volatile nature of the oil, this method will also allow you to inhale and sense the aroma of the oil, as some of it will evaporate. Because essential oils are concentrated, it is best to dilute them with a carrier oil such as apricot oil or almond oil before application. It is recommended to first apply a tiny amount to a small area of your skin to make sure you are compatible with the essential oil.
- Ingesting. Although essential oils can be added to food and drinks, this method is not recommended without guidance from a medical professional. The risk here outweighs the benefit — especially with the easy options of inhalation and direct application.
When using these methods to help you sleep, they work in two ways, depending on which oil(s) you are using. Some offer soothing effects to help you sleep, and others help to clear your airway so you can breathe easier, allowing you to fall asleep.
How do essential oils work?
When essential oils make their way into your body, they have an impact on your olfactory system, the system relating to smell, and limbic system, which is your “emotional brain.”
When you inhale, molecules from the essential oils make their ways to the brain. When they get to the brain they have an effect on the amygdala, which is part of the limbic system and known as the emotional center of the brain.
Essential oils are also known to work through the olfactory system to cause the brain to secrete neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, which can elevate mood. Not only are these neurotransmitters needed to make you feel calm and relaxed, but serotonin is also needed to produce melatonin, the hormone responsible for making you feel sleepy at bedtime.
Best essential oils for sleep
Here are some of the essential oils that may help to calm and relax you, allowing you to sleep:
Lavender. Lavender works to calm anxiety and offers sedative effects. It may not only help you to fall asleep but may also help you to spend more quality time in deep, slow-wave sleep.
Chamomile. Chamomile is known to be calming, reducing stress. Long used as a relaxant, the sedative effects may be due to apigenin which binds to benzodiazepine receptors. Of course, the benefit of Chamomile is not restricted to application of the essential oil. The flower of the plant can be enjoyed as a relaxing hot drink when brewed into a tea.
Bergamot. Bergamot oil can lower your heart rate and blood pressure and help with anxiety and stress, allowing you to get to sleep.
Clary Sage. Clary sage is a natural sedative and may reduce your cortisol levels, which is known as the stress hormone.
Valerian. Valerian has been shown to reduce anxiety, which can help you to fall asleep and stay asleep longer.
Sandalwood. Sandalwood oil can aid in relaxation and calm anxiety. It is also known to have sedative effects.
Ylang ylang. Ylang ylang is also known as a sedative and can have calming effects to relieve anxiety.
Jasmine. Jasmine has been shown to help with restless sleeping, improving the quality of your sleep.
Frankincense. Frankincense may promote relaxation to calm you, helping you to fall asleep.
If you have trouble sleeping due to having a stuffy nose or other mild symptoms of a cold or allergies, you may want to try these essential oils:
Peppermint. Peppermint oil has anti-inflammatory properties. It may help you to clear your nose and airways, reducing snoring and symptoms of mild sleep apnea.
Eucalyptus. Eucalyptus oil can also help to clear your sinuses and airways. It has been shown to break up mucus in your airways and sinuses, which can help you to breathe easier and get to sleep. Eucalyptus oil is an ingredient in over the counter chest rubs used for colds.
These oils can be used separately or you can experiment and combine to create your own essential oil blends for sleep.
Essential oils are not to be used as a treatment for sleep apnea or other sleep disorders but may be used for mild snoring not related to sleep apnea, or in addition to therapy that has been prescribed by your doctor.
If you think you may have sleep apnea or any sleep disorder, it is best to contact your doctor to see if you need a sleep study. To quickly determine if you are at risk for sleep apnea, you can take a home sleep test learn more.
Always be sure to seek advice from your healthcare professional before beginning any kind of treatment on your own.