Aromatherapy, the use of essential oils in plants to affect health, dates back to ancient Egypt.
Egyptian women used essential oils in therapeutic baths and massage.
The Greeks and Romans used essential oils for everything from reducing coughs and colds to fighting hangovers.
Today, essential oils are widely used for their relaxing effects to deal with stress, insomnia, and sleep issues.
What you smell affects how you feel, how motivated you are, and how you react to your environment.
The sense of smell is the most primitive of all our senses and is linked to the limbic system, one of the deepest areas of the brain.
Essential oils directly influence the brain and central nervous system through the limbic system.
Essential oils support the release of mood-enhancing chemicals like GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid), dopamine, or serotonin in the brain.
Specially chosen oils promote mental and physical relaxation while enhancing quality sleep.
Calming, cool lavender soothes stress and encourages a deep sleep.
In one pilot study from the U.K., lavender improved sleep for people with mild insomnia.
In another study, a blend of lavender, Roman chamomile, and neroli reduced anxiety and increased the sleep quality of patients in the ICU. In Germany, lavender flowers have even been approved as a tea for insomnia.
For aromatherapy purposes, lavender essential oil works nicely in a diffuser or a hot bath. Lavender is also effective in an herbal sleep pillow.
Although there are other chamomile species, the essential oil of Roman chamomile is the most effective for insomnia. Roman chamomile is a natural sedative and relaxant with an herby smell.
It is a specific choice to reduce insomnia caused by stress. Herbalists often use Roman chamomile to ease nightmares, insomnia, and sleep difficulties in children.
It’s an excellent choice in an aromatherapy massage to relieve sore muscles or pain that may be keeping you up at night.
Note: Roman chamomile can stimulate blood flow and is not recommended for use during pregnancy.
A lightly sweet essential oil, clary sage can also be used to enhance sleep.
Clary sage encourages the natural production of GABA in the brain, which promotes relaxation.
When tested against lavender, chamomile, and rosemary, clary sage had the most powerful anti-stress activity. Furthermore, clary sage can ease menstrual cramps or PMS that may be keeping you up at night.
It’s a mild mood elevator that can help lower high blood pressure (another insomnia trigger). Clary sage is an especially good choice for people with sleep problems related to anxiety attacks or even vertigo.
Ylang ylang is another wonderful essential oil for insomnia and stress. It has a sweet, fruity scent that most people love. I think of it as a “happiness oil” for people prone to mood swings, sadness, or mild depression.
In a 2006 study, transdermal application of ylang ylang reduced blood pressure and produced a calming effect.
Ylang ylang has excellent anti-inflammatory benefits, and is a good choice for people with insomnia related to trauma or burnout.
Neroli is one of the most expensive oils, and has been valued since the 15th century for its use in fragrances. Neroli has a strong, floral, orange scent that many people like.
As a mild hypnotic, neroli is used to aid meditation and induce sleep. It’s a valuable nervine that helps to relax the mind, body, and spirit. It works especially well combined with lavender or sandalwood.
Aromatherapy is truly something to be experienced.
Pure, essential plant oils are far superior to any perfume, and their fresh scent can relax or invigorate depending on your need.
However, you don’t need to use much to be effective.
To use any of these oils to promote sleep, simply add a few drops to a hot bath, aromatherapy diffuser, quality massage oil, or spritzer about 30 minutes before bed.
Always look for 100% pure essential oils (with no synthetic fragrances), or 100% essential oil blend infused in a carrier oil like jojoba or almond oil. Pure essential oils are more expensive but they last a long time and are worth it.
Synthetic oils can trigger allergies and headaches that could keep you up at night.
Important note: Don’t use essential oils internally without consulting a qualified professional. If applying oils topically, always dilute them with a good carrier oil and test on a small skin area first.