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Aromatherapy for Better Sleep

Carol Sorgen

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Looking for a small way to improve your sleep? Adding essential oils to your daily bedtime routine may help. Read on to learn why.


For many people, essential oils are exactly that — an essential part of everyday comfort and wellbeing, including topical use and sleep improvement.


Take Deborah Jurist Simmons, who is a fan of essential oils, also known as aromatherapy.


“I use them both for my home and my personal care," says the Boise, Idaho, physical therapist. She adds a few drops of scented oils to atomizers, oil burners and homemade cleaning products, as well as to her hand and body lotions.


Chicago, Illinois, writer Jennifer Billock began using essential oils as a more natural way to manage common ailments such as headaches (she massages a few drops of peppermint oil on her temples) and colds (several drops of tea tree oil added to a base and rubbed on her chest clears up her congestion).


What is Aromatherapy?

The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) defines aromatherapy as the use of naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants for physical and emotional wellbeing. You can use essential oils in your bath or shower, in massage oils, lotions, soaps, inhalers and diffusers.


They can be used for a variety of reasons, from managing anxiety to easing muscle aches, treating poison ivy, and promoting a good night's sleep (which Marylander Susan Koontz Laber does by spraying her pillows with lavender … more about lavender's benefits in a minute).


According to Mayo Clinic, the scientific theory behind aromatherapy is that different scents stimulate nasal smell receptors. This in turn transmits messages through the nervous system to the limbic system, which is the part of the brain that controls your emotions.


"Using essential oils is a step toward a healthier life," says Maryland-based aromatherapist Rose Chard.


How to Use Essential Oils

While essential oils can be purchased through online sites, retail pharmacies, grocery stores and health food stores, Chard recommends first-time users see a professional aromatherapist. You can find a certified aromatherapist in your area on the NAHA website.


A professional aromatherapist has been trained in the use of a blend of oils for specific conditions and can instruct you in what you need, how much you need, and how best to use the oils, Chard explains. For topical use, for example, essential oils should be added to a base (or "carrier") such as almond or olive oil to avoid skin irritation.


Among the most commonly used essential oils are clary sage, recommended for relaxation; eucalyptus as a decongestant; lemon to relieve stress; and peppermint to ease nausea. The American Botanical Council has reported numerous studies on the benefits of plant-based therapies for reducing anxiety and promoting better sleep.


Aromatherapy for Sleep

For a good night's sleep, Chard suggests the use of lavender oil. One study shows lavender to be an effective natural remedy in promoting restful sleep, reducing anxiety, and even easing postoperative pain.


Smaller studies have also shown that lavender oil can ease the pain of osteoarthritis, improve the quality of life for people with dementia, and reduce the pain caused by kidney stones. Other essential oils to help improve sleep are rose, Roman chamomile, jasmine, cedar extract, cannabis and ylang-ylang.


Safe Ways to Use Essential Oils

While many essential oils are considered to be safe when used as directed, essential oils used in aromatherapy aren't regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.


According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the safest ways to use essential oils include aromatherapy accessories such as necklaces and bracelets that you can smell throughout the day; body oils; and aroma sticks that soak up the essential oil and scent a room.


Chard advises that aromatherapy is meant to support your existing forms of health care, not replace them. A professional aromatherapist should not recommend using essential oils instead of traditional medicine.


Those with medical conditions, such as asthma, should see a healthcare provider before getting started.


While you enjoy your essential oils, try these Simple Breathing Exercises to Wake Up Refreshed.


Like diet and exercise, quality sleep is essential for optimal well-being and performance. Because everyone's sleep needs are different, Sleep Number® smart beds, with SleepIQ® technology inside, sense your movements and automatically adjust firmness, comfort and support to keep you both sleeping comfortably. Find your Sleep Number® setting for your best possible night's sleep.




Carol Sorgen is a full-time freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She covers a variety of topics including healthcare, lifestyle, travel, aging, the arts, architecture/design, life sciences, business, and education. Her articles have appeared in publications such as The Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, WebMD, Ocean Home, and Psychiatric News, to name a few.

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