After this last year, I’ve been thinking more and more about the sleep I do and don’t get. During lockdown my natural routine was disrupted and I found myself having periods of struggling with sleep, something I’m not used to. I’m very lucky to find that normally I get to sleep easily and enjoy regular deep sleep, however my husband is a very light sleeper. Sleep is so important for our physical as well as our mental health. Research has shown we are more productive with more sleep and have our memories strengthened during sleep.
Smell can have a direct effect on sleep
Our circadian rhythms (which determine our sleep cycle) also have an influence on our sense of smell, linking both smell and sleep. Aromatherapy has been used for thousands of years to aid with all sorts of ailments but maybe most common is issues with sleep, helping improve the quality of sleep plus the ability to fall asleep.
Aromatherapy is driven by our sense of smell. Smell is part of the olfactory system and can produce both psychological and physiological responses, in other words a certain smell can invoke a reaction. For example, a bad smell can make you feel sick or a floral smell can make you feel relaxed and happy. Interestingly our sense of smell differs throughout the day. Researchers found that smell sensitivity changes 29 times throughout the day in accordance with our circadian timing, it’s strongest in the evening, and weakest overnight into morning. Showing again that link between sleep and smell, which is why aromatherapy can be so effective as an aid to sleep.
Essential oils we love to use at Rest
Perhaps the most common and well known essential oil we use in aromatherapy to help with sleep is lavender. Most of us have it growing in our gardens or can recognise the smell. In a study in 2005 amongst 31 young healthy sleep adults it was shown to increase slow and deep wave sleep. This was a small study but the results confirmed what we always believed, lavender is a great aid to sleep as it improves the overall quality of rest and has a calming effect on heart rate and blood pressure. It’s floral notes are very easy to recognise and aid relaxation and sleep.
We use clary sage in our treatment rooms which has a floral, herby scent and is very powerful to help calm anxiety. A study conducted in America in 2013 found this essential oil helped with relaxation.
One of my favourite essential oils which we use at Rest is ylang-ylang. It’s sweet floral scent has sedative effects and blends well with many other essential oils. It’s great for calming us down at the end of a long day.
Woody scents became very popular over the last few years in spas. Cedarwood with its woody, earthy aroma is a natural sedative but also helps to ground emotions. This scent can help people fall asleep more quickly. It’s a great boost for the immune system too and is said to be used to repel household bugs.
Chamomile (mostly known as a tea) is also an essential oil which can be great for stress relieving as it’s very calming. It’s best applied as an oil to the soles of feet. It has a delicate aroma and can be very calming, improving the length of sleeping time and reducing anxiety.
We use essential oils to help clients in the salon as part of an aromatherapy massage. We also use pre blended oils which can be useful to offer clients an easy introduction into aromatherapy and help them feel at ease during the treatment. We also blend oils specifically for treatments depending on the clients needs.
What to consider when using essential oils at home
You can use essential oils at home by rubbing into soles of your feet, wrists, or palms at the beginning and end of the day to help you feel calm and relaxed. Before applying an essential oil topically, be sure to dilute your essential oil with a carrier oil such as almond oil or grapeseed oil. Applying undiluted essential oils to your skin can cause irritation. Alternatively you can diffuse essential oils in a home diffuser by adding 2-3 drops.
If you want to start using essential oils, consult your doctor. Some oils may interfere with medications that you are taking or cause an allergic reaction. You should also do a patch test before applying an oil to your skin to check for allergies. Never ingest essential oils as they are meant to be used topically. Using essential oils on pregnant women and children should be avoided unless you have consulted with a doctor or aromatherapist.
But above all enjoy the wonderful scents of essential oils and hopefully by using some of the above recommendations, aromatherapy may help send you to sleep and ensure you get the rest you deserve.
Aromatherapy Awareness Week 2022
6th - 12th June 2021 is Aromatherapy Awareness Week organised by the International Federation of Aromatherapists (IFA) - for more information visit their website where you can find out a lot more about this topic and relevant resources.