Aromatherapy uses essential oils for relaxation, fragrance, and also recently to provide a natural sleep aid. Different oils can have different effects, and so they affect sleep in various ways. Using essential oils takes little effort. The two most common practices are to either dot the wrist or feet with the oil or place a few drops in a diffuser while sleeping. While research into the effectiveness of essential oils is limited, there are studies that show inclinations to certain herbs and scents.
In testing, lavender appeared to significantly aid patients suffering from insomnia, according to Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Historically used as a natural remedy to aid sleep, studies also show that the herb can improve sleep quality, reducing sleep disruption and increasing duration.
A perennial native to the Mediterranean, clary sage showed a tendency to lower stress levels, especially in those suffering from depression. Scientific findings determined clary oil relaxed vascular smooth muscles and showed significant results in reduced blood pressure, according to the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.
Closely related to oranges and lemons, citrus bergamot has roots as an alternative medicinal treatment in Italy, according to the Huffington Post. The essential oil has seen a recent growth in popularity as an aromatherapy oil, and in studies aided relaxation and increased sleep quality by reducing heart rate and stress.
Traditionally used for a multitude of illnesses and disorders, chamomile induces sleep and is regarded as a mild tranquilizer. In one study of its sedation properties, the essential oil reduced stress levels in patients, while other studies demonstrate possible use as a sedative, according to Molecular Medicine Reports.
Historically known as a “cure-all,” Valerian assists in improving sleep quality, with studies delving into its ability to help with insomnia as well. The herb is commonly used to decrease the time required to fall asleep and in one study showed the ability to change sleep patterns for the better in insomnia patients, according to the National Institutes of Health.
A type of perennial grass, vetiver commonly finds use in perfumes and alternative medicine. Its calming effects subdue anxiety and soothe users into a soft sleep, according to the Journal of Medicinal Plant Studies. The essential oil also works as a sedative, relaxing nervous irritations and restlessness, while also aiding those with insomnia.
Sweetly floral, the Ylang Ylang flower from Southeast Asia calms and relaxes users, with one particular study finding the ability to relieve depression and stress. Another investigation into the attributes of the herb had patients describing the essential oil as harmonizing while lowering blood pressure, according to Thieme.
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Essential oils and the herbs used often have a history of medicinal uses. Most support for these sleeping aids is anecdotal as research is limited. When using on the skin, test the oil on a small portion of the skin before application and always dilute with a carrier oil such as almond or safflower oil.
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Sources: [Food and Drug Administration, Huffington Post, National Center for Biotechnology Information, NCBI, NCBI, NCBI, NCBI, US Department of Health and Human Services, Mary Anne Libert Inc. Publishers, Organic Facts, US Department of Agriculture, Plants Journal, The Prairie Homestead, Thieme]