Unfortunately, for many people restorative sleep is elusive. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, around one in three American adults suffers occasional or short-term insomnia, while 10 percent struggle with chronic insomnia. While many will reach for a prescription sleep aid to gain some shut-eye—the CDC estimates that 4 percent of U.S. adults use a prescribed sleep medication each month—others prefer a more natural approach to this frustrating, yet common health concern.
Once you’ve ruled out medical causes of insomnia, your next step should be to consider your nighttime routine: Are you drinking caffeine late in the day or spending an hour or two on a backlit electronic device, such as a tablet or laptop, right before bedtime? Or maybe it’s your bedroom itself that is causing the problem. Is the room hot, noisy, or bright? All of these are common causes for difficulty in sleeping and easily resolved with a change in bedtime habits or a more sleep-friendly bedroom.
If the problem doesn’t lie with your surroundings or your bedtime habits, consider encouraging restful sleep the natural way. Some of the most common methods include yoga or meditation for relaxation, and the use of herbal tea or aromatherapy to help calm nerves and induce sleep.
What Is Aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy, which is based on the use of various essential oils derived from plants, has been used for centuries to treat a wide range of physical and emotional health concerns. While there hasn’t been extensive research done into the efficacy of aromatherapy treatments, many small studies have proven its effectiveness in reducing anxiety and improving sleep quality. Look for organic, 100 percent pure essential oils with no synthetic additives at Whole Foods Market or similar health foods stores. You can also combine essential oils to create a more pleasing fragrance or heighten the potency.
How Do You Use Aromatherapy?
The basics of aromatherapy are easy—simply inhale and enjoy the pleasant fragrance of a particular flower or plant. The how-to isn’t much more complicated than that: The following methods are all effective.
- Most essential oils are too strong for direct application to your skin but can be diluted by mixing a couple of drops of essential oil with a small amount of carrier oil like jojoba or sweet almond oil. You can then apply the mixture to your temples, forehead, or wrists before bedtime.
- Moisten a cotton ball with your essential oil, then tuck the cotton ball inside your pillowcase.
- Take a warm bath before bedtime, and add several drops of essential oil to the water. Swirl the water before entering the tub to distribute the oil throughout the bath.
- Add a few drops of essential oil to your bedroom humidifier or steam vaporizer, if the device has an oil dispenser. If you don’t have a humidifier, consider purchasing an essential oil diffuser.
- Inhale the oil directly from its bottle for several minutes before sleep.
- Mix a few drops of essential oil in warm water, moisten a washcloth with the mixture, then lay the damp cloth over your forehead or neck.
- Fill a small spray bottle with one-half cup of distilled water and 5 to 10 drops of your preferred essential oil, then mist your pillowcase and bed sheets before sleep.
Here are nine essential oils that may help you sleep soundly.
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The sweet, hypnotic fragrance of jasmine flowers can stir your romantic interests, but if you don’t have a partner on your mind, the heady fragrance is said to calm the nerves, sedate the mind, and relieve anxiety and depression.
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Distilled from the peel of a type of citrus fruit, bergamot oil is what gives Earl Grey tea its distinctive flavor and aroma. The citrusy, fresh fragrance is also a potent reliever of anxiety and depression and helps to reduce mild pain.
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One of the best-known aromatherapy treatments for insomnia is lavender. There’s a good reason for that. Not only is the fragrance powerful and long-lasting, but lavender is probably the most-studied sleeping herb, with considerable evidence that it really works to promote restful sleep. This is one of the few essential oils that is mild enough for undiluted use on your skin. It’s a great choice for children who resist bedtime—just mix up a spray bottle of lavender oil and water, and use it to chase away monsters and bad dreams before tucking into bed.
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Marjoram’s use extends far beyond the kitchen—the somewhat woodsy-smelling oil excels at relaxing the body and calming the mind, leading to pleasant drowsiness and deep sleep. It is also a good rub (when mixed with a carrier oil) for soothing away arthritis and muscle pain that prevents sleep.Continue to 5 of 9 below.
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Chamomile tea is a classic nighttime brew, praised for its sleep-inducing qualities. If you don’t care for tea, you can get the same benefits by using chamomile essential oil to calm your nerves and bring on shuteye. Look for Roman chamomile; it’s more relaxing than the German variety. Chamomile is one of the few essential oils mild enough to be used directly on the skin without dilution.
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Vanilla isn’t just a flavoring for cookies and ice cream. This sweet, spicy fragrance has strong sedative, antidepressant, and relaxing qualities, making it a perfect bedtime companion. It’s also considered to be an aphrodisiac, however, so use it as you see fit. Note that vanilla essential oil is NOT the same as vanilla extract used for cooking.
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Valerian has been used for centuries to relieve bad moods, calm the senses, and bring on peaceful sleep. It’s very effective, but unfortunately, many people find its fragrance unpleasant. If you fall into that group, mix the valerian oil with lavender to conceal the fragrance while increasing the potency.Continue to 9 of 9 below.
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Sexy and mysterious, oil from the bark of the Santalum tree has been used for thousands of years not only to scent perfumes and incense but also to cure insomnia, relieve stress, improve the mood, and boost the libido. It’s especially effective for those who can fall asleep but are disturbed by repeated wakening throughout the night.