Aromatherapy is the practice of using essential oils to promote relaxation. Some even use it to treat medical conditions such a pain, hair loss, psoriasis and constipation.
Essential oils are extracted from a plant’s flowers, leaves, stalks, bark, rind, or roots. The oils are mixed with another substance such as another oil called a carrier oil, alcohol, or lotion and then applied to the skin, sprayed in the air, or inhaled. You can also massage the oils into the skin or pour them into bath water.
It is generally not recommended to ingest essential oils. In fact, the therapeutic benefit is proposed to come through the olfactory nerve in your brain. This nerve is responsible for your sense of smell and is located near the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that controls memory and emotions. The fragrance in the oil stimulates this nerve and sends impulses to your hippocampus. Depending on the type of oil, the result may be calming or stimulating.
Here are some popular essential oils that are used to promote relaxation
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
- Sandalwood (Santalum album)
- Orange blossom (Citrus sinensis)
- Lemon balm (Citrus limon)
- Rose (Rosa damascena)
- Clary sage (Salvia sclarea)
- Roman chamomile (Anthemis nobilis)
- Rose-scented geranium (Pelargonium spp.)
- Bergamot (Citrus aurantium)
A study from Weselyn Wesleyan University in 2005 showed that the study subjects who were exposed to lavender experienced an increase in slow wave or deep sleep.
How do you use aromatherapy for sleep?
You can put a few drops of the oil on a cotton ball and put it under your pillow.
Another easy way is to use a diffuser like this one. I got this one on Amazon. It was on the expensive side, but it works very well. I’ve had some cheaper ones that weren’t so good. You would hardly smell the oil and the vapor wasn’t strong enough to scent the whole room.
Some studies have combined essential oils with massage for relaxation. I wouldn’t recommend putting the oil directly on the skin as it can cause skin irritation in some people. Even if you can’t get a full fledged massage, you can massage your own feet with the oil by using a carrier oil such as jojoba, olive or coconut oil. These oils are safe to put on your skin and you can mix a little bit of the essential oil with the carrier oil to put on your body.
Another application is to put a few drops in your bath water.
There are certain conditions that could be aggravated if you use aromatherapy. If you have any of these conditions, you should consult your doctor before using aromatherapy. These would include:
Pregnancy – should avoid using hyssop oil
Seizures – should avoid using hyssop oil
High blood pressure – should avoid stimulating oils like rosemary and spike lavender
Breast or ovarian cancer – avoid using fennel, aniseed, clary sage or sage because these oils contain compounds similar to estrogen.
There are essential oils that promote relaxation and reduce anxiety. You can use aromatherapy as part of your evening wind down with a relaxing bath or foot or body massage. You could also use a diffuser and to scent your office while you work or your bedroom while you sleep. You should avoid using certain oils in pregnancy or if you have high blood pressure and consult your doctor before using aromatherapy for certain medical conditions.
Goel N; Kim H; Lao RP. An olfactory stimulus modifies nighttime sleep in young men and women. Chronobiol Int. 2005; 22(5):889-904
Komiya, Migiwa; Takeuchi, Takashi; Harada, Etsumori (2006). “Lemon oil vapor causes an anti-stress effect via modulating the 5-HT and DA activities in mice”. Behavioural Brain Research 172 (2): 240–9. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0166432806002798
Kiecolt-Glaser, Janice K.; Graham, Jennifer E.; Malarkey, William B.; Porter, Kyle; Lemeshow, Stanley; Glaser, Ronald (2008). “Olfactory influences on mood and autonomic, endocrine, and immune function”. Psychoneuroendocrinology 33 (3): 328–39. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18178322
Herz RS. Aromatherapy facts and fictions: a scientific analysis of olfactory effects on mood, physiology and behavior. Int J Neurosci. 2009;119(2):263-90.