Do you ever have restless nights when you toss and turn for hours and finally fall asleep an hour before the alarm goes off? Do you fall asleep easily but then wake repeatedly through the night – from night sweats, the urge to empty your bladder, and/or disturbing dreams?
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, over one-third of the people who visit a doctor’s office have sleep issues, yet they rarely mention these problems, and the doctor rarely asks.
As a naturopathic physician and acupuncturist, I ask patients every visit about sleep – how easily she is falling asleep and staying asleep, and how many hours she is sleeping.
Dr. James Maas, PhD researched and taught about sleep for 48 years at Cornell. Maas suggests most humans require 9 – 10 hours of sleep to function optimally. According to a 2013 Gallop poll (Jones, 2013), Americans average 6.8 hours of sleep with 59% of the US population sleeping more than seven hours and 40% sleeping less than seven hours. In the 1940’s, people in the U.S. slept an average of 7.9 hours.
The following essential oils are powerful, natural medicines to support and calm the nervous system, relax muscles, and prepare mind and body to sleep.
The top 5 essential oils for sleep
- Bergamot Citrus aurantium bergamia: this citrus essential oil calms nerves and uplifts mood without over-stimulating the nervous system. A study in Japan (Kuwahata et al., 2011) with 40 subjects massaged a combination of bergamot and lavender essential oils diluted in a carrier oil on their abdomen. Blood pressure and pulse rates dropped, and people in the study reported feeling “more relaxed” and “calmer” (Hongratanaworkit, 2011). CAUTION: bergaptene, one of the constituents in bergamot, can increase sun sensitivity. Avoid sun exposure for at least 12 hours after using on the skin.
- Clary sage Salvia sclarea calms muscle spasm and relieves pain (Petersen, 2016).
- Lavender Lavandula angustifolia supports relaxation and protects the nerves (Hancianu, Cioanca, Mihasan & Hritcu, 2013). In addition, lavender helps to regulate the menstrual cycle, has antimicrobial activity (de Rapper, Kamatou, Viljoen, & van Vuuren, 2013), reduces pain (Kim et al., 2007) and stress (Shiina et al., 2007).
- Roman chamomile Chamaemelum nobile reduces muscle spasming and calms inflammation (Petersen, 2016). If pain disturbs your sleep, Roman chamomile is a wonderful ally.
- Sandalwood Santalum album reduces muscle spasms and has a sedating effect (Okugawa, Ueda, Matsumoto, Kawanishi, & Kato, 1995). Sandalwood is particularly helpful if you have restless leg syndrome or calf muscle cramps.
Follow these suggestions to maximize the benefit of these essential oils:
- Remember that essential oils are extremely concentrated. One drop of an essential oil is roughly equivalent to 30 cups of tea!
- Placing one drop of an essential oil on your pillow is plenty.
- Use a diffuser with a timer and turn on for 15 – 30 minutes when you first get in bed. Continuous diffusion through the night is very hard on the liver (the primary organ that breaks down and excretes essential oils).
- Add 2 – 3 drops of essential oils to a tablespoon of pure, organic vegetable oil or lotion and massage into your skin before bed. Focus on the hands, feet and abdomen to maximize absorption.
- Rotate the oil(s) you are using every two weeks to minimize the possibility of developing sensitivity to the oils. If you become sensitized to one oil, you may become reactive to all essential oils, and then you will have lost this powerful therapeutic tool.
- Choose oils you enjoy. If you dislike a scent, even if it is indicated for sleep, you probably won’t use it, and the irritating odor may even further disrupt your sleep.
About Dr. Judith Boice
Dr. Judith Boice is a naturopathic physician, acupuncturist, best-selling and award-winning author, and international teacher. Her mission is treating the whole person, not just the symptoms. Dr. Boice delivers sustainable health care rather than quick fixes. She believes when people know what being healthy looks like for them, they get to have a great life, whether that’s riding bikes with their grandchildren, running three Iron Man competitions a year, or staying healthy in a high-pressure job. Dr. Boice consults with private patients, writes books, and offers trainings that teach people with chronic illness how to increase their energy, reduce symptoms and reverse disease by restoring their health with natural medicines.
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de Rapper, S., Kamatou, G., Viljoen, A., & van Vuuren, S. (2013). The In Vitro Antimicrobial Activity of Lavandula angustifolia Essential Oil in Combination with Other Aroma-Therapeutic Oils. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med., 852049.
Hongratanaworakit, T. (2011). Aroma-therapeutic effects of massage blended essential oils on humans. Natural Products Communication, 6(8), 1199-204.
Jones, J.M. (2013). In U.S., 40% Get Less Than Recommended Amount of Sleep. Well Being. Retrieved from: https://news.gallup.com/poll/166553/less-recommended-amount-sleep.aspx
Kim, I., Kim, C., Seong, K., Hur, M., Lim, H., & Lee, M. (2012). Essential Oil Inhalation on Blood Pressure and Salivary Cortisol Levels in Prehypertensive and Hypertensive Subjects. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med., 2012.
Kim, J.T., Ren, C.J., Fielding, G.A., Pitti, A., Kasumi, T., Wajda, M., et al. (2007). Treatment with lavender aromatherapy in the post-anesthesia care unit reduces opioid requirements of morbidly obese patients undergoing laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding. Obes Surg.,17(7):920-5.
Okugawa, H., Ueda, R., Matsumoto, K., Kawanishi, K., & Kato, A. (1995). Effect of a-Santalol and b-Santalol from Sandalwood on the Central Nervous System in Mice. Phytomed., 2(2):119-126.
Petersen, Dorene. 2016. Aromatherapy Materia Medica. Portland, Oregon: American College of Healthcare Sciences.