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Aromatherapy Can Help You Sleep Better

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If you’re a modern human, you’re probably not getting enough sleep. Our lives today are stressful, screen-heavy, and overly stimulating, which makes getting enough sleep harder than ever before. And while it can be fun to stay up all night binge-watching Netflix or scrolling through Instagram, all that screen time can have real, long-term implications on your health.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends getting between seven and nine hours of sleep every night. Unfortunately, about a third of adults don’t get that much. And if you’re not getting enough sleep, it can have wide-reaching effects on your body: everything from high blood pressure and weight gain to memory issues and immune deficiencies.

 

This is because our bodies are designed to repair while we sleep. Muscles are able to rebuild themselves, your bones are able to make themselves stronger, and your immune system can get to work on fighting or preventing disease. Sleep is even essential in mood regulation and memory construction.

 

It’s not always the amount of sleep you’re getting either; the quality matters too, if not more . Getting good quality sleep generally means you fall asleep quickly, stay asleep throughout the night, and can get back to sleep quickly if you wake up. The better quality sleep you’re getting the better able your body is to complete it’s during-sleep functions.

Because so few of us are getting the sleep we should, “sleep hygiene” is a constant discussion. The term refers to how you prep yourself and your space for the best sleep possible. It means beginning your nighttime routine early (at least 30 minutes before bed), turning off your phone and TV before going to bed (mostly to avoid blue light, and avoiding stimulants like caffeine. Exercise can promote healthy sleep and so can making sure your room is dark.

One other thing that gets talked about less when it comes to sleep hygiene is aromatherapy. When I actually tried it myself, I found that sleep-focused aromatherapy helped me fall asleep quicker, stay asleep longer, and feel more rested when I woke up. But what exactly is aromatherapy and how does it work? Here’s what you need to know.

What is Aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is a fancy word for using certain smells to manipulate your body and mood. Most aromatherapy relies on the use of essential oils, which are distilled botanical extracts from seeds, stems, roots, and flowers. “For centuries, beginning in the ancient cultures of China, Japan, India, and Egypt, essential oils have been used for their dynamic effect on the mind and body,” says Brendan Murdock, founder of aromatherapy brand Anatome. “Modern aromatherapy combines ancient knowledge with the wisdom of science.”

While aromatherapy has been around for generations, it’s still a fairly new field of academic study. The few studies that have been done around aromatherapy, though, have shown that it does indeed work. One study in 2016 showed that certain aromas had a measurable effect on mood, cognition, and social behavior. This is thanks to the olfactory receptors in our noses which our brains respond to quickly and measurably. The study used brain mapping to measure certain parts of the brain’s response to specific smells and it proved that certain smells actually do affect certain parts of the brain.

Illustration by Aviel Basil

How Does It Work?
Most simply, aromatherapy works because those receptors in our noses are always active and powerful, even behind the scenes. But essential oils aren’t just for smell. According to Murdock, they can also work when you put them on your skin. “When oil is applied externally to sensory pressure points that are located across the body, they can filter into the bloodstream quickly because our blood flows close to the surface of the skin at our pulse points,” he says. This allows for the aromatherapy benefits to hit our body through multiple channels.

How Can It Help Me Sleep Better?
Murdock says that sleep and stress are the most common complaints among people interested in aromatherapy and those two problems are linked. “People in our digital age are finding it hard to switch off and facilitate conditions where both their body and mind can rest and relax,” he says. Applying an essential oil specifically for sleep or relaxation can signal to your body that it’s time to go to sleep and help calm your mind. Aromatherapy can also help you fall asleep quicker and stay asleep longer.

What Essential Oils Are Good For Sleep?
The ultimate sleep-friendly essential oil is lavender, which is known for its relaxation effects. Vanilla has been said to have a sedative effect on the body as well. Other florals such as rose and jasmine have also been shown to have positive effects on sleep. Murdock recommends searching out a blend of several oils instead of just relying on one. But like most things, quality is key; not all oils are created equal. “Provenance is key,” he says. “Lavender from the Himalayas has very different properties and benefits compared with English, French, or German varieties.” He developed the popular Anatome Recover + Sleep oil with a blend of all these varieties, as well as Roman chamomile, frankincense, and Japanese seaweed, all of which have positive effects on sleep too.

How Do You Use Them?
Murdock recommends applying aromatherapy oils topically to your pulse points (inside your wrists, on your temples, on your neck) about 30 minutes before you go to bed. “This often yields immediate benefits and done for a period of 7-10 days leads to real change in the quality of your sleep,” he says. For additional aromatherapy, spray your pillow and linens with a lavender mist (or any other sleep-friendly aromatherapy oil). You can also add essential oils to a room diffuser, which will spread the aromatherapy throughout the room all night long, for extra benefit.

Products
Anatome Recovery + Sleep Essential Elixir Oil

Tata Harper Aromatic Bedtime Treatmen

Vitruvi Stone Diffuser

REN & Now To Sleep Pillow Spray