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Aromatherapy and Insomnia

By: Jennie Kermode - Updated: 20 Jun 2011 | comments*Discuss
Aromatherapy Insomnia Sleep Essential

When you're really struggling to get to sleep, there are all sorts of things you can try to calm your senses. Simply turning out the light will relax your eyes. You may prefer silence or Soft Music for your ears. Your skin will appreciate the feel of soft bed covers. When it comes to pleasing your nose, aromatherapy is the natural solution, and it can be more effective than you might expect. Some people find that it works for them even where medicine has failed.

How it Works

There are two different levels at which aromatherapy can work. The first is physical, when the aromatic compounds you inhale have a direct effect on your nervous system. There is limited scientific evidence for this but many substances used in aromatherapy have been proven to have related effects when applied in other ways.

The second mechanism is psychological. Aromatherapy can induce feelings of relaxation especially after you have learned to associate it with the effect you are trying to achieve. A good way to improve the effects of aromatherapy on insomnia is to start using it when you are going through a good patch where sleep isn't too difficult. Your brain will then connect it to feeling relaxed and it will help during your bad patches. Avoid early use when especially Stressed or anxious.

Scents to Try

The most popular scent used to treat insomnia, and the one with the best record of success, is lavender. This is relatively inexpensive and a small bottle will go a long way – you'll need just two to three drops a night. There are many other choices, however, and a good supplier will let you smell different oils to see what appeals to you.

Also effective for insomnia are jasmine, rose, geranium and chamomile. You can stick to one, use different ones on different nights, or even blend them. Remember that this isn't like taking an unpleasant medicine to cure a nasty illness – if you don't like the smell you won't feel relaxed and the aromatherapy won't have its intended effect, so your personal enjoyment is an important factor when making your choice.

It is possible to extract and prepare your own aromatherapy oils but this is usually time-consuming and the result won't be as concentrated as the oils you can buy from a specialist. So, unless you have a lot of free time, you may find that it's a false economy.

Applying Aromatherapy

There are two different ways you can apply aromatherapy oils to treat insomnia: aerial diffusion and topical application.

Aerial diffusion is usually done using an oil burner or a candle. If you use this method, you should be careful to extinguish the heat source before you go to bed. It's better to use it to fragrance the room before you lie down, as once you are in a habit of falling asleep to the familiar scent your sleep response may be triggered more quickly than you expect. An alternative is to put a couple of drops of oil on a metal plate on top of a radiator.

In the case of insomnia, topical application usually means placing a few drops of oil on your pillow or on a soft toy that you like to hug close to your face when you sleep. Both methods can be effective but different people prefer different ones, so you'll have to experiment to discover what's most effective for you.

Safety and Aromatherapy

Properly used, aromatherapy is thought to be very safe as the body only absorbs a small amount of the oils involved. It is important to realise, however, that oils intended to be used as described above should never be drunk, eaten, inhaled or applied directly to the skin, as they are highly concentrated and may have toxic effects. Store them in a safe place away from children and pets who may be attracted to the smell and not appreciate the dangers.

As with any medicine (whether prescribed by a doctor or used as a natural remedy), aromatherapy oils should be used with caution by pregnant women and people with underlying health conditions. If you have asthma or another respiratory problem, experiment with a small amount of your chosen oil in a place where you can easily escape from it if it causes you breathing difficulties. If you suspect you may be experiencing side effects, talk to your doctor.

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