Struggling to get to sleep is a much more serious problem than many people give it credit for. Sleep is by far one of the most important biological processes, not only to help us feel rested and productive but also to improve our mood, increase muscle mass, lose weight, form memories, recover from injuries and stave off illness.
In other words, if you aren’t getting enough sleep then nearly every aspect of your health and performance will suffer. You will wake up with less energy, a worse mood, a headache, distractibility and much more that will make you less effective at work and more prone to injury or illness.
The best smart drug? Sleep.
The best bodybuilding supplement? Sleep.
The best life extension technique? Sleep.
The list goes on.
And essential oils can be a fantastic tool in helping you to improve not only the quantity of your sleep but also the quality. Read on to find out how this works and how you can fit it into your routine.
The Best Essential Oils for Sleep
Let’s start by looking at some of the very most effective essential oils for sleep and how they affect the body to exert their positive effects.
Valerian Root Oil
One of the best essential oils for sleep by far is valerian root. Valerian root is a natural herbal remedy that can also be consumed in tablet form. As an oil, it can either be applied directly to the skin, inhaled via an oil burner or applied to the skin.
Either way, this has the effect of relaxing the smooth muscle tissue, thereby helping to make you feel more comfortable and letting you sink into a deep sleep.
Better yet though, valerian root also manages to reduce anxiety and to gradually reduce firing in the brain. If you find you can’t sleep because your mind is racing and you’re worrying about all of the things that happened during the day, then valerian root oil can provide the perfect solution.
How does this work? Essentially by increasing the production of GABA in the brain. GABA is the brain’s principle inhibitory neurotransmitter, meaning that its job is to subdue brain cells (neurons) and cause them to fire less. This makes us drowsy, relaxed and far more likely to sink into a deep sleep.
This is actually how a large number of sleeping medications work, only when you use something like an essential oil, you’ll actually find that it is less potent meaning that you’re less likely to feel drowsy in the morning and meaning that you won’t risk becoming dependent. This is natures more gentle way to achieve the same effect!
Bergamot oil is an essential oil that similarly has a very profound effect on neural chemistry. In this case, the target neurotransmitter is serotonin – which you might know as the ‘happiness hormone’. This can immediately help to reduce anxiety and help you to sleep but what you may not realize is that it also improves sleep. That’s because serotonin is a natural precursor to melatonin, the primary sleep hormone.
Again, this is actually how a large number of over-the-counter and off-the-shelf sleeping aids work. If you were to take 5-HTP for instance (5 hydroxy-tryptophan) you would simply be consuming a building block of tryptophan which in turn is used in the body to create serotonin.
Ginger oil is another serotonin increasing oil. The great thing about this one is that it is very easily absorbed by the skin. This means it can be applied during a massage and will thereby help the muscles to relax ready for bed. All you need now is someone who is willing to give you that massage! If you have a partner to hand, you could always take it in turns…
Lemon oil is an essential oil that increases serotonin but which also has the added benefit of reducing dopamine and norepinephrine. This is important because those latter two neurotransmitters make us more alert and stressed and less likely to be able to doze off to sleep. Lemon oil is also very refreshing and can be enjoyed in a warm glass of water as a hot beverage like a tea.
Lavender oil again increases serotonin. What’s more though, is that it is popularly used as an aroma to enhance sleep. This is simply due to the smell itself which many people find highly relaxing and calming.
What this also means is that you may have used lavender scents to get to sleep as a child. That might mean that your bedspread used lavender-scented fabric conditioner for instance. Or it could mean that your parents used scented toys to help you sleep.
Why is this relevant? Because it means you might have created memories and associations with some of these scents. If you’ve spent your childhood learning that X smell = time for bed, then this can work as a useful trigger later in life too. Just like smelling certain types of cookie might remind you of trips to your Grandma’s house and make you feel nostalgic!
This is also something to consider in future too – you can create new associations by scenting your room every night for bed!
This is another essential oil that a lot of people simply find very relaxing. It is often used around the room and can help you to feel at ease.
How to Use Oils and CBT to Sleep Better
The key is to use essential oils to help yourself relax and feel at ease. You do this by providing a relaxing scent/enjoying a calming massage or bath and by letting them stimulate your neurotransmitters.
Depending on the oil, you can either use them for aromatherapy, massage, a warm beverage or even to add to a warm ‘muscle soak’ bath. Of course it’s not safe to use an oil burner while sleeping (a diffuser might be okay) so generally the best way to do this is to think about the period just before you go to sleep and to smell the oils then to get you ready for bed.
But what you do during this time is also important. If you’re very stressed or you’re playing a computer game where you’re shooting up zombies, then the relaxing benefits of your essential oils will only go so far. In fact, it’s advisable to avoid all screens for at least 30 minutes before bed. The brain interprets the light from a computer monitor/mobile phone/TV screen as being the same as that from the sun and so it actually reduces its production of melatonin and creates cortisol – the stress hormone – instead.
If you have an oil burner that creates candlelight, try reading with this a bit before bed while breathing in the relaxing smells. This is the perfect way to unwind before bed and you’ll find it’s a lot easier to drift off when the time comes.
What’s also important though is the way you think about sleep. The mistake many people make is to get stressed when they can’t get to sleep easily and to then try and ‘force themselves’ to get to sleep faster. All this accomplishes is to actually make them feel more anxious and to raise their heartrate and increase the production of cortisol and norepinephrine. The later it gets, the more stressed they become!
So instead, try to just enjoy the experience of lying there. After reading for a while and smelling the oils, you should now be feeling very calm and rested. So now just enjoy that moment and enjoy the fact that for as long as you’re lying here, you don’t have to do anything! Even if you don’t get to sleep quickly, resting like this is still very good for you and will help you to recover to some extent. But the irony is that now the pressure is off, you’ll probably fall asleep almost instantly!
Finally, make sure you do everything you can to make your room as peaceful and quiet as possible. Remove as much light as you can (even taping over LEDs and displays), keep your phone in another room when you sleep and block out light from outside with heavy curtains. You can also make your room quieter by adding insulation such as rugs. Try to keep the room somewhat cool (we sleep best in a slightly cool environment) and make sure your bed is comfortable as well.