Adequate sleep is vitally important. (For more discussion of how important sleep is, see The Importance of a Good Night’s Sleep.) But too many of us find it difficult to get enough quality rest. Our lives are stressful; we have too much on our plate and our minds; we often don’t get the exercise we need to promote good sleep.
So how do we get a good night’s sleep? Well, there are basically two aspects to this issue that I want to address. First is good sleep hygiene. Second is one of my passions — essential oils.
The National Sleep Foundation list seven ingredients of good sleep hygiene:
1) Don’t nap during the day.
2) Avoid stimulants such as caffeine (that includes colas — and, unfortunately, chocolate), alcohol (which may help you get to sleep but will interfere with a full night’s rest), and nicotine.
3) Exercise — but limit vigorous exercise to earlier in the day; a relaxing yoga session can pave the way to a restful sleep.
4) Be careful what, and how much, you eat right before bedtime. A late-night snack is fine; a late-night pizza, not so much. And avoid any fluid intake after 8:00 pm.
5) Ensure adequate exposure to natural light during the day. Light exposure helps maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
6) Establish a regular relaxing bedtime routine. Reserve emotionally upsetting conversations and activities for earlier in the day.
7) Associate your bed with sleep; bed should be for sleep and sex only. It’s not a good idea to use your bed to watch TV, listen to the radio, or read. Unless reading is part of your bedtime routine. Even then, be careful what you read late at night. Don’t get too excited by or too wrapped up in your reading.
Another idea is to completely darken the room before sleep. We have so many electronics, most of which have some kind of “on” light. And digital clocks with lit numbers. If at all possible, turn off these displays. If you can’t (I know I need my digital alarm clock), consider covering them up with cardboard. Or get a sleep mask to cover your eyes. The darker the room, the better.
WebMD suggests we not sleep with our pets. Well, that’s a bogus idea! I’d rather not sleep than sleep pet-less. But we all make these decisions for ourselves.
Essential Oils and Sleep
Now for my own pet passion.
There are a number of essential oils that help promote restful sleep. I’ve had a few recent experiences that underscore this effect. I recently flew out from Boston to Boulder and back. The flight out was at 5:00 am, and the flight back was at 1:00 am. Obviously, I wanted to sleep through both legs of the journey in order to avoid sleep deficit.
How do you sleep restfully in a crowded, noisy airplane? Well, I rubbed a few drops of a nighttime blend and some Lavender on my neck. Oh, the sleep I slept! It was awesome. My neighbor even spilled her drink all over my leg, and it didn’t bother me a bit. I woke long enough to determine there was no danger and immediately fell back to sleep.
More recently, I had one of those nights where I worked into the late evening. This work was quite stimulating, so I was wired by the time I decided I really did need to get some sleep. Again, I pulled out blend and my Lavender and slept wonderfully well.
There are real advantages to using oils rather than sleep medications to promote rest. First, essential oils are safe and have no side effects. Second, they are not addictive, as so many sleep aids are. Third, you wake up refreshed, without that “hangover” type feeling.
So what essential oils do we want to use for sleep? Let’s run down the list.
Lavender. Lavender is a workhorse among essential oils; if in doubt, use Lavender! Among other things, Lavender calms and soothes and balances the body. It can help relieve anxious feelings and generally soothe the mind and spirit.
Roman Chamomile. This oil helps relieve muscle tension and calms the nervous system. It is also relaxing.
Marjoram. Marjoram is relaxing and calming to the muscles. It also promotes peace and sleep.
Vetiver. Naturally calming, Vetiver helps control anxious feelings, occasional sleeplessness, and extreme nervousness.
Sandalwood. Sandalwood, including Hawaiian Sandalwood, is perhaps best-known for its meditative qualities. It calms, harmonizes, and balances. These properties promote restful sleep.
Ylang Ylang. In addition to balancing equilibrium and easing frustration, Ylang Ylang relieves mental fatigue. It’s calming and relaxing and may help alleviate anger.
Bergamot. Bergamot, an uplifting oil, is a natural sedative and helps alleviate stress and nervous tension.
Patchouli. Patchouli is sedating, calming, and relaxing.
Cedarwood. Cedarwood is calming and relieves tension. It acts directly on the nervous system to soothe jangled nerves, which helps promote restful sleep.
How to Use Essential Oils
Okay, now that we know which oils to use, what exactly are we going to do with them? For sleep, the best ways to use essential oils are to diffuse them into the air or to apply them directly to the body.
On the plane, I obviously didn’t have the option of diffusing the oils, so I applied them to my neck. The oils can also be applied to the soles of the feet or to the wrists.
Diffusing the oils is another wonderful way to get them into the system. The aromatic compounds are then absorbed directly by the mucous membrane. Applying the oils to your wrists is, in effect, diffusing them since you smell the oils whenever your arm passes your head.
* * *
Do you have your own story to tell? Have you overcome sleep debt or simple occasional sleeplessness? Please comment in the area below. I’d love to hear from you.