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Sleepless night? Try essential oils.

May 6, 2014

A recent University of Minnesota review investigated the effects of a few deep breaths of an essential oil while drifting off to sleep. The review concluded the inhalation of essential oils is a worthwhile option to explore after a night or two of restless sleep.

Positive, sleep-inducing effects were found from essential oil inhalation in the greater part of 15 scientific studies published between 1990 and 2012. The effects were found to be mild by-and-large, with the potential to serve as a great first-line alternative to over-the-counter sleeping aides and prescription medicines.

Lavender was the most common essential oil studied. Jasmine, peppermint oil, and blends of essential oils were examined as well.

“As we’re becoming more aware of the effects of disrupted sleep, it’s encouraging to locate simple, safe and effective options to aid sleep,” said Angela Lillehei, M.P.H., Ph.D., R.N., who led the review as part of her doctoral studies in nursing at the University of Minnesota. “Certain essential oils appear to help to some degree.”

Most essential oils have upwards of 50 chemicals compounds working together to create a therapeutic effect. Of these, esters and alcohols are examples of ingredients responsible for a drowsy feeling, balanced out by the additional active ingredients.

These compounds work together to alleviate sleep-loss, which at varying degrees of severity can negatively impact overall health, energy levels, well-being, disease susceptibility and emotional health. More than 60 percent of American adults reported frequent sleep problems in a 2009 poll by the National Sleep Foundation.

Because no negative effects of essential oil use were observed in the participants of the 15 studies examined, Lillehei encourages considering one or two drops of an essential oil on a pillowcase or a tissue at night to help improve sleep and sleep quality. Long-term use of the oils was not examined, so occasional use is emphasized to help switch from a disruptive sleep cycle to a balanced one.

If you plan to test an essential oil, Lillehei advises the following:

  1. Try lavender. This is the most commonly studied essential oil relating to sleep and is a safe-bet for personal use.
  2. Use only one or two drops. Larger doses can be overwhelming and too large a quantity of some essential oils can be hazardous, so play it safe with a smaller amount.
  3. Check the label for the correct Latin plant name. When choosing lavender, for example, “Lavandula angustifolia” soothes while “Lavandula latifolia” stimulates. Be sure to choose a soothing option, or you may experience an unintended effect.
  4. Ensure the oil is therapeutic-grade or 100 percent essential oil. This should be specified on the label. Retailers similar to co-ops or Whole Foods often stock oils safe for use in small amounts.
  5. Check with a doctor about prolonged sleep disturbances. Make sure you’re taking the best possible care of yourself by talking with a health care provider if troubles are long-lasting.

University of Minnesota associate professor of nursing Linda Halcon, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.N., co-authored the review.


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