Are essential oils the way to a better night’s sleep?

Are essential oils the way to a better night’s sleep?

With everything from irregular work patterns to caffeine, alcohol and that new Netflix thriller you can’t stop watching, getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night can seem like an impossible dream. Sleep seems to be the first thing we are all willing to compromise on, accepting that feeling tired is just part of our daily lives now, as the average UK adult only gets six hours and 32 minutes of sleep per night, a study concluded in 2018.

Even if you make the time, getting to sleep quickly and managing to stay asleep can seem like an inconceivable task. With one in five participants in the aforementioned 2018 study saying they had taken tablets in order to try and sleep better, it is clear that there is demand for products and a solution to help. Aromatherapists and essential oils brands think they have found it.

Over the past few years, plenty of products have appeared on the market claiming to boost quality and quantity of sleep through the use of basic aromatherapy principles that advocate the impact of essential oils and natural scents. Available in the form of pillow mists, candles , diffuser oils, oil burners and body/face oils, there are not only endless ways to buy and consume the oils, but further confusion has grown from the general lack of scientific information available to support their use. The products claim they will help you achieve a better night’s sleep and leave you feeling more refreshed in the morning after use, but how true is this? And how beneficial to your sleep actually are they? What are essential oils?

Derived from roots, seeds, flowers, bark and other natural plant products, essential oils are concentrated compounds that are connected to a plant’s scent, a crucial part of pollination.

Far from a recent discovery or wellness trend, the oils have been used for centuries by ancient societies who cited their benefits in healthcare, religious ceremonies, beauty treatments and skincare, oral hygiene and food preparation. Ancient Egyptians are rumoured to have cultivated the oils from plants and combined the oils with a solvent method of animal fats, using them as part of their religious practices and in cosmetics. These practices were then used by the Ancient Greeks, with physicians such as Hippocrates advocating the benefits of holistic approaches to medicines. How do they work?

“Essential oils work holistically on our mind and body for an enhanced sense of wellbeing,” explained aromatherapist Fran Johnson. “Depending on the essential used, some will help to lift our moods and some have been seen as natural healers through their unique ability to harness some medicinal properties.”

The basic principle is actually quite simple and seems to make sense: different oils stimulate different responses in our hypothalamus gland, which then triggers the production of a different hormone. According to Neom, an essential oil brand, the hormones then produce different responses within the body as chemical messengers are sent to specific cells, leading to better sleep, less stress , more energy or a mood boost, depending on which oil is inhaled. Scent can also be linked to our memories, stimulating positive responses in our bodies and helping to relax us in the evenings.

According to Tisserand aromatherapist Jo Kellett, “Smell triggers memories and alters our emotional health. If applied to the skin, essential oils can also have a physical effect on our muscles, our digestive system and our nerves as they enter our blood stream.” This is an opinion Arabella Preston from Votary also stands firmly behind, saying that “our sense of smell is strongly linked to memory and so the right associations can have emotional benefits”.

This Works, the company behind the Deep Sleep Pillow Spray, put its products under heavy testing in 2017, using an independent functional MRI brain scan to analyse how its sleep products impacted our brains. The fragrances activated specific areas of the brain linked to smell, with their blend of lavender, vetiver and camomile specifically targeting the area that is linked to pleasure and calmness. Through stimulating these senses in our brains, essential oil blends can help us to relax and fall asleep much faster, it concluded. Why is sleep important?

In 2017, neuroscientist Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep: The New Science Of Sleep And Dreams rocketed into the bestselling book charts, showing how captivated the British public is by sleep and really how badly we all need a few solutions. For those of us who sleep for fewer than seven hours a night, Walker says that “low-level exhaustion becomes their accepted norm, or baseline. Individuals fail to recognise their perennial state of sleep deficiency has come to compromise their mental aptitude and physical vitality, including the slow accumulation of ill health.”

Only 16 per cent of Britons believe that they have sufficient sleep each night and 23 per cent of people only get five to six hours of sleep each night. When asked what they believed the reason for their lack of sleep was, 25 per cent said stress, suggesting they were having trouble relaxing enough each evening. According to Mind, mental health also plays a huge factor in limiting and disrupting the quality of our sleep, whether it be through an endless stream of anxious thoughts or nightmares and terrors from conditions such as PTSD.

This means we are missing out on crucial benefits. According to Ana Noia, a senior clinical physiologist at Bupa, getting enough sleep can not only “improve attention and concentration, help maintain a healthy weight, keep your heart healthy, keep your immune system strong, help your emotional wellbeing, boost your mood, reduce stress and help give you enough energy to maintain good relationships.” What do the doctors say?

“Currently in the UK essential oils are not prescribed by NHS doctors. These preparations are considered as part of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), which falls outside of mainstream healthcare,” explained Dr Chris George. “However, this is not to say that there is not a role for essential […]


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