The clock keeps ticking as you toss and turn in bed. Another wake-filled night as you watch the minutes slowly count down until dawn. You think, “If I get to sleep now, I’ll have 5 hours’ sleep—I can get by on 5 hours ….” Then “I’ve gotten by on 3 hours of sleep before …” and then “Ugh, how am I gonna survive this day on NO sleep!” Sound familiar? If so, you may be one of the 40% to 50% of people who find themselves sleepless from time to time or maybe you are one of the 10 % who have chronic insomnia. By definition, insomnia means either the inability to fall asleep, the inability to stay asleep, or both together. According to the medical profession, symptoms lasting less than one week are classified as transient insomnia, symptoms between one to three weeks are classified as short-term insomnia, and those longer than three weeks are classified as chronic insomnia.
Transient or short-term insomnia has many different causes, some being jet-lag, or changes in shift work, uncomfortable bedroom temperature, loud disruptive noises, physical pain or tense muscles and stress. Chronic insomnia might be more due to psychological stressors like anxiety, depression and uncontrolled racing thoughts. Physiological chronic pain like acid reflux (GERD), COPD, sleep apnea or hormonal problems can also cause chronic insomnia. And of course caffeine, alcohol and sugar too close to bedtime can easily disrupt valuable sleep.
Although essential oils by themselves may not cure insomnia, they still can go along way in helping ease some of the symptoms of sleeplessness. For instance, if insomnia is caused by physical pain from tension in the muscles, mixing essential oils in a carrier oil and massaging them onto tired achy muscles will help ease some of the physical discomfort. Taking a warm bath in relaxing oils will also soothe tense over-taut muscles. Some of these essential oils for tense muscles would include birch, juniper, lavender, black pepper, chamomile or marjoram.
Anxiety is a major cause of insomnia. Those little creeping annoyances that seem like nothing in the daytime explode into all encompassing dire situations in the middle of the night. Feelings of helplessness, fear, worry, uncertainty are intensified in the dark, to the point where there seems to be no possible solutions. Calming and centering the mind are good techniques to use to combat insomnia, but very often the thoughts over-ride any mantras or pranayamas at night and even counting sheep can seem like too much effort. Burning essential oils before bed in an aroma lamp is helpful as well as spritzing essential oils onto bedding. It’s a passive way of calming the mind and easing the thoughts. Oils to burn or spritz at night can include benzoin, chomomile, lavender, marjoram, jasmine, ylang-ylang, or rose. I have also found that Bach Flower Remedies greatly ease anxiety and night fears. They have a specific Nightime Rescue Remedy that I have heard is very effective.
Depression is also a major contributor to insomnia. The feelings of hopelessness, sadness, despair and loneliness can be overwhelming in the dead of night, especially if there is no one to share those emotions with. Again, flower remedies are an immense aid, as is a great technique called “Emotional Freedom Technique” (EFT) (you can find information on EFT on line). Essential oils that support uplifting feelings of hope and encouragement are gernium, grapefruit, jasmine, lavender, melissa, neroli, patchouli and sandalwood. These oils can be used in an aroma lamp, spritzed on the bedding or better yet, bathed in before bed. To use the essential oils in the bath, take some sea salts or mineral salts and mix a few drops of some of the oils into the salt before placing them in the bath.
Hormones in women wreak havoc on sleep patterns. Whether it is pain from premenstrual cramps, hot flashes or PMS, hormones can disrupt a good night’s sleep. There are various herbs, essential fatty acids and vitamins that work to alleviate some of the symptoms of hormones-gone-crazy, and aromatherapy oils can assist as well by bringing harmony for a more comfortable menstrual pattern. For premenstrual tension, burning oils in an aroma lamp can create a calming and relaxing atmosphere. Oils like clary sage, jasmine, rose, rosewood and ylang ylang can help bring an inner peace and contentment to stress and irritability. A soothing bath before bed with these oils included can also bring balance to a tense energy pattern. Add aromatherapy candles to this bath experience and it can feel like sheer heaven! For water retention and bloating during PMS, oils such as cypress, fennel, juniper or geranium can help by either massaging the body with these oils in a carrier oil, or else by bathing in them. This releases the odema and stimulates stagnant fluid flow and allows for a more comfortable sleep. For menstrual cramping, massaging the belly in a clockwise direction with a carrier oil containing a combination of bergamot, clary, cypress, ginger, jasmine or peppermint oil can help to relieve symptoms; as can soaking in a warm bath with oils. Stimulating blood flow by placing a cloth impregnated with these oils over the belly with a hot pad on top can also work wonders with cramping and is very comforting in the middle of the night. Hot flashes and night sweats are very debilitating. Some good essential oils for relieving some of theses symptoms are clary sage, fennel, geranium, melissa and chamomile. Any of the above methods of application will work for hot flashes.
Next time you are lying awake, cursing at the night, take a breath of aromatherapy. You just might find the sandman visiting you!