When I was training to work as a health coach, one of the very first questions we were taught to ask clients was 'how is your sleep?' Sleep really is the backbone of our wellness picture. If we aren't getting enough good-quality sleep then other areas of our health begin to fall out of balance. Most of us can spot when we've not slept as well as we might like. Perhaps we don't wake up feeling refreshed or are a bit grouchy and irritable, struggle to concentrate throughout the day and end up snacking on sugar and junk food. But the impact of ongoing deprived sleep, goes beyond that. It affects our hormones, immune system, gut health, memory and can even increase our risk of developing dementia later in life. In his book, 'Why We Sleep', sleep expert Matthew Walker says that sleeping six hours or less significantly affects our brains ability to process and restore information.
Whilst we'd all love to be getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep a night the reality is that many of us are only actually getting a fraction of what we need. We're all guilty of it aren't we? Life gets in the way and sleep takes the hit when we are working to a tight deadline, going through a stressful time or juggling busy schedules. I will admit that I used to think sleep was a bit of a waste of my time and that I could get by on 6 hours a night but I actually didn't realise how much it was affecting my health and energy levels until I started prioritising my sleep!
Luckily, there is a lot we can do to improve our sleep. Establishing a bedtime routine is paramount to getting better sleep. From reducing screen time before bed and taking more time to unwind in the evening to stopping drinking caffeine past 12pm, we just need to experiment a bit to find out what works for us individually.
One incredible sleep aid that I have really gotten into this past year, having spent more time at home, is the use of essential oils. The research backing the benefits of essential oils is on the rise and they are widely used to support wellbeing all over the world. Each essential oil is extracted from and captures the unique essence of a plant which can provide a specific benefit for our body. As we inhale this essence it stimulates the limbic system in our brain which produces positive calming hormone responses that affect our emotions and wellbeing.
In celebration of sleep awareness week this week, aromatherapist, Karena Rathbone, shares her top seven essential oils that we can incorporate at bedtime to support our sleep, along with tips of how we can use them. Get ready to take back those sleepless nights!
Renowned for its gentle soothing nature this is probably the most well known aroma associated with sleep. Lavender pillow mist is a popular accessory on many bedside tables around the world these days. Its calming effect makes it a go-to for creating a relaxing atmosphere. It is especially powerful when combined with essential oils that support melatonin (the hormone that tells us when its time to sleep) production in the brain, such as Cedarwood and Vetiver. If Lavender isn't for you then Petitgrain is a great alternitive or you can combine the two together with bergamot for a super relaxing aroma.
Ideal for creating a calm, grounded atmosphere to support bedtime ambience - who doesn't need that after a long hectic day!! It can be very beneficial to calm feelings of anxiety and stress. It works beautifully when combined with light floral aromas too, like lavender.
Similar to vetiver, cedarwood helps us to unwind by contributing to a peaceful environment. Its well known for its grounding effect and ability to calm the mind. Especially if you are feeling unsettled by an unfamiliar situation or vidid dreams. As mentioned above, it also helps to stimulate melatonin production in the brain which induces sleep.
A soothing aroma which can actually be both uplifting and calming - very useful if you struggle with anxious thoughts and feelings making it trickier to unwind at night. This is a great oil to bring about some harmony at the end of the day. Tangerine essential oil also works in a similar way.
5. ROMAN CHAMOMILE
Known to soothe the skin and digestive system and generally help us unwind when we are feeling a bit frazzled. You may well be familiar with it as a sleepy herbal tea. Interestingly, it has also been shown to help ease feelings of anger or irritability when you feel agitated. It blends well with other soothing oils such as Bergamot, Lavender and Vetiver.
Frequently used in calming practices like yoga and meditation due to its ability to bring about balance and peace. It's powerful aroma helps to dispel negative feelings.
7. JUNIPER BERRY
If anxious thoughts or overthinking occupy your nights then this is a great essential oil to try. Its nicknamed the 'oil of the night' as it is very cleansing and can defuse worrying that comes through at night. It is also very beneficial for nightmares.
HOW TO USE
The idea is not to overload your system by using them all at once but playing around and finding what works for you. Essential oils affect us all differently so finding aromas that suit us individually is key. Using the scents one at a time or blending two or three together to create a relaxing atmosphere is best. For example, in her own bedtime routine Karena prefers to use a more citrus aroma and combine vetiver and bergamot or tangerine for a calming and uplifting effect. You can either use the oils above to create your own blends or purchase blended oils. Some of Karena's favourite blends for unwinding include Serenity, Balance and Air.
Karena recommends using a diffuser in your bedroom and having it on before bed to create a peaceful atmosphere. Essential oils go a lot further than you may think so you only need 5-10 drops depending on your diffuser. If you don't have a diffuser or need a quick hit then you can simply add a drop of your chosen essential oil to the palm of your hand, rub your palms together and just inhale. I can highly recommend investing in a diffuser though. I got one last year and I can honestly say it is worth every penny. I absolutely love it. Just having it on in the background throughout the day creates a lovely environment and I'm really enjoying playing around with different oils to support my mood.
Another of my favourite ways to use essential oils at the moment is to add about 5 drops to a warm bath along with some Epsom salts or magnesium flakes and just breathe in the gorgeous aromas. Its like a warm hug!!
Its useful to note that whilst you can also use essential oils topically, essential oils are extremely potent and concentrated so it is very important to dilute using a carrier oil (such as coconut oil) in order to avoid irritation or burning to the skin. Generally our palms are a little less sensitive, so applying a drop of oil, as mentioned above, directly to the palms is considered safe in such a small quantity but anywhere else on the body, especially if using on the face, requires a carrier oil.
HOW TO SOURCE YOUR ESSENTIAL OILS
When sourcing your essential oils it is important to do your research and always use high-quality 100% pure natural essential oils from reputable brands that are free from harsh chemicals, pesticides, funguses and moulds. Look for organic wherever possible. Frustratingly, labelling laws don't prevent something being labelled as 'pure' even if it contains as little as 1% real essential oil! Karena uses 'doTERRA' essential oils in her practice which are have been rigorously tested and assure quality.
If you would like more advice and information on how you can incorporate essential oils into your life then Karena is a resident aromatherapist at Light Work in Rye, East Sussex and runs regular workshops and classes. There is also lots of information on Karena's instagram and facebook pages.
Here's to finding your beautiful bedtime routine!