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Managing Sleep and Stress with Essential Oils

October 29, 2019 7 min read 0 Comments

Managing Sleep and Stress with Essential Oils

Essential oils are so named because they contain the essence of a plant’s fragrance. It is what you smell when you rub the leaf of a plant or break the skin of a citrus fruit. This oil is a concentrated liquid that contains a variety of aromatic compounds which are volatile, meaning they evaporate quickly at room temperature. It is this property that allows us to perceive their scent so rapidly.

 

Produced in specialized cells of certain plants, these potent compounds may play a role in plant reproduction by attracting pollinating insects, or may be a form of protection from disease, parasites, or predators. The most common method of extraction is steam distillation, but certain sources require other methods such as cold pressing and expression (for citrus fruits), or solvent extraction (for fragile flowers that cannot withstand the high heat of distillation).

 

Essential oils are used as remedies for a wide range of health issues[i] including skincare, respiratory conditions, digestive complaints, pain, and even psychological and emotional concerns. Several essential oils demonstrate natural and non-invasive benefits for insomnia and anxiety. Listed here are some common oils that can be used to improve sleep quality or reduce stress. They may be used on their own or in combination. Diffuser blend recipes are provided, but you can also simply apply the drops to a diffuser stone, or a cotton ball placed in a glass jar or bowl.

Essential oils for Sleep

When we sleep, our body shifts to repair and regeneration mode. The nervous system is the first to show us when we’re in need of rest, as we struggle with patience and focus. Unfortunately, many of us find getting a restorative night’s sleep a challenge. Whether the trouble is falling asleep, staying asleep, or just poor quality, the cause may be multifold and difficult to determine. A 2015 literature review[ii] found that aromatherapy is effective at promoting that peaceful slumber we so crave.

 

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

Perhaps the most well known and certainly the most researched essential oil, lavender is distilled from the flowering tops of the plant and has a distinct floral-spice scent. Lavender’s calming ability benefits stress and anxiety[iii] and is an exceptional remedy for insomnia by improving sleep quality[iv] after shift work or when related to stress[v], [vi]. It is a versatile oil with a wide range of benefits, so may be considered a key oil to include in your kit. Lavender blends well with: geranium, citrus oils, thyme, and ylang ylang.

 

Bergamot (Citrus bergamia)

Recognizable for its inclusion in Earl Grey tea, bergamot essential oil is cold pressed from the peels of the unripe fruit. Its citrusy yet floral scent can improve negative mood[vii], calm fears[viii], and relieve anxiety[ix]. This relaxing effect helps to prepare the body for a restful sleep. Bergamot blends well with: geranium, lavender, rosemary, and vetiver.

 

Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea)

Clary sage is related to but distinct from common sage. The essential oil is steam distilled from the herb’s flowering tops and has a sweet, wine-like scent with a slight herbal note. It has both calming[x] and sedative properties. Clary sage blends well with: frankincense, lemongrass, cedarwood, and ylang ylang.

 

Sound Sleep Oil Diffuser Blend

This blend can be diffused or diluted with a carrier oil such as sweet almond oil and applied topically to not only improve sleep quality, but also reduce pain and improve mood[xi].

 

  • 3 drops lavender essential oil
  • 2 drops bergamot essential oil
  • 1 drop clary sage

 

Essential Oils for Stress and Anxiety

Modern living, poor diet, and lack of activity keeps many of us in a continually stressed state. When in this fight-or-flight mode, important processes like digestion, immune function, tissue repair, and sleep are suppressed. For some, the reaction to this stress may trigger anxiety. The symptoms of stress and anxiety are very similar and the terms are often used interchangeably in research. A 2015 review[xii] outlined the anti-anxiety or stress-relieving effects of various essentials oils, including those already mentioned.

 

Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)

Steam distilled from the leaves of this herb, geranium (also known as “rose geranium”) essential oil smells like a combination of rose and citrus. Research has shown that its pleasing rose-like aroma can relieve anxiety in hospital patients[xiii], and during labour[xiv]. Geranium blends well with: clary sage, frankincense, lavender, and chamomile.

 

Sweet Orange (Citrus sinensis)

Cold pressed from the peels of the fruit, sweet orange essential oil has a citrusy aroma that can be uplifting for the mood without being overstimulating. Inhaling sweet orange before bed may improve sleep quality[xv] and research has demonstrated its calming effects for stress[xvi] and anxiety[xvii]. Sweet orange blends well with: other citrus oils, cinnamon, thyme, patchouli, and ylang ylang.

 

Lemon (Citrus limon)

Lemon essential oil is cold pressed from the peels of the fruit. Its refreshing scent reduces anxiety[xviii] and one study showed it to have a stronger anti-stress effect than lavender or rose essential oils[xix]. Lemon blends well with: other citrus oils and wood oils.

 

Stress-Less Oil Diffuser Blend

With a bright yet balancing aroma, this blend can be diffused into a room or diluted in a rollerball for use as needed.

 

  • 2 drops geranium essential oil
  • 2 drops sweet orange essential oil
  • 2 drops lemon essential oil

 

 

Essential oils are a powerful and effective remedy for calming stress, relieving anxiety, and supporting restorative sleep. They should be included as part of an overall approach to good health, including a diet that is full of whole foods and limits processed and refined foods, proper hydration, regular activity, and good sleep hygiene. While the oils suggested have proven benefits, personal preference can override the desired response. In other words, if you don’t like the smell, you won’t find it relaxing. Choose oils with a pleasing scent and enjoy! For more information on essential oils and recipe blends visit our ultimate guide to essential oils

 

Warning: Essential oils from citrus fruits such as bergamot, sweet orange, and lemon may increase photosensitivity, so avoid sunlight for at least 12 hours after skin application. Essential oils are extremely potent. Use Caution for use during pregnancy or breastfeeding, with babies, children, or animals.

 

[i] Essential oils used in aromatherapy: A systemic review. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2221169115001033

[ii] The Effects of Aromatherapy on Sleep Improvement: A Systematic Literature Review and Meta-Analysis. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/acm.2014.0113

[iii] The effects of lavender scent on dental patient anxiety levels: a cluster randomised-controlled trial. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1600-0528.2009.00511.x

[iv] Inhalation Effects of Aroma Essential Oil on Quality of Sleep for Shift Nurses after Night Work. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28077825

[v] The Effects of Aromatherapy on Intensive Care Unit Patients' Stress and Sleep Quality: A Nonrandomised Controlled Trial. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5742427/

[vi] Effects of aromatherapy on sleep quality and anxiety of patients. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26211735

[vii] Effects of Bergamot (Citrus bergamia (Risso) Wright & Arn.) Essential Oil Aromatherapy on Mood States, Parasympathetic Nervous System Activity, and Salivary Cortisol Levels in 41 Healthy Females. https://www.karger.com/Article/FullText/380989

[viii] Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) Essential Oil Inhalation Improves Positive Feelings in the Waiting Room of a Mental Health Treatment Center: A Pilot Study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5434918/

[ix] Bergamot Essential Oil Attenuates Anxiety-Like Behaviour in Rats. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28398260

[x] Antidepressant-like effect of Salvia sclarea is explained by modulation of dopamine activities in rats. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378874110002667

[xi] Effects of the Aroma Massage on Shoulder Pain, Depression, Sleep Disturbance in Hemiparesis Patients. http://www.koreascience.or.kr/article/JAKO200425952569518.page 

[xii] A Systematic Review of the Anxiolytic-Like Effects of Essential Oils in Animal Models. https://www.mdpi.com/1420-3049/20/10/18620/htm

[xiii] Effects of geranium aroma on anxiety among patients with acute myocardial infarction: A triple-blind randomized clinical trial. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1744388117304309?via%3Dihub

[xiv] Effect of Inhalation of Aroma of Geranium Essence on Anxiety and Physiological Parameters during First Stage of Labor in Nulliparous Women: a Randomized Clinical Trial. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4484988/

[xv] Effect of orange peel essential oil on postpartum sleep quality: A randomized controlled clinical trial. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1876382015300226

[xvi] Ambient odors of orange and lavender reduce anxiety and improve mood in a dental office. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031938405002660

[xvii] Effect of Sweet Orange Aroma on Experimental Anxiety in Humans https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/acm.2011.0551

[xviii] Effect of Aromatherapy on Cognitive Test Anxiety Among Nursing Students. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/act.2014.20207

[xix] Lemon oil vapor causes an anti-stress effect via modulating the 5-HT and DA activities in mice. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0166432806002798

 

[1] Essential oils used in aromatherapy: A systemic review. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2221169115001033

[1] The Effects of Aromatherapy on Sleep Improvement: A Systematic Literature Review and Meta-Analysis. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/acm.2014.0113

[1] The effects of lavender scent on dental patient anxiety levels: a cluster randomised-controlled trial. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1600-0528.2009.00511.x

[1] Inhalation Effects of Aroma Essential Oil on Quality of Sleep for Shift Nurses after Night Work. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28077825

[1] The Effects of Aromatherapy on Intensive Care Unit Patients' Stress and Sleep Quality: A Nonrandomised Controlled Trial. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5742427/

[1] Effects of aromatherapy on sleep quality and anxiety of patients. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26211735

[1] Effects of Bergamot (Citrus bergamia (Risso) Wright & Arn.) Essential Oil Aromatherapy on Mood States, Parasympathetic Nervous System Activity, and Salivary Cortisol Levels in 41 Healthy Females. https://www.karger.com/Article/FullText/380989

[1] Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) Essential Oil Inhalation Improves Positive Feelings in the Waiting Room of a Mental Health Treatment Center: A Pilot Study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5434918/

[1] Bergamot Essential Oil Attenuates Anxiety-Like Behaviour in Rats. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28398260

[1] Antidepressant-like effect of Salvia sclarea is explained by modulation of dopamine activities in rats. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378874110002667

[1] Effects of the Aroma Massage on Shoulder Pain, Depression, Sleep Disturbance in Hemiparesis Patients. http://www.koreascience.or.kr/article/JAKO200425952569518.page 

[1] A Systematic Review of the Anxiolytic-Like Effects of Essential Oils in Animal Models. https://www.mdpi.com/1420-3049/20/10/18620/htm

[1] Effects of geranium aroma on anxiety among patients with acute myocardial infarction: A triple-blind randomized clinical trial. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1744388117304309?via%3Dihub

[1] Effect of Inhalation of Aroma of Geranium Essence on Anxiety and Physiological Parameters during First Stage of Labor in Nulliparous Women: a Randomized Clinical Trial. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4484988/

[1] Effect of orange peel essential oil on postpartum sleep quality: A randomized controlled clinical trial. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1876382015300226

[1] Ambient odors of orange and lavender reduce anxiety and improve mood in a dental office. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031938405002660

[1] Effect of Sweet Orange Aroma on Experimental Anxiety in Humans https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/acm.2011.0551

[1] Effect of Aromatherapy on Cognitive Test Anxiety Among Nursing Students. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/act.2014.20207

[1] Lemon oil vapor causes an anti-stress effect via modulating the 5-HT and DA activities in mice. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0166432806002798
Denise Massie, B.Sc., RHN
Denise Massie, B.Sc., RHN

Denise is a holistic nutritionist who helps individuals and families adopt health-supporting whole food plant-based lifestyle. She loves to show others how easy and enjoyable it can be to incorporate delicious vegan food into their eating. Contact Denise here for a consultation: www.denisemassierhn.ca