Insomnia is a temporary or chronic inability to fall asleep or maintain sleep. It is estimated that more than 30% of people suffer from some form of insomnia. Women are in the majority of insomniacs, and about 35% of those being sleep-deprived have someone in their family who has also experienced insomnia.
Causes of Insomnia
Causes for insomnia fall into five main categories: mental, emotional, chemical, physical and environmental.
Mental causes, such as depression, anxiety and worry, can make it difficult to fall asleep, and to maintain sleep. It is common for an insomniac to wake up from restless sleep still feeling the same agitation that made it so hard for them to fall asleep in the first place.
Strong emotions, fears and phobias—especially of not being able to sleep—make the night-time a true nightmare for many people.
A group of insomniacs are unable to sleep due to chemical reasons. Alcohol, drugs, coffee, soft drinks, and even tea, can make it very difficult to get to sleep or to sleep throughout the night.
Physical pain and discomfort may also make it impossible to fall asleep.
Those with hypoglycemia, on the other hand, can often find themselves waking up during the night.
Finally, noisy surroundings or an uncomfortable bed—and other environmental factors—can almost certainly make trying to fall asleep a frustrating experience.
Whatever your cause of sleeplessness, there is often a natural solution for your problem. Sometimes this solution is simple, sometimes more involved. What is important, however, is to breathe in and breathe out, and not to worry.
Essential Oils vs Pharmacy Medication
Many essential oils have been scientifically proven to relax the mind and body, and to induce sleepiness.
Compared to pharmacy medications, essential oils are a safer option. They have few, if any, side effects and, when used correctly, pose no risk to their user. Unlike sleeping pills, they are not addictive, either.
Temporary vs Long-term Insomnia
Essential oils are an excellent remedy for short-term sleep deprivation.
For chronic or long-term insomnia, essential oils alone may not be enough. In this case, you will need to look at your situation from a holistic point of view.
- Is there something in your physical or mental state that is stopping you from sleeping?
- Are some of your medications causing you to stay awake?
- Are you eating or drinking stimulating substances too late at night?
- Is there something in your environment that needs to change in order for you to get a good night’s sleep?
Insomnia is often caused by unhealthy lifestyle choices and habits, or even an unwillingness to sleep.
A sedentary lifestyle, combined with 24-hour access to entertainment, will not prepare your body or your mind for sleep.
6 Essential Oils for Insomnia
Lavender Essential Oil is the most versatile of essential oils due to its many uses. It is calming and soothing, and helps with depression and stress.
Lavender is used to quell headaches and reduce high blood pressure and muscle pain, as well as to treat rheumatism, sciatica and arthritis.
There are a number of studies that have been conducted into the efficacy of lavender as a sleep aid.
A 1996 study tested Lavender Essential Oil on 31 hospital patients. The study revealed that lavender allowed the patients to sleep with fewer breaks at night and also enhanced the quality of their waking hours.1
In a study conducted on 34 middle-aged women suffering from insomnia, lavender was again shown to improve the quality of sleep.2
A Japanese single-blind randomised study on 15 students had similar results: again, the quality of sleep improved.3
Most of these positive results were due to the major ingredient in lavender called linalool.
Linalool is a sedative and it also reduces body temperature, making it easier to fall asleep.
A typical percentage of linalool in lavender is 29.35-41.62%.
APPLICATION: Use Lavender Essential Oil in a bath, in massage, or add it to a diffuser just before bedtime.
Bergamot Essential Oil is excellent for people who lie awake at night feeling anxious and depressed. It is uplifting without being stimulating. It reduces depression and makes you feel positive while lulling you into sleep.
In a 2010 study conducted on rats with heightened anxiety levels, bergamot’s effect on anxiety was concluded to be similar to that of diazepam. Both not only reduced anxiety but also diminished the amount of corticosterone hormone which the body normally secretes in response to stress.4
APPLICATION: Use Bergamot Essential Oil in a diffuser or as a body perfume. Mixed with a carrier oil, it is also an excellent addition to baths.
3. Roman Chamomile
Roman Chamomile Essential Oil is gentle and calming. It is, in fact, so benign that it is one of the essential oils recommended for children.
Roman chamomile reduces stress, anxiety and depression, and helps with headaches and sleeplessness.
A study conducted on rats in 2005 found that the time it takes to fall asleep decreased significantly with the use of chamomile. The research noted that chamomile extract is a herb having benzodiazepine-like hypnotic activity.5
APPLICATION: Use Roman Chamomile Essential Oil in bathwater or in massage. It can also be diffused into the room air. Roman chamomile should not be used by pregnant women.
4. Sweet Marjoram
Sweet Marjoram is a powerful sedative that may even be stupefying in larger doses. It helps with emotional instability and irritability and its nutty odour causes drowsiness.
There is not a lot of research into the sedative qualities of marjoram. According to one research, however, there is some evidence that marjoram improves breathing and so may reduce sleep apnoea.6
APPLICATION: To use this essential oil in a bath, mix it with lavender and add into a carrier oil. Sweet marjoram should not be used by pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Neroli is a citrus essential oil with mildly sedative properties. Because of its nerve-soothing qualities, it is wonderful for those suffering from anxiety and stress. It is also prescribed for emotional grief.
Gabriel Mojay states that “Neroli is particularly beneficial for hot, agitated condition of the heart characterised by restlessness, insomnia and palpitations, and is indicated for hypertension.”7
Neroli’s effects can be somewhat hypnotic, and should be chosen if fear of insomnia is keeping you awake.
APPLICATION: Use Neroli Essential Oil in massage or in bathwater mixed with a carrier oil. Apply 1-3 drops of undiluted Neroli Essential Oil on a handkerchief or on a pillow.
Sandalwood Essential Oil derives from a tree species native to East India. Its main component is called santalol and it has a calming effect on the central nervous system.
A study published in Japan in 2007 found that santalol increased the amount of REM-sleep in rats.8
Another study done on adolescent children in Indonesia noted similar effects in humans. Out of a sample of 22 people, 13.6% reported sleeping well prior to using sandalwood. After the experiment, the percentage of sound sleepers was 45.5%.9
Sandalwood Essential Oil helps with depression, fear and stress. It calms an agitated mind, and it is said to remove aggression. Its sedative qualities are especially suited for grieving or dying people.
APPLICATION: Use Sandalwood Essential Oil in a diffuser or add 3 drops to bathwater.
Importance of Varying Oils
It is not recommended to use one particular essential oil for more than a week or two at a stretch. This is because the oil will lose part of its efficacy if used exclusively.
Instead, use another, perhaps similar, essential oil for a time and then return to the first oil. Your body will be much more welcoming of it again, after a short break.
Methods of Application
When it comes to treating insomnia, there are a few tried and tested methods of applying essential oils for best results.
Probably the best way to enjoy essential oils is as part of a gentle massage. For an overwraught mind and a restless body there’s nothing like human touch in massage combined with relaxing aromatic essential oils.
If massages are not an option for you, the next best thing, and sometimes even the best, are aromatic baths.
For sleep-inducing baths, use warm, not hot, water. Mix 3-6 drops of essential oil with a carrier oil and add to bath water. Enjoy your relaxing bath just before bedtime.
Finally, if you are time poor, you can simply drop a few beadlets of essential oil onto your pillow. If you’re not keen to put oil onto your pillow case, try dropping on a handkerchief or tissue and placing this next to your head when you go to sleep. Both methods work.
A Holistic Approach
What to Eat Before Bedtime
In addition to using essential oils, you may also consider consuming certain sleep-inducing foods and drinks before bedtime.
Mothers all over the world have an innate trust in the calming effects of hot milk. They are indeed right in giving this drink to their restless children as milk comes loaded with mineral calcium and the amino acid tryptophan, both natural nerve sedatives.
Other foods high in tryptophan are bananas, figs, dates and yogurt.
Relaxing herbal teas, such as chamomile, valerian skullcap and passionflower, will also calm the mind and prepare you for sleep.
What Not to Eat Before Bedtime
There are some foods which should not be eaten before bedtime because of their brain-stimulating qualities.
Coffee, alcohol, sugar, cheese, chocolate, wine, ham, potatoes, spinach and tomatoes all contain a chemical called tyramine. Tyramine increases the release of the hormone norepinephrine which in turn raises blood pressure and stimulates the brain.
In addition, coffee, chocolate and cola-drinks contain caffeine which is also a stimulant.
Other Ways to Induce Sleep: Physical, Mental and Spiritual
Attaining a healthy sleep pattern may require a significant lifestyle change.
- Start by looking at your sleep environment. Make sure that your mattress supports your back and that your pillow keeps your head level with your body. This is especially important if you sleep on your side.
- Keep the room temperature at a comfortable level. Slightly cooler is better than too warm.
- A night walk or yoga during the day will help your body to relax faster at bedtime.
- Practicing regular prayer or meditation can tame your wandering thoughts.
- Finally, listening to soft music, rain sounds or a familiar audiobook might be useful. Think of it as a bedtime story.
3. Hirokawa K, Nishimoto T, Taniguchi T. Effects of lavender aroma on sleep quality in healthy Japanese Students. Perceptual & Motor Skills. 2012.
4. Saiyudthong S, Marsden CA. Acute effects of bergamot oil on anxiety-related behaviour and corticosterone level in rats. Phytother. Res. 2010.
5. Shinomiya K, Inoue T, Utsu Y, Tokunaga S, Masuoka T, Ohmori A, Kamei C. Biol Pharma Bull. 2005.
6. Ulbricht C, Costa D, Isaac R, Seamon E, Grimes Serrano JM, Varghese M, Weissner W, Windsor RC. Sweet marjoram (Origanum majorana): a systematic review by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration. Journal of Alternative Medicine Research. 2010.
7. Mojay G. Aromatherapy for healing the spirit. 1996.
8. Ohmari A, Shinomiya K, Utsu Y, Tokunaga S, Hasegawa Y, Kamei C. Effect of santalol on the sleep-wake cycle in sleep-disturbed rats. Japanese Journal of Psychopharmacology. 2007.