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Essential oils have made their way into mainstream medicine and are generally viewed as a welcomed addition to integrative medicine.
Recorded history is fraught with reference to essential oils' medicinal properties, which is supported by many different cultures across the globe. However, mainstream medicine has always expressed concern over claims about the healing properties of essential oils. Research studies are ongoing, and contrary to public belief, essential oils do have a place in the wellbeing of patients at leading hospitals across the USA and around the world.
We look at what medical professionals have to say about essential oils and delve deeper into the mysterious world of essential oils and how they actually help improve sleep.
What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are oil-based extracts from plants, mostly flowers, herbs, and trees. Essential oils are not true oils like olive oil or flaxseed oil. The liquid is volatile, meaning the consistency is not uniformed due to the chemical makeup of each concentrate produced, which is also affected by evaporation, a trait not found in true oils.
Steam distillation and press machines are used to extract the essential oil liquid. The extraction process captures the aromatic properties of the base ingredient, which is the foundation for aromatherapy.
Each essential oil ingredient has its own unique aroma, and research indicated that specific aromas influence our limbic system, which controls heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and stress response.
What The Medical Professionals Say.
Dr Mike Patrick, an Assistant Professor of Paediatrics at the Ohio State University U.S., views essential oils in a different light. He acknowledges the mind-body connection and cites the use of essential oils at the Nationwide Children's Hospital as a therapy that support the wellbeing of patients. However, he is sceptical about the actual healing properties of essential oils.
The FDA (Food and Drug Administration, U.S.) classifies essential oils as food supplements and not medicine. This classification prohibits essential oil producers from marketing their products as medicine, and the label must clearly state that the product is "not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease." Furthermore, the classification means the FDA is not allowed to regulate the sale or use of essential oils unless they can prove a specific product poses a serious health threat.
Dr Patrick has reservations about the healing properties of essential oils because he says they have not been thoroughly tested, and no evidence exists to credit them as the primary treatment of diseases and symptoms outside of the mind-body connection. In addition, the available data on the effectiveness of essential oils is not reliable, nor is it reproducible to substantiate their usefulness and safety. Dr Patrick is doubtful if available data will stand up to scientific scrutiny.
On the other hand, Dr Elizabeth Ko, medical director of the UCLA Health Integrative Medicine Collaborative, supports the mind-body connection like Dr Patrick. UCLA Medical Centres make use of essential oils in their hospital rooms.
As far as safety testing on essential oils is concerned, Dr Ko states that tests show very few side effects or risks when used as directed. To add, aromatherapy has a very low toxicity profile with a diluted topical application or inhaled either with the use of a diffuse or a few drops on a cotton wool bud.
Dr Ko reiterates that the power of essential oils lies in their fragrance, which stimulates the brain's limbic system and, through this, helps regulate mood or emotions and memory function.
Essential Oils in The Hospital Setting.
As mentioned, UCLA Medical Centres make use of essential oils in their wards. Each hospital room is equipped with three essential oils; lavender, lemon, and peppermint. The essential oils are offered to the patients as an add-on treatment.
Besides the three essential oils, the relaxation services the hospitals provide include meditation, breathwork, gentle in-bed movements, and Reiki which is a gentle touch stress reduction technique. Aromatherapy fits right in with these other relaxation therapies.
Types of Essential Oils.
There are literally hundreds of different types of essential oils and blends that are each produced with a specific purpose in mind. Essential oils are part of integrative medicine and are recognized for their contribution to the healing process as well as general wellbeing in relation to improved sleep. We will look at the most popular essential oils and how they improve the quality of sleep.
Among the many essential oils, lavender is the most studied and is very effective as a calming therapy. It interacts with neurotransmitters to calm the mind and nervous system.
Multiple studies have shown that lavender oil improves the quality of sleep with less interrupted sleep. One study shows that lavender oil works just as well as anti-anxiety medicines like Xanax and Ativan. Dr Ko often advises her patients who suffer from anxiety disorder or panic disorder to try breathing in lavender oil before reaching for synthetic pills.
When your body prepares for sleep, your heart rate will slow down to a more peaceful rhythm, and your body temperature and blood pressure will also come down slightly. Lavender oil can initiate these changes in your systems by triggering your sensory systems to produce serotonin, which in turn activates the production of melatonin, the hormone that promotes sleep.
Lavender almost has a sedative effect that allows users to relax before they fall asleep, and it is said to aid in more time spent in deep slow-wave sleep. When you wake up, you will feel refreshed and vitalized.
Chamomile is known to have a calming effect as an essential oil but is more commonly known in its tea form, which is brewed from the plant's flowers. Camomile has been used as a relaxant; however, there are minimal effects on the body's rhythms like the effects of lavender.
The aroma of camomile is what contributes to peaceful sleep. The sweet floral aroma has a calming effect on the mind. It is often used to deal with anxiety because of its calming effect, especially with Roman camomile with its apple-tinged fragrance.
This essential oil is much like lavender but not as potent. It still has a sedative effect and is often used to relieve anxiety by lowering your heart rate and blood pressure, necessary for quality sleep. The aroma is fruity and pleasant.
Much like ylang-ylang, bergamot also lowers your heart rate and blood pressure. It is used mostly for people who are experiencing insomnia, stress, or anxiety.
The added benefit of bergamot essential oil is that it has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. How exactly it works is a mystery, but users will tend to drift away from stressful thoughts and become more relaxed before drifting off to sleep.
Clary sage is a natural sedative and is used by people who suffer from depression. It helps to reduce cortisol levels in your body, a fight or flight hormone that can temporarily suppress many of your non-essential systems like your digestive and growth systems.
Other essential oils that promote good sleep include the following:
- Valerian to reduce anxiety.
- Sandalwood has a sedative effect and is used for anxiety.
- Jasmine helps with restless sleeping.
- Cedarwood is used for stress relief.
- Frankincense helps with relaxation.
- Vetiver is very effective at calming and relaxing you before you fall asleep.
- Marjoram helps to keep you fast asleep and keeps you in a state of peaceful sleep.
- Peppermint has anti-inflammatory properties and clears the airway for better sleep.
- Eucalyptus helps you breathe easier by breaking up mucus in your airway.
Different methods of use.
The most common method to reap the benefits of essential oils is to use an air diffuser in a closed room and simply breathe in the goodness. Alternatively, a few drops can be placed in a steaming pot of water that will fill the room with the aromatic vapor.
Rubbing diluted essential oils on your skin is another great way of using them. Some people will rub the oil on their feet, while others will rub it on the inside of their wrists or chest area if using an essential oil like eucalyptus or peppermint to help free your airway.
Easy usage included:
- Linen spray is used before bedtime to spray pillows and to mist sheets.
- Felt patches are used for essential oils where no skin contact is desired. The patch will be attached to an item of clothing.
- Pendants or aromatherapy jewellery can be used to slowly release the aroma of essential oils.
A Cautionary Note.
When using essential oils, it is imperative that the directions for use are followed.
If you intend to use essential oils to treat a condition, it is best to consult your medical doctor for advice, especially if you are using prescribed medicine for a condition that your doctor is already treating.
Most medical doctors are aware of the benefits of essential oils and will advise you on what essential oils will be best suited to your current state of health and any condition you may be suffering from.
Beware of using incense sticks dipped in essential oils as the smoke from the incense sticks can be toxic and may have adverse effects on your health. Here is a warning about the use of incense from aromaweb.com: "The most commonly available types of incense are synthetic and can fill the air with toxic substances when burned. Very little incense is produced using only natural aromatic and essential oils. For this reason, most incense does not hold a welcome position within the practice of holistic aromatherapy."
The Last Few Words.
The practice of mainstream medicine is very precise, and the inclusion of aromatherapy to support healing and the general wellbeing of patients is a big step. The realization and acceptance of aromatherapy benefits, not only in the healing process but also to promote quality rest or sleep, is long overdue.
Using essential oils in the correct manner is important and necessary in order to reap the benefits. Too much essential oil use at any time may become overpowering and defeat the object of the exercise. Moderate usage is always a recommendation.
Only purchase essential oils from reputable dealers and be wary about the pricing. Some scaly dealers may reduce the oil by adding more true oil to the mix and charging less but moving greater volumes.
Quality sleep is vitally important to good health, and aromatherapy is a safe therapy to ensure peaceful sleep. Sweet dreams!