Aromatherapy can help you get a better night’s sleep—and healthier looking skin.
Bright eyes, glowing skin, vibrant hair—these are the rewards of a restful seven hours of sleep each night. Compare that to the limp hair, circles under the eyes, and dull, dehydrated complexion that comes from sleep deprivation and you’ll never get out of bed again.
But if sleep doesn’t come easily to you—no matter what the incentive—you might benefit from a little aromatherapy, says sleep and dream specialist Rubin Naiman, Ph.D., a clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of Arizona’s Center for Integrative Medicine.
The relaxing scent of essential oils like lavender, chamomile, and rose can help you shift from a wakeful mood to a sleepy one, explains Geraldine Howard, a certified aromatherapist in Middlesex, England. Follow our tips for nighttime aromatherapy and you’ll wake up refreshed and radiant.
sleep myth #1 “I don’t need sleep.” Sleep is an essential requirement for good
health. Studies have shown that after 18 hours without it, there are severe
impairments to your cognitive and critical decision-making abilities, not to mention
your motor skills, according to Andrew Jamieson, M.D., a specialist in general
medicine at the Sleep Medicine Associates in Dallas, Texas. Too little sleep over
an extended period of time can also increase your risk for serious medical problems,
such as heart disease and diabetes.
the flower: A member of the daisy family, chamomile smells earthy and sweet. (It’s related to ragweed, so test essential oil blends in the crook of your arm to make sure you’re not allergic to them.)
how to use it: Try a facial massage with a chamomile infused face cream and use a chamomile body cream or massage oil to rub away tension and stiffness in your neck, shoulders, hands, and the soles of the feet.
To make a scented satchel, put chamomile flowers into a small muslin bag and place it under your pillow.
what it does: Chamomile can have a positive effect on anxiety, according to research done in Seoul, South Korea, which found that aromatherapy massage with the flower additionally improved self-esteem.
It also has anti-inflammatory properties, says Tim Blakley, aromatherapist and educator at Aura Cacia, who uses it on sore and inflamed muscles and joints just before going to sleep.
sleep myth #2 “I can make up for lost sleep on the weekends.” If you’ve missed
two or three hours of sleep each night of the week, sleeping for 18 hours straight
on Saturday won’t put you back on track by Monday. “The brain does not require
more than 8 or 9 hours to recover, and by the weekend, the damage has already
been done to the rest of your body,” says sleep specialist Andrew Jamieson, M.D.
the flower: The essential oil extracted from roses (known as “rose attar”) is prized for its therapeutic, mildly sedative properties. Because it takes up to 2,000 flowers to produce A gram of oil, it’s very expensive.
what it does: Rose oil can ease anxiety as effectively as anti-anxiety medications, according to a study at the Universidade Federal da Paraíba-Caixa in Brazil.
how to use it: Make a warm, rose-scented compress to ease eye strain and promote sleep: Add a few drops of rose oil and a few drops of a carrier oil like jojoba to a large bowl of warm water, then soak a washcloth in the bowl.
After wringing out the cloth, place it over your eyes and relax before bed. Soothe your skin with rose infused creams and oils: You’ll get the aromatherapy benefits of the scent and the antioxidant power of the flower.
sleep myth #3 “A glass of alcohol before bed will help me sleep better.” A glass
of wine might help you feel relaxed enough to fall asleep faster, but alcohol can
interfere with the deeper, REM phase of sleep, which is necessary for brain and
body recovery. And because your liver has to work overtime to process alcohol’s
toxins, this can disrupt sleep as well.
the flower: This petite purple flower grows all over the world and its essential oil—sweet and slightly herbaceous— is renowned for its relaxing properties.
what it does: Lavender has a calming, sedative effect on most people, according to several scientific studies, including one at Keukdong College in South Korea that found that lavender fragrance helped participants fall asleep faster, decreased the severity of their insomnia, and even helped lessen depression.
how to use it: Add two or three drops of pure lavender essential oil to a large bowl of boiling water. Allow the water to cool slightly, then drape a towel over your head and the bowl to keep in the steam.
Close your eyes (to avoid irritation) and breathe. For a soothing lavender soak, blend 4 to 6 drops of lavender essential oil with a carrier oil such as jojoba and pour it into a tub filled with warm water.
Sleep Soundly Tonight
Help your body and mind wind down with our easy-to-follow bedtime routine.
STEP 1: TURN IT DOWN. Soften the lights in your house and turn down the television and radio an hour before retiring to create a more peaceful environment.
STEP 2: TAKE A WARM BATH. A warm bath helps dilate blood vessels beneath the skin, pulling warmth up from the core. As your skin begins to cool, it triggers a drop in body temperature that helps support the natural cooling process that happens during sleep.
STEP 3: RELEASE TENSION. Gently massage your neck and shoulders. Or, tighten the muscles in your body, one area at a time, then hold for a few seconds before releasing and relaxing, says sleep expert Joyce Walsleben, Ph.D., R.N., an associate professor at NYU School of Medicine.
STEP 4: LET GO. Think about sleep as an underlying state—one that is always there, even while you’re awake, says Rubin Naiman, Ph.D., of the University of Arizona’s Center for Integrative Medicine. All you have to do is surrender to this state and let it take over.