What You Need to Know and the Tools to Make Sleep Happen
Are You Feeling the Effects of Sleep Deprivation?
Do the following symptoms seem familiar to you?
- Mood changes
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory problems
- Pain sensitivity
If you are getting less than 7-hours of sleep per night, you are one of millions of people in the United States who are considered sleep deprived. The CDC defines "Short Sleep Duration" as anything less than 7-hours of quality sleep per night, which is associated with a long list of chronic health conditions including: Cancer, Depression, Obesity, Diabetes, and Arthritis just to name a few.
Is Falling Asleep the Tough Part?
Falling asleep is often the problem for many people. They may not have a problem staying asleep but they may have too many thoughts racing through their minds or just can't seem to relax enough to begin what's called the Slow Wave Sleep (SWS) cycle. If you fit within this group, removing distractions, using relaxation tools before bedtime and quieting the mind can be quite helpful to you.
Are You a Light Sleeper?
If your challenge is staying asleep and you don't seem to get deep, quality sleep, then you may be experiencing sleep disturbances at other stages of the SWS sleep cycle. This cycle is made up of 4 sequential sleep stages the brain passes through every 90-minutes or so. As the brain passes from one sleep stage to another, brain activity changes from Low Alpha brain waves (Stage 1: Transition to Sleep) to Low Alpha and Theta waves (Stage 2: Light Sleep) then to Theta and Delta waves (Stage 3: Deep Sleep) and finally to very active Beta waves (REM: Dream Stage). Every 90-minutes (or so) this cycle is repeated, so if you experience disturbances at any of these stages, they may repeat every 90-minutes.
Sleeping Pills Are Not The Answer
Over the counter sleep aids and prescription drugs for sleep are dangerous - especially for women. Doctors and the manufacturers of these sleep products are the first to advise not taking these medications for longer than a couple of nights. Carl Bazil, M.D., director of sleep and epilepsy at Columbia University, explains: "People think they're pretty much benign, but there are definitely problems there... Yes, they're a quick fix to help you get a good night’s sleep temporarily, but they're not a long-term solution to sleep problems in general—and they can be dangerous if used incorrectly." One of the many dangers of sleeping pills includes the fact that they have a much greater effect on women than on men. "Women tend to metabolize sleeping pills slower than men do, but many people—including some doctors—don't know this," Dr. Bazil explains. In January 2013, the FDA lowered the recommended dose for women from 10 mg to 5 mg. But some doctors still prescribe women more than that, while other women may have an older prescription or just borrow one from their husband (Note: Never ever share prescriptions). "And when they take too high a dose, the effect is extra strong,"
Essential Oils For Sleep
I think we’ve all heard about relaxation and/or addressing anxiousness with aromatherapy. It turns out the processes for getting better sleep and reducing anxious feelings have much in common, especially when it comes to the effects of certain essential oils on the brain. There are copious numbers of scientific papers published on the subject of essential oils and their positive effects on mood. In a nutshell, specific essential oils, which have the natural ability to easily pass through the blood-brain barrier, have a proven calming effect on our brains. In numerous studies, researchers have measured the EEG brain wave patterns of test subjects in the lab (not just anxious rats - humans too!) and have proven that these essential oils slow brain waves down from an excited, wakeful state to the relaxed Alpha, Theta, and Delta wave states that are indicative of SWS.
Studies have also shown that repeating this process of slowing our brain waves down leads to what is called entrainment. Basically teaching our brains to flip the sleep switch more easily. Using essential oils to relax before bedtime not only helps us fall asleep on those anxious nights but with repeated use we will get consistent, quality sleep.
How to Integrate Essential Oils into Your Sleep Strategy
The overall goal of your sleep strategy should be consistent, restful sleep without lingering sedated feelings the next day. Make sure to be diligent with your sleep strategy for at least one week. A consistently practiced cycle of slowing brain waves down each night will help your overall sleep routine, but you have to give it time to become established. As a famous sleep coach once said, “Good sleepers practice till’ they get it right…great sleepers practice till’ they never get it wrong.” Ok, maybe I just made that quote up but it sounds so motivating...
1) Choose a time in the evening when you’ll begin your nightly routine. Work backwards from the time you want to be asleep by 1.5 to 2 hours. Try to eliminate stimulating activities and electronic screens during this time period. Reading (actual books or non-bluelight e-readers) and/or listening to calming music are great activities to engage in at this time. Minimize your blue light exposure as blue light signals your body that it is morning like a sunrise does. If you tend to use electronic screens right up to bedtime, you can install filtering apps to minimize the blue light content. Also, don’t use caffeine or take vitamins or supplements late in the day that might be giving you extra energy in the evening.
2) Apply essential oils at least 1 hour before bedtime. Pure, therapeutic grade essential oils can be used aromatically, topically, and/or internally.
Aromatic: The volatile nature of essential oils allows them to be easily evaporated and diffused (with a quality essential oil diffuser) throughout a larger space. This is a particularly effective application method for sleep given that a combination of several single oils and/or oil blends can be continuously diffused over time to reinforce procession through the four sleep stages of the brain. A sleep entrainment essential oil blend recipe perfect for use in diffusers is described below.
Topical: Essential oils are safely and easily absorbed by the skin allowing you to use a variety of topical application techniques to different parts of your body. Dilute essential oils with a carrier oil, such as fractionated coconut or jojoba oil, massage into the thinner skin of the neck and chest to take advantage of the aromatic qualities of the oils as well. Cup your hands over your nose and mouth and take several long, deep breaths. We use Ylang Ylang in our sleep entrainment oil blend (see recipe below) because it makes this step even more enjoyable.
Internal: Whether you are taking soft gels, capsules, or the oil itself, essential oils can be used as dietary supplements. If taking dōTERRA Serenity™ Restful Complex Softgels, take them at least 1.5 hours before bedtime to allow for digestion.
3) Begin with this sleep entrainment essential oil blend recipe:
Combine the following essential oils in a glass dropper bottle for use in a diffuser or a 15mL roller bottle for applying topically. When using in a diffuser, add only 3-5 drops of this blend at a time. For a roller bottle recipe fill remaining 15mL with a carrier oil, such as fractionated coconut oil or jojoba oil:
- Lavender: 15-drops
- Roman Chamomile: 8-drops
- Ylang Ylang: 5-drops
- Bergamot: 5-drops
- Birch: 5-drops
- Sandalwood: 5-drops
4) Relax, tweak, and repeat. Everyone is as different as their sleep styles. Some people are natural side-sleepers, some are back-sleepers, and some are windmill-sleepers (you know who you are). For many, three or four nights of diffusing the above recipe next to your bed will be enough to re-establish better sleep quality. Others may continue to experience distractions that interfere with entraining the brain to float through these necessary slow wave sleep stages. As you strip away these distractions from sleep, the tougher obstacles become easier to isolate and identify. Also, your sleep routine must fit within your lifestyle so that you can be consistent and it becomes relatively easy to repeat on a daily basis. Do not allow anxiety over your sleep routine be the reason you can’t sleep! :) Relax and pay attention to what may need to be tweaked to optimize your luxurious descent into the land of nod.