Top essential oils for sleep and mental health

Never has there been more uncertain times than right now, and during this awful pandemic, so many people have felt the suffering, particularly with sleep patterns.  According to the Mental Health Foundation "sleep is the unsung hero for our mental health". Understanding what effects our sleep and finding ways to improve it can help protect mental health and also support recovery". With Mental Health Awareness Week coming up (18-24 May), and millions of people reporting problems with sleep, we thought it would be good to focus on the close connection between sleep and mental health, and how we can support ourselves to sleep better!

Embracing the natural rhythms of life

Amongst the horror, sadness and grief of the current situation, we have also been noticing how there’s been a global shift toward nature.  It’s interesting that in such unprecedented times, suddenly all of the usual routines, the hectic schedules – for so many – have fallen away in return for embracing more time with immediate family, enjoying the outdoors (where possible) and making play from crafting.  There’s been enough of a change for the deer to wander out and sit in our gardens, and the ozone layer to change, and it’s like in some way the earth has stopped to take a breather.  When we begin to see some of the balancing going on, whilst it doesn’t take away from the tragedy, fear and anxiety of this situation, there is perhaps some freedom from suffering found in the idea that community is now coming together unlike it did before, and many people are returning to simply ‘being’ in the moment, which for many of us, means we are embracing the more natural rhythms of life.  

The reason I begin with highlighting this, is that sleep is one of those natural rhythms.  When we begin to see that underneath all of the fear, stress and anxiety, there’s a natural wisdom that supports us, things can become a little easier.  Our mental health is inbuilt, you see – even though it doesn’t always feel like it when we are living in such uncomfortable feelings.  But, if you think about it for a moment, we can easily realise that we don’t have to tell our hearts how to beat – they do it for us – and we don’t have to tell our lungs how to breathe, because these are naturally, inbuilt processes.  It is the same for sleep, when we allow it to return to its natural rhythm – underneath our thinking.  

The good news is, there are so many essential oils that can support this return to balance – this return to our body’s own wisdom – and so, in this article, we are here to share a little bit more about how we can regulate our sleep, even amidst chaos, by utilising nature’s gifts – essential oils.  When we sleep well, we feel more aligned with balance.  When we sleep well, we feel more mentally healthy because we are getting enough rest, and our minds are more easily able to reach clarity and see beyond the stressful thoughts that we have.  And there’s more natural support than we realise – so enjoy our top essential oils for sleep, along with some beautiful blends to help you doze away in bliss, no matter what is going on…  

Essential oils to regulate sleep rhythms 

There are so many essential oils that can help to support and regulate sleep. We have listed our Top 10 below – but there are so many more.  Any aromatherapy oils that have relaxant or sedative properties will help your body get the reminder that it needs to slow down; after all, that’s what essential oils are doing – reminding the body of its own natural wisdom.  

You can try any of our Top 10 oils, but it’s best to use your own intuition when selecting oils for your own recipes, as your body knows what it’s doing.  Usually the oils you like the smell of are the ones you need – our bodies are clever like that!

  1. Valerian Root – with its deep, musky aroma, this essential oil has a super affinity for sleep, which is why it’s top! A natural sedative, Valerian is calming and grounding and with its tranquilising effects is a great choice for insomnia.  If there’s one oil for you to try to help re-balance mental health if you’re suffering with stress and sleep difficulties, it’s this one!  It also helps with trauma and relaxing the nervous system, so it’s a good oil to have on hand at the moment with everything that’s going on in the world.
  2. Clary Sage – a musky, bittersweet floral oil, with a wonderfully sedating action. Clary Sage also has a euphoric and anti-depressant effect, so it’s great if you’re feeling a little low and that’s causing your insomnia.  It is a wonderful tonic for the nerves and emotions, so if you’re a little ‘on-edge’ (which is very human!) this is a lovely oil to try in your blends.  Avoid during pregnancy.
  3. Roman Chamomile – ahh, Roman Chamomile – one of the most calming, soothing and relaxing oils, with a herby and fruity aroma.  What would we do without it?  Perfect for helping insomnia caused by anxiety and stress, this is a lovely one for the current climate.
  4. Sandalwood – with a relaxing and sedating sweet, woody aroma, this oil is a little bit meditative and so is perfect for quietening the mind before bed..  It’s also naturally helpful for stress and anxiety for the same reasons, so it’s a perfect oil for Mental Health Awareness Week and beyond!
  5. Vetivert – with its smoky, woody, earthy scent, Vetivert is dubbed as the ‘oil of tranquillity.  Excellent for calming and soothing the nervous system, which helps regulate sleep.  A top choice for nervous exhaustion, chronic fatigue and insomnia.
  6. Lavender – we couldn’t have a Top 10 Sleep List without Lavender in it, could we?  With its iconic, fresh, sweet floral scent, Lavender is perhaps one of the most multi-functional oils, but its best properties are to relax and calm the mind, body and soul.  A favourite for treating insomnia and helping banish night-time awakenings it really helps remind the body of what it should be doing at bedtime, re-balancing the body’s natural rhythms.
  7. Patchouli – a sweet, musky oil, that is a little hypnotic and meditative – and is known to ground people and help overcome lethargy.  Used to treat anxiety, stress and depression, it’s a wonderful oil for mental health and makes a beautiful addition to a sleep blend.
  8. Frankincense – with its woody, spicy balsamic scent, this deeply calming and meditative oil is ideal for those who can’t turn their minds off before bed.  Great for nervous panic, it’s a wonderful oil to restore calm in the evening and re-balance the nervous system as a beautiful reminder that there’s a natural rhythm to life.
  9. Geranium – with its rosy floral aroma, this beautiful oil is one of the most balancing oils.  Extremely relaxing and soothing, it is calming for the nervous system before bed – and it smells beautiful, too!  Avoid during pregnancy.
  10. Ylang Ylang – a sweet, exotic-smelling floral oil, which is perfect for balancing the emotions in times of stress, shock, fear, grief and anger, making it a perfect oil for sleeplessness caused by times of high-emotion.  A top choice during this pandemic and so valuable in supporting our mental health and improved sleep.

Aromatherapy blends for sleep and mental health

So, now we’ve highlighted some of the best oils, let’s discuss how you can use them in blends to best benefit sleep and combat mental-health related insomnia!

Blissful Bedtime Bath

If you’re the kind of person who loves a bath before bed, now is your perfect opportunity to take advantage of some night-time de-stressing.  Carve out half an hour before bed and mix 1 drop Valerian Root, 3 drops Lavender and 2 drops Geranium in half a cup of full-fat milk or 15ml Bath Oil and add this to your warm running bath water.  Close all the windows and doors, unplug your phone and float in the water as you enjoy a sacred sleep ritual just for yourself to nurture those natural rhythms.  Some gentle deep breathing should have you feeling relaxed and ready for bed in no time.

Nurturing Night-Time Massage

If that’s not enough – or if you just don’t fancy a bath – why not nourish yourself with a night-time massage?  Mix 3 drops Clary Sage, 2 drops Geranium and 1 drop Vetivert into 15ml Grapeseed oil and apply with gentle massage strokes to the whole body, moving in a direction towards the heart.  This should get you settled before bed, and ready for a good night sleep.

Anti-depressant Diffusion

If it’s low mood keeping you awake, try a soothing mood diffusion with 3 drops Patchouli, 1 drop Clary Sage and 2 drops Ylang Ylang mixed in water in an aromatherapy diffuser or candle burner (if using before bed, ensure the candle is blown out before you drift off).  This will lift your spirits and relax you before bed. You could also use this throughout the day in 30-minute bursts.

Emotional Surrender Diffusion

If you’re experiencing particularly high emotion before bed, try an emotional surrender blend.  Diffuse 3 drops Roman Chamomile, 2 drops Lavender and 1 drop Ylang Ylang mixed in water in an aromatherapy diffuser or candle burner (ensure the candle is blown out before you drift off).  Lie in bed as it is diffusing, without any distractions, and breathe in for a count of 6, hold for 2 and exhale for 8 – try this for 10 minutes and see how much more surrendered you feel.

Morning Relaxation Diffusion

We can also use aromatherapy blends to remind our bodies that it’s time to wake up and get going in the morning, which can help to re-balance our sleep rhythm.  Mix 3 drops Patchouli, 2 drops Lemon and 1 drop Bergamot in water in an aromatherapy diffuser or candle burner in the morning to remind your body what it’s meant to be doing!

Lavender Lullaby Spritz

You might want to create a bedtime spritz to encase yourself in a gorgeous night routine.  Mix 15 drops Lavender, 10 drops Frankincense, 5 drops Sandalwood and 100ml of Lavender Hydrolat in a spray bottle and use it to spray your pillow – and spritz in the air – just before bedtime each night to help lull you into a deeper sleep!

Floral Relaxation Salts

For the floral lovers among you, why not create some beautifully scented smelling salts to fragrance your room and help you relax?  Add 4-5 tablespoons of Himalayan Pink Salts to a pretty glass dish and drizzle 8 drops Lavender oil, 8 drops Geranium and 4 drops Ylang Ylang over the salts to absorb.  Enjoy the relaxing scent – and feel the benefits within your regulated sleep rhythms.

Easy Bedtime Support

For quick and easy night-time support, simply add 2 drops of Lavender and 1 drop Frankincense to a cotton pad and place it by your pillow to help you sleep better.  Nice and easy, and you can substitute in the oils that help you sleep best.

De-Stress Inhalation

Another technique you can use before bed is a steam inhalation.  Add 3 drops Vetivert, 3 drops Patchouli and 3 drops Sandalwood to a bowl of steaming hot water, place a towel over your head, close your eyes and lean over the bowl to inhale the steam for up to 10 minutes.  Do this nightly before bed and enjoy the benefits.

Sleepy Candle Meditation

You could also enjoy a night-time candle meditation.  Make the room dark and light a candle for 5-10 minutes.  When the wax has melted a little, blow the candle out and carefully add 1 drop of Geranium and 1 drop of Lavender to the melted wax, avoiding the wick.  Then, carefully relight the candle (remembering essential oils are flammable) and focus your eyes and attention on the flame as you do some deep breathing and focused meditation.  Blow the candle out when finished and drift off to sleep.

Remember, the oils in these blends can be substituted for your favourites – you don’t have to stick to our recommendations, so use your own wisdom to tune into what suits you in each moment.  Each moment is different, so always bring it back to this moment – the present ‘now’ – and ask yourself “what do I need right now?”  This moment is all we really ever have, and this is an important realisation that can also help us when we are feeling the mental health struggle.  Always ask ‘am I okay right now?’ and forget future thinking.  This is something that can so often keep us from sleeping – questioning what the future will look like, particularly in times of uncertainty like this, is something that I know keeps much of the world awake at night.  The thing is, though, we never knew what was next – not really – we just thought we did, and that felt safe.  But in not knowing, there’s possibility for anything to happen and when we reconnect to our own wisdom, we realise – we were built to deal with all of it.

Enjoy the blends as a beautiful reminder of this, and sleep well…

Nicole Barton
Consultant Aromatherapist

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