How Scent Affects Sleep
Using aromatherapy to revive and relax you
Aromatherapy may not be top of mind when it comes to boosting productivity, reviving your lagging energy or the complete opposite – helping you sleep. But experts believe our sense of smell is our strongest, most influential sense. Did you know it’s 10,000 times more accurate than our sense of taste?
When you sniff something, millions of smell receptors ping your olfactory bulbs, a pea-sized cluster in your brain. From there, scent is sorted and your limbic system is kicked into action, which is where basic human behaviors (as well as learning and emotions) are controlled. Ever associated a memory with a smell? Now you know why. Simply inhaling a scent sets off a chain reaction in the brain and body, activating the immune system, altering blood pressure and stimulating digestion.
If you think about it, you can literally sniff your way healthy or to sleep or to being more productive.
Swapping pills for scents
Imagine having the power to heal what ails you without taking a pill. Study after study shows how exposure to different scents can protect long-term health and relieve stress, pain, nausea, insomnia and improve mood. Combining scents and essential oils – aromatherapy – have even show to kill flu, E. coli, and cancer cells.
A report issued by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, stated that the number of people taking Ambien for sleep-related issues and ending up in hospital emergency departments increased by nearly 220% between 2005 and 2010. We can’t help but wonder how much quieter emergency rooms would be with a little aromatherapy.
But where do you start? The aromatherapy business is unregulated and more research on side effects is needed. For example, there is some indication that while moderate exposure to essential oils can be heart-healthy, prolonged exposure can pose cardiac risks.
Experts suggest keeping your exposure to short time periods – less than an hour a day – and following instructions on the bottle. It’s always a good idea to let your doctor know – especially if you take medication on a regular basis or suffer from a chronic health condition. Just as with any medicine, exercise caution and monitor your progress.
Ready, set, sniff
A diffuser is an effective way to release essential oils into the atmosphere (ranging in price from $25 to $200) but you can also drip oil into a bowl of steaming hot water for a less expensive solution. If you want to practice aromatherapy in your car or at work, simply drop oil onto a cotton ball, put it under your nose, and inhale normally for one to two minutes.
If you’re thinking of trying aromatherapy, check out our favorite scents:
- Lavender is the rest and digest scent but it’s also been used to help curb depression, anxiety, insomnia and migraine pain. Lightly spritz your pillowcase before bed each night.
- Orange reduces anxiety while improving a positive, calm outlook. Drop essential orange oil into your diffuser (or a bowl of steamy water) while you’re getting ready for work in the morning. Talk about an attitude adjustment.
- Peppermint helps decrease cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and reduces fatigue. As a bonus, it’s also been shown to reduce chocolate cravings. Peppermint tea mid-afternoon can be a better pick-me-up than a cup of coffee, which may interfere with your sleep.
- Rosemary enhances brain power, improving speed and accuracy during demanding mental tasks. Research shows that it also boosts energy and reduces fatigue. Buy a rosemary plant for your windowsill at work so you can pluck and sniff as needed.
- Sage perks up memory and attention but it’s also been shown to reduce blood pressure in medical studies. It’s a popular cooking herb, so buy a few sprigs and hang them in your kitchen to help keep you calm during that crazy hour before dinner.