Sleep disorders and complaints are increasingly frequent in our population. With this, more and more people feel the need to look for something that makes them sleep. Among the various options available, one usually ends up weighing the effectiveness and side effects. This is especially a concern with insomnia medications, which actually have many negative consequences, including addiction and poorer sleep with chronic use.
To avoid these side effects, many people look to “natural” alternatives to treat their sleep, including herbal medicines, teas, essential oils, flowers and aromatherapy. In common, these options are marketed with the idea that they have fewer negative effects. But do they really work? In this balance between sleep benefits and side effects, can they be useful?
We've already dealt with teas and herbal medicine in another post. In this we will deal specifically with the use of essential oils and aromatherapy. First, let's briefly define them, then discuss whether they really can be used to improve sleep.
Essential oils are oily extracts obtained from plants, containing substances that evaporate easily at room temperature and can be easily inhaled. These oils are the most commonly used products in aromatherapy, although other options exist. The intention is that the inhalation of specific chemical compounds can bring health benefits.
The flowers (whose most famous version are the Bach flowers), are made using flower extracts, but with material extremely diluted in water and alcohol. By this dilution technique, florals resemble homeopathy, although they differ in some other aspects.
Do they really work?
Essential oils and aromatherapy have been indicated for several purposes. Among the most common are the promotion of well-being, decrease in anxiety levels and decrease in insomnia symptoms. But some far more specific effects have already been tested, such as decreasing pain during labor, treating nausea and vomiting, and decreasing unpleasant symptoms during chemotherapy. Bach flowers have been linked to similar effects, including improvement in emotional and behavioral characteristics.
Although there is a great desire that natural alternatives for the treatment of various diseases work, unfortunately there are not enough studies to demonstrate that any of these therapies really work. Of the studies that are done on aromatherapy, essential oils and florals, most are quite limited and have methodological flaws that make it impossible to assess their real effect.
The only way to really attest that these alternatives work would be to do in-depth scientific studies. Ideally, the same type of tests that are done for vaccine development should be used (a good comparison at the moment, as we have all followed the studies for vaccine development for COVID-19). These tests should be applied to many people and should be compared with people who have received a placebo treatment. Very few studies have been done this way and almost all point in the same direction: The effects of flower essences and essential oils is no greater than placebo.
Specifically for sleep, the number of studies is even smaller. As much as people actually try to use essential oils and flower essences to improve sleep, the evidence is still very limited. As there are few serious studies carried out on this topic, it cannot be categorically affirmed that they do not work. However, as in the case of vaccines, it should not be recommended to take something without scientific proof.
Can I use them to treat insomnia?
Even though oils and essentials are not proven to be effective for the treatment of insomnia, it is undeniable that they are pleasant! Who doesn't like to arrive in a fragrant and fragrant environment. There are oils that really change the face of an environment. And maybe that's exactly where the positive effects on sleep lie!
In the previous section we demonstrated that there are no studies showing that these treatments improve sleep. But actually, it's pretty unlikely that something like that would actually be able to treat insomnia all by itself. For example, think of a person with high levels of anxiety, multiple worries and work overload. This person probably works double shifts, is always connected and answering your emails, and doesn't stop for a minute. In this example, neither oils nor even the most modern medicines would make her sleep fully and quickly. Oils, aromas and florals do not work miracles. The treatment of insomnia requires major changes in routine, behavior and habits.
Now let's assume that the person we described above recognizes that they have insomnia and understands that treatment depends on changing habits and behavior to ensure that the brain gradually shuts down and sleep can come naturally. In that case, it is highly recommended that a sleep-inducing ritual or routine be established.
Each person should establish their own ritual, but you can think of something like:
1. Set a fixed bedtime.
2. Start your ritual 1-2 hours before bed and during that time stay away from all electronics (including TV, computer and cell phone).
3. Dim the house lights.
4. Take a warm bath.
5. Eat a light meal.
6. Have a tea or a glass of warm milk.
8. Maintain a pleasant and peaceful sleeping environment. This is where essences and essential oils can help a lot. If you like these scents and they make you feel good, feel free to use them. In this context, understanding that these alternatives should be part of a great strategy against insomnia, it is really likely that they can help you sleep better.
Which ones to use in the sleep induction routine?
Lavender, Chamomile and Bergamot are options recommended by psychologist Samanta Martins. It is suggested to put 3 drops of each in a diffuser, 1 hour before bedtime. Roman Chamomile, Sweet and Bitter Orange are also recommended by Naturologist Leandro Lucena, a doctoral candidate at Unifesp.