aromatherapy

Aromatherapy: Does it Work?

We read a lot about aromatherapy these days, and most of us probably have scented candles in our homes. While we all agree that candles smell nice and lend a certain “ambience” when lit—the question remains: Do certain smells really help us relax? Enough so that they may be effective in inducing sleep?


The answer, surprised or not, is yes.


Aromatherapy advocates like to point out that aromatherapy’s “essential oils”—steam-distilled from flowers, leaves, barks, fruits and seeds of plants—have a tiny molecular structure, which allows them to be easily absorbed into the bloodstream. Various scents are known to stimulate the limbic system in our brains, an area responsible for mood, emotions and the regulation of instinctive behavior. Sage, for example, is believed to be a stimulating scent. Lavender, on the other hand, is calming. Neroli oil is claimed to be effective for lifting depression. And what, you may be asking, is recommended for sleep?


We already mentioned Lavender and Neroli. Other scents commonly used to induce sleep include: Rose, Sandalwood, Cypress, Marjoram, Chamomile and Petitgrain. The scents either are diluted into water and then vaporized into the air by means of a heat source—usually a candle or light bulb—or they can be added to a “carrier oil” such as sweet almond, and then applied directly to the skin or added to a hot bath.


There are some contra-indications for the use of essential oils, however. Pregnant women, who unfortunately are prone to difficulties sleeping, are advised to avoid the use of certain oils, such as basil, sage, clary sage, myrrh, rosemary, marjoram and thyme. And all aromatherapists agree that extreme caution needs to be exercised when diluting oils for absorbtion. Never apply essential oils directly to the skin; you run a very good chance of burning yourself—which is not the soothing—or stimulating—result you want! Also, be sure to purchase your oils from a reputable dealer. Many products are diluted, and therefore are of poorer quality.


There’s one other reason why aromatherapy may be effective for inducing sleep. If you are able to concentrate on the smell of the oils—it will help take your mind off of whatever lingering angsts are keeping your muscles—and your mind—tense. The Dream Doctor’s advice? Relax, breathe deep, and allow yourself to drift off into a calmer world of peaceful aroma.


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