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Can't sleep? Experts swear by these stress-relieving fragrance notes to help you drift off

Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

There is little worse than not being able to sleep at night, from the tossing and turning, to worrying about being tired, to endless anxious thoughts ruminating in the dark of the night. Unfortunately, insomnia is more rife than ever, with 36% of adults struggling to fall asleep on a weekly basis or more, according to a 2021 survey and another showed that the number of people experiencing insomnia rose from one in six to one in four during the first year of the pandemic.

As anyone who has had the misfortune of not being able to sleep will know, you'll try just about anything to get some quality shut-eye. Luckily, the internet is bursting with ways to address unhealthy sleeping patterns, from cognitive behavioural therapy to SAD lamps to yoga.

However, there may be a simple trick we're missing when it comes to treating sleeplessness, and it starts with the right scent. “Sleep deprivation is an epidemic of its own and with the world in crisis, sleep is more important than ever,” says Farida Irani, founder of Subtle Energies. “Generally, people know there are essential oils to be calming or relaxing, however, there are some which go deeper, working via the olfactory within the limbic region of the brain impacting the pineal and pituitary gland which in turn balance the hormones that aid you to sleep.”

Luke Taylor, master blender for Aroma Active Laboratories, agrees. “If we take our minds back to the times when we really enjoyed our sleep, chances are we allowed ourselves to feel tired before dropping off,” he says. ”Try to add sleep-inducing activities as bedtime approaches, including some simple yet practical activities involving calming essential oils.”

According to both experts, there are certain essential oils that contain certain chemical constituents that activate the body's natural sleep hormones including melatonin. Here are a few of the most powerful essential molecules known to aid sleep, as well as ways to incorporate them into your bedtime routine…

Mogra Oil

Mogra, also known as Jasminum sambac, is a potent oil for sleep aid and is great for activating melatonin. ”You can use Mogra oil within a blend for example a facial blend or by applying it to the pulse points," suggests Farida. “The Subtle Energies Facial Blend doubles up as a cell renewing serum and also an effective tool against anxiety, emotional imbalance and sleep. The active ingredients of Mogra and a unique quality of Indian Rose work through the olfactory system, sending chemical messengers almost instantaneously.” The brand also offer self-adhering Blissful Sleep Inhalation Patches that can be stuck onto pulse points that carry the same active aromas for easy top-ups of your chosen blend.

Lavandin Oil

The lesser known sibling of lavender, lavandin oil has a slightly stronger aroma as well as a high level of camphor, a medicinal compound commonly used to treat aches and pains as well as relieve tension.

“I’d really recommend Lavandin oil for sleep as it has powerful properties in its own right as well as high levels of Linalool and Linalyl Acetate – both of which were shown to have relaxing and calming benefits in recent studies," adds Luke.

One study by Kagoshima University in Japan found that stimulation of olfactory neurons in the nose through smelling Linalool vapour triggered a clinically relevant feeling of relaxation, and Linalyl Acetate showed significant anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) properties as well as aiding relaxation.

“Aroma Active Laboratories Sleep Mist has a relaxing blend of lavandin, valerian, known for its calming effect, ylang ylang and balancing buddhawood which have calm–inducing and centring properties,” he adds.

Valerian Root

Valerian Root has long been relied upon for its slumber-inducing properties thanks to the high level of valeric acid, which contributes to a mild sedative effect. “Extracts of Valerian root have long been used to help relax and are found in various traditional sleep aids and in more recent times, studies have shown inhalation of Valerian essential oil has relaxing effects,” says Luke.

Its strong earthy aroma may not be to everyone's taste, but a number of studies have shown improvement in sleep quality and duration as a result of its relaxing aroma. "Relaxation is one if the key steps to preparing for a good night’s sleep.”

Cedarwood

This aromatic wood is commonly found in many perfumes, but can also be used as an effective tool to calm the mind when you have racing thoughts. One specific type of cedarwood essential oil, Juniperus virginiana L. otherwise known as Eastern Red Cedarwood, has been shown to be especially effective at reducing anxiety thanks to high levels of cedrol, which stimulates dopamine receptors in the brain.

“Cedarwood is known for its grounding and calming properties,” Christopher Yu, co-founder of fine fragrance brand Ostens. “I occasionally use the pure Ostens Preparation Cedarwood oil when I want to just sit and contemplate.”

Should you wear perfume to bed?

Ok, so we now know that certain oil scents help lull us into deeper slumber, but what about wearing actual perfume to bed (a la Marilyn Monroe, who famously wore Chanel No5 to go to sleep)?

Though this might sound like a waste of your hard-earned money, recent studies have actually shown that 75% of our emotions are based on smell, so wearing the right perfume to bed can bring on feelings of relaxation, well-being and contentment, which is exactly what you want before bedtime.

Eudora Nwasike, a Certified Fragrance Specialist, says: “The Olfactory bulb, which is the front part of the brain which controls smell, sends information to the amygdala and hippocampus parts of your brain. These are the regions of the brain that are responsible for emotion and memory, so whenever we smell a scent for the first time or repeatedly, it stimulates the primitive parts of our memory.

"The essential oil in perfumes soothes the mind, relaxes the body, and reduces stress levels. However, it is important to always use the same fragrance in your bedtime routine because this helps your brain, senses, and body to make a connection with the familiar scent," she explains.

But before you start spritzing your uber-expensive Le Labo Santal 33 all over yourself and your pillows, it pays to pause for a minute to understand which perfumes will work best. And luckily, we've spoken to the sleep experts at MattressNextDay who have shared six scents for us to consider curling up in for the night.

Neroli

Neroli is an airy citrusy green with hints of honey and orange and is well-known for alleviating sleeping problems. It’s also a well-known treatment for insomnia, especially those related to anxiety. This is because the citrus elements help promote a relaxed and slightly hypnotic feeling that soothes the brain into a state of calm that is ready for sleep.

Perfume recommendations: Tom Ford, Neroli Portofino Acqua or L’Occitane, Neroli

Lavender

Whilst everyone is aware of the calming powers of lavender, did you know that studies have shown that lavender can improve sleep quality and lower anxiety as effectively as a low dose of the sedative, Lorazepam? This is because of its sedative properties, which is also why it’s the number one scent used for pillow sprays.

Perfume recommendations: Jo Malone, Amber & Lavender Cologne or Yves Saint Laurent, Libre.

Ylang-Ylang

This tropical tree is native to Asian countries and has similar benefits to lavender oil, so makes a good alternative if you don’t like the smell of lavender. Another study found that ylang-ylang reduced anxiety and boosted self-esteem when it was applied to the skin – making it perfect for those who are wanting a good night’s sleep or to feel more confident in the bed for other reasons.

Perfume recommendations: Chanel, N°5 or DIOR, J’adore

Rose

Research shows that the scent of roses is naturally relaxing, and potentially helpful for relieving your stress levels. However, most surprising of all – the rose scent is shown to help improve your learning while you’re sleeping, making it the perfect bedtime fragrance for those who are studying.

Perfume recommendations: DIOR, Rose ‘N Roses or Marc Jacobs, Daisy

Sandalwood

The soft, woodiness of sandalwood has been used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat mental and physical disorders which include anxiety, fatigue, high blood pressure, insomnia, and more. Furthermore, Psychology Today also states that sandalwood can have sedative effects, reduce wakefulness and increase amounts of non-REM sleep.

Perfume recommendations: BYREDO, Blanche or LUSH, dirty

Chamomile

This member of the daisy plant has the profound power to improve a person’s sleep quality and reduce anxiety, which explains why many people drink chamomile tea before their bedtime. However, a perfumed version can still improve the quality of your sleep, as it helps soothe your nervous system and prepare for bed.

Perfume recommendations: GUCCI, Mémoire or Calvin Klein, Escape

This article was originally published on Glamour UK.

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