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The sweet smell of a good night’s sleep

The sweet smell of a good night’s sleep

lavenderIt’s 6am here at my house (I’m an early riser by biology and choice). And my kid is sleeping. Any parents reading who’ve gone through bouts of troubled sleep with their kids can appreciate how precious this silence is…

My daughter started kindergarten this fall. She loves it. But it’s been a transition for her and her sleep has been disturbed. She falls right asleep at night as usual. But from when school started after Labor Day right up until Halloween, my sleep loving kiddo has woken up every night, grabbed her pillow and crawled into bed with us. We are not opposed to the “family bed”…but there was way too much tossing and turning and sideways sleeping going on for anybody to get a real night’s rest. And when everybody is sleep deprived…nobody is happy.

Most days I kept repeating to myself, “kiddo is going to settle down and re-find her sleep patterns. Give it time.” She has almost always slept through the night — except when she’s jet lagged or sick. I knew her body was capable. But after two months, I started getting worried that this was moving too far toward a new pattern and no longer about her kindergarten transition. We needed to break the sleep pattern!!

And then a new, sweet and lovely essential oil blend appeared in my hands. It was full of lavender and chamomile and other yummy oils. My kiddo loves lavender, so come bed time, I pulled this oil out — I dotted a few drops by her ear lobes, on the soles of her feet and left a few drops on her pillow case for good measure. And that very night, she slept through the night.  This was almost two weeks ago. And, she’s slept through the night every night. (And, so has mommy!)

Coincidence? Sure, maybe. But there is lots of evidence — both scientific and anecdotal on the very specific healing benefits of various essential oils, lavender most notably. I think in my daughter’s case, she’d probably be back to her old sleep patterns if I stopped using it now, but I am sure that the oil helped lull her into a full night’s sleep and helped break her broken sleep pattern.

Curious about my kiddo’s very magic oil blend? It’s by doTerra and is a blend called Serenity. (Obviously, I had to go online and immediately order two bottles…just in case!) From their website:

Serenity is a blend composed of individual oils with known calming properties which create a sense of well-being and relaxation. Lavender, sweet marjoram, roman chamomile, ylang ylang, sandalwood and vanilla bean create a subtle aroma ideal for aromatic diffusion or topical application. Applied to the bottom of the feet at bedtime, dōTERRA®’s Serenity is an excellent way to promote restful sleep. Added to a warm bath Serenity creates the perfect escape with its peaceful, renewing fragrance. For topical or aromatic use.

We use lavender all the time — a few drops in the bath, in massage oil and I’ll even occasionally put a few drops on kiddo’s wrists when she’s a little too excited. But this blend seems to have a more noticeable effect on her. And, she asks for the “serenity” blend by name. And gets a little smile on her face when she smells it. So much going on there. Physiology and psychology…you can’t really separate it all out.

Lavender: just another pretty scent?

Lavender is one of the most well known essential oils and has been used for centuries (and probably millennia). It is celebrated for it’s calming, soothing effect. Lavender can be used as aromatherapy (inhaling it), applied topically (directly, or diluted in massage oil), and even ingested. Legend has it that ancient Romans sprinkled lavender on floors so that the scent would be released as people crushed the flowers as they walked around.

Most of the research on lavender’s potential therapeutic effects with humans has focused on it’s effect on the nervous system. Researchers have consistently documented that lavender essential oils appear to reduce anxiety, improve the quality of sleep and elevate moods in test subjects from a variety of applications (inhaled, as well as topically applied through massage). In one study, a test-taking group exposed to lavender performed faster and more accurate mathematical computations.

The biological mechanism of how lavender works with our physiology has not been determined. When inhaled, it is believed to interact with the brain’s limbic system. A few proposed mechanisms suggest how it might interact with various neurotransmitters (including acetylcholine and GABA) to increase our parasympathetic response (relaxation response). Several researchers have also noted the interplay of the psychological influence of a pleasant smell with the physiological response.

Topically, lavender is also hailed as a soothing agent for insect stings and bites, as well as burns. And, it is one of a handful of essential oils being studied for it’s potential use as an antimicrobial agent.

While comprehensive literature reviews of lavender reveal evidence of this oil’s therapeutic effects, it is hard to make definitive recommendations for clinical application. Studies remain small and need to be replicated. Additionally, many have the major confounding effect of massage therapy’s influence on the nervous system. Additionally, there is often little attention paid to the specific chemical composition of the essential oils used (different lavender species produce slightly different oil compositions).

Will it put you to sleep, too?

Who knows??!!! The interplay between human physiology, psychology and our sleep is very complex.

Some sources consulted:

Basch E, Foppa I, Liebowitz R, Nelson J, Smith M, Sollars D, Ulbricht C. Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia Miller). J Herb Pharmacother. 2004;4(2):63-78.
Cavanagh HM, Wilkinson JM. Biological activities of lavender essential oil. Phytother Res. 2002 Jun;16(4):301-8.
Koulivand, Peir Hossein, Maryam Khaleghi Ghadiri, and Ali Gorji. Lavender and the Nervous System. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013; 2013: 681304.
Perry R, Terry R, Watson LK, Ernst E. Is lavender an anxiolytic drug? A systematic review of randomised clinical trials. Phytomedicine. 2012 Jun 15;19(8-9):825-35. 
Woronuk G, Demissie Z, Rheault M, Mahmoud S. Biosynthesis and therapeutic properties of Lavandula essential oil constituents. Planta Med. 2011 Jan;77(1):7-15. 
 

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