Did you know that over 30% of people worldwide suffer from insomnia at some stage of their lives? Wow, that is a lot! And recently, you can add a good friend of mine to that number. Let’s call him John (cos that is his name). He just could not sleep, his mind was constantly racing, he would be up till all hours and awake very early. He was grumpy, irritable, well more than normal. He could not concentrate on the things he needed to get done during the day. And there it was, the focus for my next post! John’s pain and suffering was my trigger to see if I could find some natural insomnia remedies. Are there Essential Oils for insomnia?
Let’s come back to John story. One night he took a sleeping pill… I asked him two days later how it went? “Oh… my…god!!” he said. He crashed and slept for about 6 hours, without moving, then woke up, then slept for another 6 hours and it was morning. He said he felt horrendous, had a headache, was hazy (like Jetlag he reckons) and couldn’t focus. This lasted all day, and by about lunchtime he felt even more tired than he did the day before. I told him about my intentions to find essential oils to help him with his insomnia. John was beside himself with excitement – really!! He was! Now, pressure is on me!
What is insomnia?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, insomnia is “is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep”. It can be classified in two ways:
- Acute insomnia. It is brief and usually caused by current situations such as stress, location, health status, poor dietary habits or fatigue.
- Chronic insomnia. It is an insomnia that lasts more than three nights per week for a longer period – can be caused by the above or such issues as ongoing illness, medications, ongoing stress or unhealthy lifestyle (just to name a few).
Those suffering from insomnia can experience:
- Excessive or extreme daytime tiredness
- Inability to concentrate
- Muscle aches
- Head aches
- Poor immune system function leading to increased sickness such as viruses and flu
- Increased irritability
- Loss of sex drive
Long term effects include:
- Excessive weight gain or loss
- Substance abuse
- Depression and anxiety
- Relationship breakdown
What natural insomnia remedies can we try?
In the following sections we will have a look at some of the things we can do to assist with acute insomnia, that is for those of us, like John, who are experiencing insomnia now but are not long term sufferers. If you suffer from long term insomnia, or are starting to experience some of the long term effects, please see a medical professional for assistance.
Oh, and obviously I am writing this aimed at my fellow man as usual, however females actually suffer higher insomnia rates than men so ladies, if you are listening, this post can certainly be of assistance to you as well.
Essential Oils for insomnia
Well of course I was going to start here – after all, this is a site based (currently) predominately on essential oils. Luckily, there are quite a few good essential oils that can assist with sleep, stress and calming.
The best essential oils for insomnia include:
Essential oil blends
- Stressaway ( Lime, Vanilla, Copaiba, Lavender, Cedarwood and Ocotea)
- Peace and Calming (Tangerine, Orange, Ylang Ylang, Patchouli, Blue Tansy)
How to use essential oils for sleep and calming
There are a number of ways that essential oils can be used as a remedy for insomnia. These include:
- Aromatherapy – Add a few drops of your chosen oil/s into the diffuser about 30 minutes prior to sleep.
- On the skin – Create yourself a nice little man-blend of your favourite oils and a carrier oil and rub behind the ears, on the wrists and on the temples prior to bed.
- In the bath – add a few drops into a nice warm man-bath and relax it up real nice.
How to choose your recipes/blends
I have found a couple of good recipes that I will share at the bottom of this section but in general, this is really a case of finding what you like to ensure it resonates with you. For example, my wife uses peace and calming at night before bed. She loves it and finds that it really helps with her sleep – I don’t – I find that blend overpowering so I use Lavender and Cedarwood. At the end of the day, you have to like it so have a play.
To give you a bit of guidance however, I have split the listed oils above into two categories – grounding and floral – both of which are good for calming and eventual sleep. Here is how they can help.
Grounding essential oils for insomnia
These are the first four listed being Frankincense, Cedarwood, Sandalwood and Vetiver. These are very ‘woodsey’ in aroma and considered ‘grounding’ due to their connection to the earth as they are extracted from a tree, resin or bush. Grounding oils are known to be calming and very good for sleep. I know personally that when I was mansperimenting with oils to keep me awake that Cedarwood and Frankincense definitely had a sleepy effect.
Florally essential oils for insomnia
The next five listed – Lavender, YlangYlang, Marjoram, Geranium and Roman Chamomile have a definite florally aroma (obviously making them non-manly) that is also very calming and restful. Use these in the bath or mix them with a grounding oil for a more manly, yet calming blend. As I said earlier, I personally use Lavender and Cedarwood quite a bit if I am restless in the evening and quite like the aroma.
If you are feeling it you can also try a citrus oil in the diffuser with your grounding oils. Citrus is generally in the ‘alertness’ and ‘wake up’ team of oils however some of the recipes I found for this post included Orange or Bergamot in them. These are ‘softer’ citrus oils so they may be good – they definitely smell really good with grounding oils so if they calm you – give them a try.
Sleep recipe 1
- 5 drops Lavender
- 5 Drops Cedarwood
- Add to the diffuser with water or if for a blend, top up with a good carrier oil
Sleep recipe 2
- 6 drops Lavender
- 5 drops Vetiver
- 5 drops Marjoram
- Add to the diffuser with water or if for a blend, top up with a good carrier oil
Herbal Teas for insomnia
Recently I discussed the advantages of some manly herbal teas for us male of the species. As it turns out, Herbal teas are extremely good for calming and as part of a sleep preparation regime. The two best herbal teas for this purpose are:
- Chamomile Tea – Chamomile is a well-known for its sleep inducing properties and as a mild tranquiliser (very mild) so it is the perfect addition to your diet if getting to sleep is your problem. This is a centuries old remedy (some call it folklore) however science has been slowly catching up with a couple of positive results in its favour.
- St Johns Wort Tea – St Johns Wort is a flowering plant used in herbal medicine that has been researched as an anti-depressant. Researchers have also found these same qualities as a very effective sleep aid. Whilst this research has found varying results, many have found those taking St John Wart as a tea have shown much improved sleep patterns.
Chamomile Tea recipe for sleep
- 2 cups drinking water
- 2 tbsp dried chamomile in a tea bag or 2 chamomile tea sachets
- 1 tsp ground turmeric (optional)
- 1/4 tsp ground ginger (optional)
- 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
- And 1 tbsp raw honey (Manuka honey if possible) or more to taste
- Bring water to a boil in a sauce pan.
- Turn off the heat, then add chamomile and let steep for 3-5 minutes.
- Discard the chamomile.
- Stir in turmeric, ginger, cinnamon and/or honey as preferred
- Re-heat on low heat if needed.
Adapted from thesleepjudge.com
St Johns Wort Tea recipe for sleep
- 2 cups drinking water
- 2 tbsp dried lose St Johns Wort tea mix or 2 tea sachets
- 1 tbsp raw honey (Manuka honey if possible) or lemon to taste
- Put the kettle on with water for your tea and bring it to a boil.
- Place 2 teaspoons per cup of tea inside your teapot and pour the boiling water over the herbs.
- Let your tea steep for about 5 to 10 minutes. And then strain.
- Sweeten your tea with honey or lemon to taste.
Adapted from therighttea.com
Risks of St Johns Wort
Unlike, Chamomile, I did find a number of risks in the use of St Johns Wort that I have listed here:
- Always check with a doctor if before using St John’s Wort if you are taking antidepressant medication.
- St. John’s wort can weaken many prescription medicines.
If preferred, you can also try and substitute Lavender instead of the St John Wort.
Exercise is probably the most under-utilised sleep remedy option of them all. The human body needs exercise to remain healthy. It is recommended by most health professionals and government agencies that just 30 minutes of heart rate raising exercise a day can produce the following health benefits:
- help with weight loss to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and some cancers
- help to lower blood cholesterol level which will in turn reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke
- lower blood pressure
- build muscle to reduce the risk of injury, improve posture and assist with other everyday functions such as work.
Exercise for sleep
Many of the reasons for insomnia listed at the beginning of this post such as stress, Illness and fitness levels can be alleviated by undertaking your daily 30 minutes of exercise – and no, watching someone else play football is not exercise.
Exercise encourages sleep due to the fact that it is actually places stress (good stress) on the body which causes a rise in body temperature. When it drops again, it can make it easier to fall and stay asleep. Other advantages of exercise for sleep include:
- Makes you feel better – with more energy and better mood leading to more relaxed and better sleep.
- Gives your mind a rest from many of the stressful thoughts that may be keeping you awake at night.
- Provides opportunity for social contact which for some can assist in stress relief.
- Tires out your body – a tired body needs rest and will tell your brain to sleep.
- Exercise also leads to chemical changes in the brain such as increases of serotonin, endorphins and stress hormones (all of which many anti-depressant and some sleeping pills try to adjust or increase chemically).
Some will argue here that they find exercise invigorating which is the opposite to making them sleepy (which is why some people like to exercise in the morning). This is true, however it is still working and tiring the body so once the endorphins from the exercise wear off (sometimes hours later) then sleep should still be easier to come by.
Which exercises are best?
To be honest? As long as you are doing something then you are already on the right track. However, you can try the following:
I don’t usually suffer from insomnia but this is my go to when I am stressed (a big cause of insomnia). I put my headphones on with some great music (my wife listens to podcasts) and go for a walk. Try and keep the walk brisk so as to raise the heart rate a little and my advice is to walk somewhere nice – like along a river, in the bush/woods or on the beach – but anywhere will do – even a walk around the city on your lunch break can do wonders. This is great for those who have not exercised for a while and will help to clear the head. Swimming laps or walking in the pool is also good for this – however it does give you plenty of thinking time so be careful if stress is your insomnia cause.
A little higher paced cardio such as running, cycling or swimming will get your heart rate and tiredness levels up and you will feel tired but soooo much better for having done it. Cardio will also assist with the lowering of cholesterol levels and weight loss – which improves self-esteem and reduces stress – leading to better sleep.
There is nothing like that muscle soreness after a good weights session. Lifting weights builds muscle and places plenty of that good stress on the body leading to tiredness and loss of body fat. If nothing else, the fatigue of lifting weights will send you off to sleepy land. This sort of body training will also assist with giving your mind a break from its daily thought grind as well.
For those of you who are not used to lifting weights, note that when we talk about weight training that it doesn’t have to mean lifting massive amounts of lead. Don’t believe me? Get yourself two 1kg dumbbells and do some shoulder presses. See how long you go before those shoulders start to buuurrrnnnnn – you will be shocked I am sure! – Let me know in the comments section how you went!
And finally… Yoga. Yoga is one of the best sleep encouraging exercises you can do. There are many types of Yoga from the strong to restive and calming. Each has a different expected outcome which you can find out more about here. The poses undertaken added to the breathing techniques trained in a Yoga class are fantastic stress relievers and body relaxers. I know of some that wear pyjamas to their yoga class, then go straight home to bed. Some also incorporate meditation and essential oils which can help clear the mind and focus attention where it needs to be.
Oh, and for those of you who are doubting the manliness of it all, let me know how you feel after your next power yoga class…
Diet and insomnia
Now, I am not a nutritionist and am very conscious of the dangers of dolling out diet advice willy-nilly. So, apart from telling you to make sure you are eating a balanced diet with lots of fruit and vegetables, I am going to focus here on the things that you should be avoiding if insomnia is an issue for you. If sleep is an issue, avoid:
Fatty or fast foods
These lead to weight gain, high cholesterol and ill health, all major contributors to poor sleep patterns.
Caffeine is a known stimulant, especially within the brain. Avoid things like coffee, caffeinated soft drinks (even if just for the sugar levels alone) and chocolate in the afternoon and of course, before bed.
Even though it is a depressant and usually causes us to pass out quickly, alcohol is a major deterrent to long, restful sleep – how many of you have woken up after a big night and felt so much more tired than you did the day before? This is due to the effect of alcohol on the circadian functions of the body, our master biological clock. This means that whilst we are ‘sleeping off’ our night on the booze, our body is struggling to regulate our usual sleeping and waking patterns as well as the timing of a variety of other functions such as appetite, digestion and body temperature.
Now what man doesn’t love a good spicy curry or bowl of chilli. Whilst some spices such as Nutmeg and Ginger may assist with sleep, spicy foods in general do not. For some it is just the issue of trying to digest it all and getting a little bit of an upset stomach and other ummm bathroom issues, whilst for others it may be heart burn. Regardless, spicy foods generally increase body temperature which can effect the ability to sleep. If you are having trouble, you may have to lay off the spicy dinners for a while.
Not eating enough
This is not really talking about a food to avoid rather asking you to not avoid food. Many people who are trying to lose weight do so by trying to starve themselves or eating very little. If you are hungry, you will not sleep. If you are starving yourself, the body will not get the nutrients it needs to do all the things it needs to do whilst you are asleep. Avoid the bad stuff above, but do not avoid food altogether. It can be just as unhealthy as overeating.
Other natural insomnia remedies to try
Finally we come to the list of other things you can have a go at in an effort to try and get some decent shut-eye:
Go to bed on time. A common mistake for some is to try and stay up until they are tired, which can be all night. Go to bed at a decent hour. It may take a few nights but your body will adjust to what it will now know as sleep time and act accordingly.
Meditation apps or white noise. There are some good apps out there that play a 10 to 60 minute meditation that can assist with sleep. They usually focus on clearing the mind and muscle relaxation techniques. We use them often here in the Man Versus Oils household and rarely get to the end without falling asleep. If outside noises or internal mind wrangling are an issue, you can also try some white noise apps. These will play anything from rain forest noise, to mediation music to simple static. Yep, for some that works a treat.
Environment adjustment. Is it your environment that is keeping you up at night? Change your mattress or get some black out curtains or a night light. Do what you can to change the temperature in the room if that helps. Just do something that will make your sleep time a little more comfortable.
Give up smoking. Do I even have to explain this one? Apart from all of the obvious health risks, cigarettes contain Nicotine which, like caffeine, is a strong stimulant.
Well, that one certainly got away from me. A lot of stuff there so as usual, have a look through and see what may work for you. And again, sleep is critical to human health so if insomnia becomes a long term issue, please consult with a medical professional.
Oh, and John? Well John has started exercising as John is a “stay at home with a beer and pizza whilst watching the football” type of guy. He started walking and joined the gym – it is early days but his wife says he is sleeping a little better. She may have let slip that he is enjoying the lavender in the diffuser too – but I won’t tell anyone if you don’t.
Until next time.
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My name is Paul and I live on the east coast of Australia with my wife and six year old son. I also have 19 and 23 year old daughters. I am an ex government and bank worker who took a bit of a sea change and opened my own business by the beach with my amazing wife. If you can do it, try it. You will never look back. You want to know more about me, read my About Me page