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Monthly Archives: March 2015
The associations we make between our nose and brain are incredibly powerful. The scent of baking cinnamon rolls, for example, takes me back to childhood years spent in my grandmother’s kitchen. A whiff of apple blossom transports me immediately to springtime on my parents’ farm in Indiana. The steaming cup of coffee to my left smells like motivation.
It’s truly incredible how a scent alone can impact the way we think and feel, and it is this premise that’s given rise to the practice of aromatherapy. The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy defines the term as “the art and science of utilizing naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants to balance, harmonize and promote the health of body, mind and spirit.”
There are therapeutic scents for everything: eucalyptus for decongestion, ginger for digestive health, peppermint for nausea…the list goes on and on. Of course, being aficionados of everything sleep-related, we’re most interested in the scents that are historically utilized for insomnia.
Below are some common suggestions for essential oils and extracts that promote sleep and relaxation. Let us know your personal favorites in the comments!
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#1: Roman Chamomile
Roman chamomile is a flowering perennial plant that grows in Europe, North America and Argentina, and it’s one of the most popular aromatherapy scents for a reason! In addition to its insomnia-fighting properties, Roman chamomile is also effective at treating depression and anxiety by promoting a sense of total calmness. Other uses for Roman chamomile include treatments for inflamed skin, sores, boils and cysts.
Its essential oil is produced from the flowers and buds of the plant, and it has a very bright, crisp and sweet scent. Common extract colors include light gold to gray, as well as very pale blue.
Roman chamomile is safe for children and even infants when used in aromatherapy (though the oil may need to be diluted), however pregnant women should avoid it because it can cause premature contractions in some users, though very rarely.
Lavender is another popular scent for battling insomnia. A member of the mint family, lavender can be found growing naturally from southern Europe, across Africa all the way to southwest Asia and India.
While it’s mostly known for its uses in treating sleeplessness, stress and anxiety, lavender essential oil also has a host of other uses, including as a soothing agent for cuts, bruises, irritated skin, acne, asthma, headaches and any other ailments. Many people also use it as a flavor enhancer in cooking!
Unlike with chamomile, lavender essential oil is produced using both the leaves as well as the flowers of the plant. It has a thin consistency with a clear yellowish tinge, and the aroma can be described as floral, fresh and slightly fruity.
Some users may be initially surprised by the subtlety of the oil’s strength because they’re used to artificial lavender scents in commercial products, so if you’re initially disappointed, give it some time—you may be surprised at how effective it is! Lavender oil can either be diffused through a room like other oils, or a few drops can be applied to your pillow before bed to gain its soothing effects.
#3: Ylang Ylang
Ylang ylang (pronounced “EE-lang EE-lang) is a tree native to the Philippines. Its name is commonly translated from Tagalog, the most common language on the islands, as “flower of flowers” or “fragrance of all fragrances.”
Ylang ylang has a long history of traditional use for insomnia because of its relaxing, calming effects. In addition, the plant also has antidepressant and anxiolytic properties, and has even been traditionally used to treat anger and jealousy, and as an aphrodisiac! Modern applications for ylang ylang include as an ingredient in perfumes and colognes, in addition to its use in aromatherapy.
In its essential oil form, ylang ylang is clear with a light yellow tinge with a medium consistency. The oil is produced from the trees flowers, and it has a medium to strong aroma that can be described as “fresh yet delicate.” Try using ylang ylang as a bath or massage oil to reap its full benefits!
Bergamot essential oil is derived from the bergamot orange, which is native to southern Italy. The fruit is about the size of an orange and similar in color to a lemon, to which the flavor of its juice is comparable but slightly less tart.
Bergamot essential oil is cold-pressed from the rind of the fruit, and it’s used as a common ingredient in many perfumes. The oil has a thin consistency and a medium aroma strength, which can be described as citrusy and floral. Its color ranges from green to golden—it looks very similar to olive oil.
In addition to its uses for insomnia, this essential oil is commonly used in treating acne, anxiety, cold sores, depression, appetite loss and many other maladies! However, like many citrus oils, bergamot essential oils are phototoxic, meaning that they can cause rashes and irritability when used on skin and then exposed to UV radiation or sunlight. Therefore, caution should be exercised if applying it directly to your body!
Marjoram is a perennial herb related to oregano that is native to the Mediterranean region. Its Latin name, origanum majorana, comes from the Greek words “oros” and “ganos,” which translates roughly to “joy of the mountains.” In ancient times, marjoram was associated with love and happiness, and also the passage into death.
Marjoram essential oil is produced from the leaves of the herb, as well as the flowers and buds. It has a medium strength aroma that can be described as herbal, sweet, woody and “medicinal.” In addition to being a strong relaxant that’s great for treating insomnia and stress, marjoram essential oil is also useful in treating muscle aches and cramps, hypertension, sprains, bronchitis and a long list of other conditions.
Like with chamomile, women should avoid marjoram during pregnancy because of rare cases of it inducing uterine contractions.
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There are so many natural aromatherapy options for insomnia, and this list is nowhere close to exhaustive! If you are having trouble with insomnia but are hesitant to go on a prescription sleep aid (as you should be!), essential oils are a great alternative.
So, invest in a good diffuser and start your journey into the world of aromatherapy!
Until next time: sleep well, live well and be well!
1) Embrace the darkness. It’s your friend.
As we covered in our last blog post, our bodies use levels of ambient light throughout the day to regulate their production of melatonin, the hormone responsible for making us drowsy at night. When we expose ourselves to artificial light in the evening, especially blue light in particular, it tricks our brains into thinking it’s still daylight outside, and thus not time to get tired.
In order to get the best sleep we possibly can, it’s important for us to limit the amount of blue light we’re exposed to, especially in the evening. While forgoing electronic use before bed is very important since the screens produce lots of blue light, replacing the light bulbs in your bedroom can also make a big difference. Reddish light interrupts melatonin production less than any other color in the spectrum, so consider using lights with these colors in the evening hours to prepare for bed.
Once you have your ideal lighting figured out for the evening hours, blackout curtains can keep your room entirely dark when you decide it’s time to turn them out. (Be sure to ban all glowing clocks and other electronics from the bedroom as well—your brain and body will thank you.)
2) Keep cool!
When we sleep, our body temperatures drop. So by making this process easier for them to achieve, we can kick start the process! While many experts suggest lowering the temperature in our bedrooms by about ten degrees from what we prefer during the day, others simply suggest setting it to whatever is most comfortable for each individual sleeper. As long as the temperature is somewhere in the 65 to 72 degree Fahrenheit range, it will likely make a difference.
3) Silence is golden.
If you find yourself distracted by annoying noises at night, your sleep environment is less than ideal. While it’s impossible to stop sounds from traffic or a busy neighborhood at their source, there are steps you can take to lessen their intrusion into your bedroom.
First off, a thick rug or heavy-duty blinds can often help dampen or block unwanted external noises. However, sometimes the best defense is a good offense, which is why white noise generators exist. Essentially, white noise generators are either a piece of software that runs on your computer or smartphone, or a standalone device that produce a constant, inoffensive stream of ambient sound to block out more distracting ones. If that’s still not enough, you may have to resort to sleeping with earplugs to completely block out distractions.
4) Get rid of distractions.
Your bedroom should only be used for sleep and sex. In addition to the detrimental light they produce, smartphones, tablets and computers can also be a regular source of work reminders and stressful distraction. The solution: don’t bring them into the bedroom! Two of the most common causes of insomnia are work and financial stress, so if you’re a workaholic, don’t even tempt yourself with access to your work materials as you’re trying to relax for the evening.
If you’re checking work emails or flipping through reports on your tablet with your head on your pillow, you’re creating a mental association between your bedroom and work instead of sleep, and this is extremely counterproductive! If you absolutely have to work in the evenings, set up your office space in a separate room from your bedroom.
5) Redecorate and make new bedding purchases if needed.
The most important element in your bedroom is obviously your bed itself. Experts recommend replacing your mattress every five to seven years, so if yours is past that timeframe, you may want to look into getting a new one. (Even if it still feels supportive, chances are your sleep quality is suffering if your mattress is older than seven years.) In addition to choosing the right mattress, it’s also important to choose the right pillows for your sleep style, and make sure the sheets and comforters you choose are a high enough thread count.
The colors you choose to paint your bedroom can also impact how well you sleep. While you may be a very vibrant, energetic person, loud colors like orange or red can actually cause a stimulating effect in humans, so it may be best to opt for more muted or neutral tones for your bedroom walls. When picking colors for your bedroom, think of the shades that are most calming to you. Common choices range from calming blues to soothing greens, but choose what works for you!
Until next time: sleep well, live well and be well!
If you’ve been following the Pillows.com Facebook page, Twitter account and blog, hopefully by now you know just how important getting consistent, restful sleep each night is to your health! Sleep deprivation, especially over an extended period of time, can cause some really nasty health problems ranging from heart disease to diabetes. (Among many, many others.)
While an occasional bad night’s sleep is unavoidable—especially if you suffer from a sleep disorder like insomnia or sleep apnea—many of us aren’t getting enough shuteye each night simply due to practicing poor sleep hygiene.
Now you may be asking yourself “what the heck is sleep hygiene?” Well, The National Sleep Foundation defines the term as “a variety of practices that are necessary to have normal, quality nighttime sleep and full daytime alertness,” and we think that’s a concise description. Basically, it’s the collection of habits and rituals you practice before bed to prepare yourself for sleep.
Like all habits, our sleep hygiene routine can either be beneficial or harmful. So, read on to find out whether yours could use some cleaning up!
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Bad Habit #1: You don’t stick to a regular bedtime
Okay, we know you’re not five years old anymore. (Unless you are—apologies to any five-year-old readers out there in Pillowland.) But in all seriousness, sticking to a regular bedtime is just as important as an adult as it is for children! (Perhaps even more so—your five-year-old isn’t getting behind the wheel of a car in the morning or attending important meetings all day.)
By going to sleep at the same time each night, you keep your body’s internal clock on schedule and get more regular, restful sleep as your body adjusts to becoming tired at the same time. (This may be hard to hear, but keep your bedtime consistent on weekends too!)
How to break it
Colleen Carney, the director of the Sleep Depression Laboratory at Ryerson University in Toronto, advises setting an alarm one hour before your intended bedtime to use as a “power-down” period. She suggests using the first 20 minutes to finish up whatever tasks you’re doing, the next 20 minutes physically getting ready for bed (showering, brushing your teeth, etc.) and the final 20 minutes doing something calming like reading or meditation. After that, hit the hay!
Bad Habit #2: You don’t wake up at the same time
This may seem redundant, but it’s worth stating: if you aren’t going to bed at the same time each night, chances are you also aren’t waking up at the same time in the morning. This is crucial to establish your body’s circadian rhythm, or the cycle of sleepiness and wakefulness our bodies experience on a 24-hour basis.
How to break it
Fix your bedtime so that it’s consistent, and your wakeup time will be sure to follow. You might also consider investing in a natural light alarm to make the transition to consistency a little easier. (Many people swear by them, and they’re objectively much less jarring than waking up to a blaring alarm in the morning.)
Bad Habit #3: You’re drinking caffeine too late
Sleep hygiene is generally thought of as a collection of pre-bedtime rituals, but your daytime activities also play a role in how well you sleep at night. And this is especially true when it comes to caffeine consumption!
Because the half-life of caffeine is roughly 5.7 hours, this means that if you have a latte with three shots of espresso in it at noon (roughly 210mg of caffeine), you’ll still have 105mg of caffeine in your system at 5:45 p.m., and it won’t be fully cleared from your body until around midnight. So if you have an afternoon coffee habit, this may be why you’re tossing and turning by the time bedtime rolls around!
How to break it
If you’re going to drink caffeinated beverages, try to get them in at the beginning of your day rather than in the afternoon. Otherwise, there are some alternatives to caffeine that may work for you to increase your daily energy without the java!
Bad Habit #4: You’re using electronics before bed
This one is pretty common knowledge, but avoiding screens before bedtime is crucial to getting a good night’s sleep! Because our bodies use the levels of light in our surroundings throughout the day to regulate their production of melatonin, the blue light emitted from screens on tablets, phones, computers and televisions can trick our brains into thinking it’s still daylight when used right before bed.
Not only does this throw off melatonin production for falling asleep that night, but the effects can also trickle into the next day as your body recovers from having its cycle thrown off.
How to break it:
If you need some mental stimulation before bedtime, try reading a book. (A real, physical book—not the one on your tablet or e-reader!) Studies have shown that reading de-stresses our bodies and can help us fall asleep faster. If you absolutely need to be using a phone or computer before bedtime, try using these apps that reduce or eliminate the blue light your screen produces. There are also physical screen filters that you can attach to your phone or tablet to block blue light. SleepShield and Occushield are two manufacturers you may want to investigate!
Bad Habit #5: You’re drinking alcohol before bed
While alcohol can initially induce drowsiness and help you fall asleep more easily, once it wears off during the night it can disrupt your sleep! This is especially true for women, as they metabolize alcohol faster, thus making the sedative effects last less time and accelerating alcohol’s stimulating effects. (That said, alcohol has the same effect in men, just at a slower rate.)
In addition, if you take a prescription sleep aid, it is absolutely imperative that you avoid alcohol anywhere close to bedtime! Because alcohol and drugs like zolpidem are both depressants, when combined they can cause suppression of breathing, which can be serious enough to kill you!
How to break it:
Instead of an alcoholic nightcap, try one of these natural sleep-inducing concoctions! Tart cherry juice contains melatonin, so it’s a great bedtime beverage to help you unwind. Chamomile and lavender tea is another effective option, as it combines two of the most calming herbs known to man in one drink.
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Like general hygiene, good sleep hygiene is so important to our general health! While this list of bad habits is nowhere near complete, these are some of the most common mistakes that people make when it comes to their bedtime behavior. So if you find yourself making any of them, clean up that hygiene! Your body will thank you.
Until next time: sleep well, live well and be well!