To sleep perchance to dream.

Sleep difficulties is probably the most common problem people come to see me with. Perhaps not as the first on their list but certainly within the top three problems and many more admit to sleep difficulties on further questioning even if it isn’t on the list that they first present.

This should not come as any great surprise when you think of the number of reasons someone might come to an aromatherapist that affect sleep.

Anxiety, depression, stress, pain and gastric and urinary problems are all things that can have an adverse effect on sleeping patterns. And of course, problems with sleep can make other problems, both physical and psychological much worse. Sleep deprivation can in extremis cause the individual suffering from it to become psychotic.

One thing to think about when treating sleep problems is, “What is the function of sleep?” On a physical level it is a chance for the body to rest and allow healing to take place but healing is a complex process and after a sprained ankle for instance, the right mix of rest and exercise is needed for the best outcome.

On the psychological side of things, it gets even more complex as this article on the subject shows. Likewise, different schools of psychotherapy all have their own views on the subject  or at least on the dreams that happen there, from the different forms of analysis to Fritz Perls’s Gestalt therapy.

What all those who look at sleep in any depth are agreed on is that adequate sleep is essential for psychological health, be that the three hours a night that Margaret Thatcher was said to get by on to the seven or more hours that most of us seem to need.

In particular, REM (Rapid Eye Movement or dreaming ) sleep is particularly important. Psychoanalysts make much of this interpreting what happens in dreams. Others see it as a time for the mind to re-order things that have happened in order to make sense of them, and file them appropriately in different areas of memory.

I will always try to start by treating the cause of sleep disturbance and use oils that will help with depression, anxiety, stress, pain etc. Many of these help with sleep anyway so there is a double effect. Frankincense comes to mind for the first three causes of sleep problems I listed there. Vetiver is another good oil for this.Roman and German Chamomile oils are both good for inflammation and so some sorts of pain and also are good for sleep. With depression I might also use Bergamot or Bitter Orange in the morning as a more stimulating oil and Frankincense and Vetiver in the evenings.

Massage  even without essential oils is good for stress, anxiety, depression and pain and so can be helpful and many clients fall asleep during a massage but while this is not a problem, it is not an aim of treatment as too much sleep during the day can lead to wakeful nights and consequent worrying during the night.

As well as using massage and essential oils, I also try and help clients who want to resolve sleep issues to look at their lifestyles. While it hasn’t come up with any of my clients, I wouldn’t advise watching horror films just before bed time or reading horror books! Other things that have been implicated in making getting off to sleep more difficult are working on a computer before going to bed. Try and give at least an hour, preferably two without doing this if you have this problem.I suspect this is more of a problem here in Cambridge than in many other cities.

Also temperature of the room can make a difference. I like to always even in winter sleep with a window open. However this sometimes has to be negotiated!

Hop oil is often helpful and I am talking about on a pillow here rather than in the form of beer much as I might enjoy the latter! Two people I know find a hop pillow (a small pillow stuffed with hops) placed under the normal pillow helps.

If you want to book an aromatherapy massage to help with sleep problems

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