Falling and staying asleep each night seems to be increasingly difficult in our modern world. According to the 2014 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, 26 percent of U.S. adults get less than eight hours of sleep per night—and 42 percent get less than seven hours, the minimum amount recommended by the National Sleep Foundation for people ages 18 and up.
When we don’t follow the 8-8-8 rule—eight hours each of work, play and sleep—we miss out on the precious recovery time we need from every day’s wear and tear.
With our hectic lifestyles, this rule is not always realistic, but as massage therapists there are things we can do to help our clients achieve that must-needed rest. Incorporating essential oils into a massage treatment can help a client get better sleep.
Target clients’ still points
There are particular points on the back of the neck, which, when the client is supine, are pressed by the weight of her head, helping bring her into an alpha state. This state of deep calm, named for alpha brain waves, the slower waves that occur when we close our eyes and relax, will enhance your client’s ability to release the tensions in her body.
To take this natural experience even further, mix sandalwood essential oil into a lotion or cream, or simply add a few drops directly on the face rest or a tissue waved under the client’s nose for deep inhalation. This can encourage a calming of the mind that helps the client let go and reach an even deeper state of relaxation. The calming effects of sandalwood oil are supported by research, including a 2000 study in Phytomedicine, conducted on rats. (Few formal studies on essential oils’ effects have been conducted on humans.)
Maximize your technique with oils for better sleep
To help induce relaxation, it’s best to utilize more rhythmic effleurage techniques that may help lull the client into a peaceful state conducive to better sleep. Blending one of several calming oils into your massage cream or oil can help signal the nervous and muscular systems to relax. You might choose one of these oils to promote sleep:
- Lavender is a classic in sachets and baths for relaxation and sleep enhancement. It contains geraniol, farnesol and linalyl acetate, which have been shown to reduce swelling, ease inflammatory response, and have a calming effect on the central nervous system, helping release tension in the body. These benefits are supported by data in numerous clinical studies, including “Aromatherapy: evidence for sedative effects of the essential oil of lavender after inhalation,” published in Zeitschrift für Naturforschung in 1991.
- Palmarosa, which, like lavender, also contains geraniol, farnesol and linalyl acetate, has calming effects that have likewise been supported by research, including a study conducted on mice, published in Pediatric Research in 2008.
- Roman or German chamomile may help ease smooth muscle spasms, an effect supported by the results of a 2008 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Chamomile oils contain a-bisabolol and angelate esters, which have been shown to relax muscles and aid in releasing tension.
Combining any two of these oils into your massage cream, oil or lotion further release stress. These essential oils will also stay in the client’s body for a few hours after he leaves the table, helping him integrate the work you’ve done with your massage.
By helping clients relax the body and calm the mind, massage therapists bring on a more sedate state, allowing for deeper, more restful, better sleep.
Cary Caster, L.M.T., is a botanist, certified clinical aromatherapist and founder of 21 Drops Essential Oil Therapy. She sits on the board of the Alliance of International Aromatherapists and has been featured as an essential oil expert in the Huffington Post, Vanity Fair and Martha Stewart Living, among other publications. She wrote “Essential Oils for Sports and Deep Tissue Massage” for massagemag.com.