For most people, nightmares are an annoying but harmless aspect of life. However, for some people these nightmares take on a life of their own, as their impact transcends the bounds of their bedroom. The nightmares are so vivid and so scary for them, that they continue to distress them through the day and even create anxiety about falling asleep.
Then, there are those who sleep fitfully because their nightmares don’t let their brain relax completely. Many of us don’t remember the troubling nightmares, but they continue to haunt us through the day in the form of inexplicable negative emotions such as anger, disgust and rage.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot that modern medical science can do to control your nightmares. And no folks, sedatives certainly aren’t an answer to this disturbing problem. Fortunately, when all else fails, you can always count on Mother Nature to come to your rescue.
Research has indicated that the use of essential oils allows the nervous system to calm down and relax. Because essential oils improve your emotional and physical well-being, and reduce stress, they help you to sleep and unwind easily. So, if you are pining to go from having nightmares to sweet dreams, continue reading to know how essential oils can help.
Top 7 Essential Oils To Deal With Sleep Disorders Like Nightmares
The best seven essential oils that can be used to relax your mind and body and help you sleep peacefully include lavender, roman chamomile, bergamot, sandalwood, mandarin, rose and vetiver.
The essential oil of lavender can be used ahead of drifting off to sleep. Research has shown that lavender eases insomnia and anxiety: it will help you sleep more soundly and you’ll wake up the next morning feeling refreshed and energized. Put a few drops under your pillow or diffuse it in your room prior to bedtime.
John Parkinson, a 17th-century apothecary, wrote that lavender is “especially good for all griefs and pains of the head and brain.”
2. Roman chamomile
Often used in the form of tea to soothe upset stomachs, the essential oil of roman chamomile has outstanding restorative properties that can help an individual suffering from conditions like nightmares and night terrors.
Helping you to stay fresh, the essential oil of bergamot includes a citrus aroma that boosts your sense of well-being.
Sandalwood essential oil is extracted from trees that are at least 4 decades old, and trees as old as eighty years are said to produce the best kind of sandalwood oil. Being a potent relaxant, sandalwood eases the nervous system and helps you feel relaxed.
The essential oil of mandarin carries a mild scent that works as a successful treatment for nightmares. Besides vaporizing, you can just spray four to five drops of this essential oil on a pad of cotton and set this by the bed or the pillow.
You can also make your own mix by blending mandarin with a carrier oil like jojoba. The outcome is undoubtedly a scent so lovely that it will offer you a tranquil sleep that you deserve.
In order to keep the nightmares away, I suggest that you mix two drops of rose essential oil with 10 drops of a carrier oil of your choice and rub it onto your soles, in a clockwise direction.
Why apply it on the soles? The soles of your feet are the most permeable section of the body. It is easier for the small essential oil particles to permeate through the skin in this area and get into the bloodstream. Thereafter, it is only a matter of minutes before the oil is spread throughout the body.
Other essential oils you can blend with rose to enhance its effect include helichrysum, patchouli and sandalwood. You can either use them by themselves or blend with rose oil to promote deeper and calmer sleep.
Vetiver is very grounding with an earthy aroma. This essential oil helps you to calm down emotionally. If the root cause of your frequent nightmares is mental anguish and disquiet, then vetiver is the essential oil you should use.
Another relaxing oil that you may want to consider is valerian. It is relaxing, lowers blood pressure, improves digestion and relieves spasms. This oil can bring on restful sleep without the danger of addiction.
Essential Oil Recipes To Get Rid Of Nightmares
Recipe 1 – A fantastic relaxant
This clever little recipe is a fantastic relaxant. You could keep it in your bag or just make sure that it stays on your desk. Put a teaspoon of coarse sea salt in a dark glass bottle and add:
- 3 drops of Chamomile
- 3 drops of Geranium
- 4 drops Lavender
- 10 drops Bergamot
Mix all the essential oils and add to the jar filled with salt or to your inhaler if you want to carry it along. To use, take three long, deep and slow breaths of the aroma. Do this right before going to bed to reduce the likelihood of nightmares.
Recipe 2 – Super-relaxing aromatherapy bath oil
- 2 drops of Cedarwood
- 6 drops of Lavender
- 10 drops of Sandalwood
- 30ml of carrier oil of your choice
Mix all the ingredients in a dark glass bottle and store in a cool and dark place. Use this bath oil in your bath water at night.
Recipe 3 – Bath Oil Recipe for sweet dreams
- 1 drop of Ylang Ylang
- 1 drop of Vetiver
- 4 drops of Clary Sage
- 16 drops of Orange
- 20 drops of Lavender
Combine the oils in a dark glass bottle and store the blend in a cool, dark place. To use, mix 5 drops with a teaspoon of milk and add to your bath water (for a before bedtime soak).
Recipe 4 – Aromatherapy Scent Inhaler
I have been using this blend for a while now and it is my go-to formula when I am in dire need of peaceful and rejuvenating zzz’s. Here is how to prepare this outstanding blend:
- 5 drops Clary Sage
- 8 drops Lavender
- 4 drops Spikenard
- 4 drops Anise
Mix and store in a dark glass bottle. Before you go to bed, close your eyes and inhale the blend. You can use an inhaler or simply pour two drops on a ball of cotton wool and place it next to or under your pillow.
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Can Essential Oils Cause Nightmares?
Well, let’s get one fact straight- very little is known about why we dream (good and bad dreams)! What we do know is that dreams/nightmares occur in a phase known as REM sleep.
Going from dreams to deep sleep: REM is a strange sleep phase because while the body is paralysed (immobile) in it, some parts of the brain become hyper active. Once you get past this phase, the brain slows down and you reach the restorative deep sleep phase. Dreams and nightmares occur in the early stages of REM sleep, while night terrors occur in the late stages of REM sleep.
A trip to Elm St is only possible in REM sleep: Although there is a clear link between stress, anxiety, PTSD and the occurrence of nightmares, nobody knows for sure why some people have pleasant dreams while others suffer from nightmares. However, what we do know for a fact is that to have that dream or nightmare, you have to get to the REM stage of sleep and be in it for a while.
You don’t want to risk spending too much time with Mr Kruger: Anything that delays the transition from REM to deep sleep (Non-REM sleep) increases your risk of sleeping fitfully, whether it is because of a dream or a nightmare.
Remember I told you earlier that your brain, uncannily, becomes super active during this phase. So, it would be logical to assume that any oil, which increases brain activity right before sleep or while you are sleeping, will impede restful sleep and may even increase your chances of having a nightmare.
The climax of this movie: In light of all that, it would make sense to avoid oils like peppermint, ginger, most citrus oils and rosemary right before bedtime because these are known to cause an increase in wakefulness and brain activity.
There could be a possible spinoff: Everything that I have discussed so far was about factors that impact the REM sleep phase. But, what about lucid dreams? I know a lot of people would be willing to pay to learn the art of lucid dreaming. But what if it isn’t lucid dreams but lucid nightmares? Would there still be takers? Hello, no!
If you must, make it short and forgettable: Nightmares are terrifying as it is; the last thing you want is for them to be more realistic and hence more frightening. And you certainly don’t want to wake up with a clear memory of that awful episode.
A logical conclusion: So, it would also make sense to stay away from oils that are purported or prescribed for ludic dreaming such as mugwort, clove, palo santo and if anecdotal evidence is anything to go by, even lavender.
Now let me, once again, bring you back to the ground reality, everything that I have discussed above is mere conjecture. The only fact that is backed by a clinical study, albeit a very small one involving 15 subjects (all female), is that a pleasant smell (think roses) does lead to dreams while an obnoxious odor (think rotten eggs) does cause nightmares.
So, while essential oils may/may not directly cause nightmares, the stench of dirty dishes wafting from the kitchen sink will definitely send an invite to Baba Yaga (Not Keanu Reeves gals).
Essential Oils For Nightmares (PTSD)
Most garden variety nightmares are annoying at their worst and almost always harmless. But, when you combine them with mental anguish, possible physical trauma, bottled up rage, fear and anxiety, you get a potent recipe for trouble.
And that is exactly what PTSD is all about! Unlike regular nightmares, those experienced by people who suffer from PTSD have a physical aspect to it and can be more dangerous because they involve significant thrashing around and uncontrolled physical movement.
PTSD patients tend to relive traumatic incidents through their nightmares. This means that unlike regular bad dreams, PTSD nightmares exacerbate the psychological effects of the problem and hinder treatment attempts. Unfortunately, about 90% people who suffer from PTSD have frequent nightmares.
These nightmares are caused due to increased REM sleep. I have already discussed brain activity in the REM phase with you. Now, let me tell you about the two step approach to control nightmares and PTSD with essential oils.
Step 1: Before bedtime bath/massage blend
- 5 drops frankincense
- 4 drops clary sage
- 6 drops bergamot
- 2 drops ylang ylang
- 15 ml carrier oil or unscented body lotion for 9 drops of the blend (optional)
Mix the essential oils and store in a dark glass bottle. You can increase the quantity of the oils as long as you stick to the proportion given. To use in a bath, mix 5 drops of the oil blend with a tbsp of milk and set aside.
Fill the tub half way with hot water and add 1 cup of Epsom salts and ½ cup of pink salt/sea salt to the water. Once you have the required amount of water in the tub, add the milk-oil blend to it and whisk with your hand to disperse the oils.
Soak in the soothing, warm water in the tub for 15-20 minutes. This is best done about 45-60 minutes before bedtime. Follow with a relaxing infusion tea and some soft, soothing music or 15-20 minutes of meditation.
Step 2: As you sleep
You will need a diffuser with a timer for this one. For the blend you will need:
- 5 drops vetiver
- 7 drops sandalwood
- 4 drops sweet marjoram
- 6 drops geranium
Mix the oils and store in a dark glass bottle. Use about 4-5 drops in your diffuser. Run the unit for about 15 minutes while you in the room then set it on the timer to restart halfway through the night.
Essential Oils For Prophetic Dreams
Unlike those who suffer from nightmares, people who are keen on lucid dreaming want certain areas of the brain to be active while they take a walk into the realm of dreams. This gives them greater control over how the dream plays out. Think of it as an attempt to be the writer/director of your own dream.
But, this is more than just for entertainment. Training for lucid dreaming is often recommended and even used to get greater control over chronic nightmares. Moreover, since your subconscious is involved in the act of dreaming, lucid dreaming is a way to allow you conscious, subconscious and unconscious mind to work on a problem that may be plaguing you.
In fact, many people suggest that this is the best way to sort every day and even academic issues by giving your brain and your subconscious mind some “ME-Time”. Take a look at a blend that can help you on the path to becoming a lucid dreamer.
- 4 drops palo santo
- 5 drops valerian root
- 3 drops mugwort
- 5 drops jasmine
- 4 drops lavender
Mix the oils and store in a dark glass bottle. Diffuse 2-3 drops for 15 minutes before bedtime and then set the timer on the diffuser and use one more time between 3 and 5 AM, which is considered by many to be the ludic dreaming window of the night.
Essential Oils For Sleep Paralysis
If you thought nightmares were bad, imagine a nightmare in which you are completely in your senses and wide awake but can’t move a finger to stop the horror that is seemingly enfolding around you. Yes folks, I am talking about the dreaded and terrifying problem of sleep paralysis that has haunted human kind for centuries.
Once considered to be the doing of goblins and their evil kin from hell, the condition is now better understood and no longer considered a part of the paranormal world.
If I were to give you a simplified explanation, I would say that sleep paralysis occurs when your brain wakes up well before your body does. Normally, the noggin and the bod are jolted into wakefulness together by a shot of adrenalin in the system.
But, with those who suffer from sleep paralysis, the body continues to remain immobile for 20-30 minutes even after the brain is awake. Because the condition is worsened by sleep deprivation, in this two-step treatment/prevention plan, that is the first problem that we will combat.
Step 1: Before bedtime diffusion
- 5 drops sandalwood
- 7 drops bergamot
- 7 drops lavender
- 2 drops basil
Mix the oils and store in a dark glass bottle. Diffuse 3-4 drops for 15 minutes before bedtime. Remember to switch off the diffuser before you sleep. I highly recommend that you either use two diffusers for this treatment approach or reserve the diffuser for morning use and add this blend to an inhaler or a cup of hot water.
Do not forget to set the diffuser on timer mode and add the morning blend to it for use at the beginning of the day.
Step 2: As you wake up diffusion
This blend is supposed to kick in as you are waking up. So, set the timer on the diffuser such that it starts about 5-10 minutes before your regular wake-up time and goes on for 5-10 minutes after. Remember to get your 7-8 hours of sleep and set the timer accordingly. For the blend, you will need:
- 5 drops rosemary
- 5 drops lemon
- 3 drops sweet marjoram
- 3 drops peppermint
Preparation, usage and storage as explained above.
Essential Oils For Night Terrors In Toddlers
The problem with night terrors in a toddler is that you have a limited number of choices when it comes to using essential oils on one so young. Also, you have to judiciously control the way in which the oils are used and the actual quantities of the extracts used. I have an entire article dedicated to using essential oils safely for newborns and babies. I recommend that you take a look at it.
That said, night terrors in children occur in the later stages of REM sleep as they are just transitioning into deep sleep. So, when the child wakes up, he does not have any memory or only scant memory of what the nightmare was all about.
Also, any attempts to wake the child up as he thrashing and flailing are met with little success because even with his/her eyes open, the child is still actually asleep and in the dream stage. I am going to discuss the wake-up technique in the next section.
So, night terrors are best remedied before they occur than after. Stress, anxiety, fatigue and poor sleep quality and hygiene can all work as triggers for night terrors. So, here is a calming blend that can help to soothe the child before bedtime. You will need:
- 5 drops lavender
- 7 drops roman chamomile
- 2 drops lemon balm
Mix the oils and store the blend in a dark glass bottle. To use, diffuse 2 drops in the child’s bedroom while the child is not in the room, for 15 minutes. Enter the room 10 minutes after the diffuser has been stopped.
Another way is to add a drop of the blend to a cup of hot water and allow the heat to diffuse the oils while you are going through the night-time wind-down routine. If you want the aroma to linger in the room through the night, add a drop of the blend to a terracotta pendant and hang it in front of a USB fan or a similar sized electric fan.
Another way is to crack the window open, just an inch and hang the pendant such that the incoming air passes through/around it. The terracotta pendant option is the gentlest form of diffusion and one that works even for babies who are younger than 12 months.
Natural Remedies For Night Terror In Toddlers
1. Have a wind-down routine: Whether it is reading a book, listening to soothing music, a lullaby or simply some cuddle time with mommy and daddy, or a combination of these, a wind-down routine will put the child in a calm state before bed, and this is likely to prevail as he takes his/her journey into the dream world.
2. Keep the cool: Whether it is a toddler or a grownup, body temperature plays a huge role in sleep quality. The body temperature is designed to go down by a degree or two as you sleep and remain asleep. So, if your bundle up your munchkin to the point that he gets too warm through the night, this will undoubtedly impede sleep and may trigger night terrors.
3. Maintain a journal: If night terrors turn into a recurring problem, as they often do, it helps to maintain a journal, which will give you a clear idea of any increase in the intensity of the episodes and the approximate time at which they occur. This can help greatly to tailor a treatment for the problem.
4. Wake up before trouble starts: If there is a particular time at which the night terrors occur, wake the child up 15 minutes prior to that time. This way, you do not let the child enter the nightmare stage. Keep the child up for 15 minutes and then put him/her back to sleep. Try this for a few days and then gently wean him off of this technique.
5. Don’t let the day’s happenings impact the night: The more tired or stimulated the child is before bedtime the greater will be the likelihood of night terrors. So, start winding down a good two hours before bed time.
6. Don’t rub in the memory of the nightmare: Don’t bother to ask the child what the nightmare was about the next day. The last thing you want to do is solidify the memory of the terrifying experience in his/her mind. Night terrors are usually forgotten by the next morning, and they are best left forgotten.
7. Don’t use sedation: Benadryl is not the solution for night terrors. Instead, try homeopathic remedies or a child-specific infusion/preparation of chamomile.
8. Consider the use of a sound machine: These are often available for less than $50 but are remarkably effective in treating night terrors and nightmares. If you can’t find one, you can always substitute with calming classical music played at a low volume or even the gentle whirring of a table fan.
9. It’s all about comfort: Finally, remember that good sleep is all about comfort. If this means using a weighted blanket in winter and a light blanket in summer or keeping those tootsies covered, then so be it.
Natural Remedies For Nightmares
1. Sleep hygiene is of utmost importance: Being diligent about your sleep schedule is one of the easiest yet most effective ways to improve sleep quality and avoid nightmares.
2. Keep a sleep and nightmare journal: If your nightmare jolts you into wakefulness, make a note of time at which you woke up and what happened after. Write down everything linked to the nightmare; from what it was about to whether you could fall asleep later and how it influenced your day. Also, give a thought to the day’s events that preceded the fitfully spent night and make a note of these.
3. Know your triggers: Certain sounds and smells tend to trigger negative memories. For instance, I know somebody who got lost in the woods as a child. Although she is a middle aged woman now, strong woody, herbaceous fragrances that remind her of the forest trigger nightmares.
Your triggers may not be immediately apparent and it may take some soul and memory searching for them to reveal themselves. But, once you find them, it is easy to avoid the trigger and the nightmares they cause.
4. Wind down before bedtime: Don’t do anything that gets the wheels in your head spinning at full speed right before bed. This means no TV or other screens at least 30-45 minutes before bedtime. Also, stay away from murder mysteries and readings that may manifest into nightmares as you sleep.
5. Don’t let anything get you hot and bothered: Unless it involves sweating between the sheets, nothing else should get you hot and bothered as you get ready for bed. This means, keep the bedroom temperature between 60 to 67 degrees F. Using a weighted blanket can also help, but you will have to adjust the room temperature accordingly.
6. Enjoy a calming tea before bedtime: Mix 4 tbsp dried chamomile flowers with 1 tbsp dried sage leaves and 1 tbsp dried lavender flowers. Store the mixture in an airtight container and brew a strong infusion tea with it. Enjoy it warm, with just a dash of honey if required, right before bed time.
7. Herbs can come to your rescue: Passion flowers, chamomile, coriander seeds, hops, valerian, Ashwagandha and thyme can relax the mind and improve sleep quality, thus preventing nightmares.
8. Limit stimulants: This includes caffeine, alcohol, tobacco products, loud music, sugar, a heavy meal right before bed time and junk food. Stay away from all of these 2-3 hours before your bed time and you will greatly improve your ability to both fall asleep and stay blissfully asleep.
9. De-stress before bed: Depression, anxiety and stress are known triggers of sleep disorders such as sleep deprivation, sleep apnea, sleep walking, including nightmares. Fortunately, their ill-effects can easily be countered with white noise, soft classical music, guided meditation, journaling and progressive muscle relaxation.
10. A doctor’s help may be needed: Certain medication and health conditions could be causing the nightmares. So, if the problem is taking on a chronic form, talk to your doctor about it.
The Bottom Line
While the root cause of nightmares is the stress embedded in your nervous system, poor diet is often the reason behind nightmares in many cases. And this is one of the prime reasons for the efficacy of essential oils in inducing calmer and deeper sleep.
So, if your nightmares are the cause of your sleepless nights and your sullen mood in the morning, start using one of the essential oil blends mentioned above for long lasting relief.