“Does anyone actually use aromatherapy every day?!”
I was asked this very reasonable question the other day at work. My answer: “Have you ever been in my office?”
I get it, though. Even for those of us who embrace integrative medicine, use organic beauty products and regularly get stuck with tiny needles, aromatherapy can seem a little frou-frou: an indulgence, a touch cosmetic. For a long time, that’s how I felt. Sure, I always had some cheap lavender by the bed. An old friend called it my “sleep juice” because I’d developed a habit of dabbing a little on the skin under my nose before retiring, but that’s as far as I went. I suspected aromatherapy might be a very useful tool, if only I could remember to use the stuff.
Since then I’ve developed a more sophisticated relationship with essential oils. If you haven’t done the same, I’d like to encourage you to.
That’s because aromatherapy can, I believe, kill a cold in its tracks, transform your stressful day into a productive one, help you unwind after work, gear you up for important meetings, and, much more simply, make you feel happy. It also has the added benefit of helping those around you, too, without them even realizing it.
I’m getting pretty deep into researching how aromatherapy really works and when I’m done, I’ll share that. For now, I’ll share the six products, from three lines, that I use every single day:
We’ve discussed this one before. As much as it is, in fact, an irritability zapper, this is also my daily perfume. There’s no getting around it: People freak out when they smell it. It’s impossible to describe, but it’s complex and gorgeous and unlike anything I’ve ever smelled. A lady on the train stopped me the other week—it’s the only way I can handle commuting on the jam-packed 4 train at 8 am—and asked me what I was wearing. I dug into my giant bag and produced the little vial to show her. Her eyes went wild while she smelled it, so I invited her to put some on. She did, and then pulled out a notebook to write down its name. “You made everyone on the train happy just by coming on this car!” I melted…and I kind of think she was right.
When I use it: Before I get on the subway in the morning, before hot dates, before important meetings.
How it makes me feel: Like…myself? In a good way.
We wrote in the book that we’d wear this as perfume, too, if it weren’t for its completely unsubtle narcotic properties. This stuff knocks me out, inducing sleep as deep as a baby’s. I like to shake a few drops onto my hands, cup them over my nose, then take 10 very deep breaths. I try not to do this every night, lest it stop working at some point. I gave this stuff to a colleague when she was going through a terrible breakup and she swore up and down it worked. I’ve subjected boyfriends to it, too. I’ve yet to find someone upon whom it does not cast a sleepy spell.
When I use it: Only the second I’m ready to sleep. It works usually within 10 minutes.
How it makes me feel: Couldn’t tell you. I’m asleep, remember?
3. Hope Gillerman Travel Remedy. Hope Gillerman is, I’m convinced, the standard-bearer for high-quality, potent EOs that work almost medicinally—and I’m not just saying that because she’s my next-door neighbor. She’s a natural healer, and I first met her a couple of years ago when she gave me a complimentary Alexander Technique treatment. That was so cool! Even cooler, for me at the time, was the aromatherapy 101 class she gave me before the session. I left her office with the Stress Remedy, which I adore. But lately, my go-to is her Travel Remedy. I wrote about it recently, when I started using it to fend off a seasonal cold. I’ve also used her Muscle Relief on my achey bones (and the achey bones of skeptics): always works. And on my desk at work, I have her Tension Remedy. It’s invigorating and a little zesty, perking me up when I’m computer-tired or anxious about a big meeting. Works every time.
When I use it: All day. Travel Remedy when I feel rundown; Stress when I’m feeling unshiny and haggard from a tough day; Muscle after a killer yoga glass or boot camp; Tension on the go, during the work day.
How it makes me feel: I’ve already explained this, but let me add: The Stress and Tension remedies make me feel much more present, much more in the moment.
Your turn. What’s been your experience with aromatherapy? Anything you love or—gasp—can’t live without?
This is a fairly regular occurrence for me: It’s 4am and I’m woken up by something. Maybe it’s a weird dream, maybe I need a glass of water, or I have to pee. And then I’m toast. No matter what I try, I just can’t fall back asleep for about two hours, until I hear the birds chirping and see the early light. Does that ever happen to you?
In Ayurveda, waking up at this time would quickly be diagnosed as a Vata imbalance—because Vata rules that time slot between 2am-6am. And even if your dominant dosha is not Vata, you could be suffering from one too. For a dosha refresher, go here.
A quick recap on the Vata thing: All doshas represent elements, and Vata is air. It’s quick moving and it’s easily aggravated by just about anything: season change, travel, too much wine at dinner, stress, and most other things that are part of modern life. This is why it’s so common that we experience its negative effects. Other telltale signs: Dry skin, anxiety, indigestion, and a sensitivity to cold.
Luckily, for those of us who are frequent Vata sufferers, the onset of warmer weather usually helps balance this out. Of course, for you Pittas out there, that can bring on a whole different kind of imbalance: excess heat in the body, a hard time falling asleep, impatience and irritability.
Anyways, back to the sleep thing. When it happens now, I don’t try to fight it. I know like clockwork that around 6am, suddenly the warm veil of sleep will come back over me. Until then I’ll do everything: meditate, read, come up with ideas for blog posts. I’ve been particularly susceptible lately, because I’ve been both traveling a lot and socializing a lot. Booze and travel will get me every time.
What do you do when you wake up like this in the night? And of course, if you know your dosha… Let’s hear it. I’m a Vata-Kapha, whereas Siobhan is a Pitta-Vata (but with a very strong Vata). So you can imagine this wake-up thing’s a problem for us!
If this isn’t a problem for you, by golly, tell us your tricks for staying balanced.
Last night over a glass of wine, my friend announced he was on day 1 (and take 2) of a new diet. Well, not a diet, exactly, and I’m paraphrasing here, but he said something to the effect of: “When I cut out dairy, processed sugar and wheat, I wake up every day feeling better than I’ve ever felt in my life.”
Gah. I want to feel like that! Who doesn’t want to feel like that, frankly. But I don’t, and I notice it most when I first wake up in the morning.
Do most people wake up feeling awesome? Seriously?
The thing is, I would wager that most of us know exactly what we need to do to feel our best.
- We know how much sleep we need *
- We can list the foods we digest most easily **
- We can identify the habits that make us feel like garbage and, in theory anyway, we could not do those things ***
- We know what kind of exercise our body craves ****
- We understand who make us feel all happy and glowy *****
I certainly do, I just don’t always do it—and how boring would life be if I did. (That’s what I tell myself, anyway—which might be part of the problem?) The truth is, I am a sucker for a good time, I’m pretty spontaneous, but I’m also someone who feels best when I stick to a routine. Because as anyone over the age of 30 knows, good times often come at a cost. And that feeling of waking up totally rested and relaxed? You can’t beat it. So I’m going to embark on a mission to have more mornings like that, and fewer when I wake up with a four-letter word in my head just because the alarm went off.
Now tell us, and be brutally honest, please: Do you wake up every day feeling refreshed? If so, I am jealous, but I want to know your secrets. Share, share.
* 8 hours
** Vegetables, cooked or raw, gluten-free grains, some fish, yummy good fats
*** I’m not telling
**** Vigorous yoga, hiking, boot camp drills in the park
***** You know who you are, and I thank you!
When my insomnia hit the other night, I did everything wrong.
I’d managed to work myself up about something before bed, but because I have the stamina of a toddler when I’m upset, I tired myself out quickly and crashed hard around 11:30pm. Then, at 4:30am, my brain went on like a light. There I was, in that strange time when “tonight” becomes “tomorrow” and the last thing in the world you should be doing is witnessing it. (Unless of course you’re doing something really fun—which I wasn’t. I was lying there with looping thoughts, the lights on, a search window open on my laptop, and Twitter fired up on my phone…)
We have written plenty about sleep hygiene here. We polled you once to find out how much you sleep (a lot!); we asked you guys to share your bedtime rituals with us (they were great!); we’ve explored how sleep can help your looks (duh); and we’ve covered ayurvedic principles about sleep before, as well.
But isn’t it funny (dumb) that no matter how much you know about the Right Thing To Do for your wellbeing, it’s often exactly when you need that advice the most that it escapes you?
With that in mind, here’s a primer, filled with things you already know, on the best and worst things to do when you can’t sleep. Obviously this advice is highly subjective. Where appropriate, we’ve mentioned some actual science to back us up. And, as always, we want your tips in the comments.
1. Tweeting, emailing, checking your stocks, approving comments on your blog etc. Research shows that light-emitting devices can suppress the production of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin—which means when you wake up to check your cell, or simply have it on blinking at you from the bedside table, you’re sending signals to your brain that it isn’t time to chill out. Turn them off, use airplane mode, or put them on the other side of the room. When you wake up, try your best not to check them.
2. Watching scary TV shows. I can’t watch scary things at night anymore without getting nightmares and waking up a lot. Granted I’m on the sensitive side (cough), but there is good research that shows how disruptive this can be. It can spike stress hormones in the body and put you in an excited state (not the good kind) that doesn’t bode well for rest. Some people can watch anything before bed and fall asleep, but if you wake up in the middle of the night and decide to flip on the tube, maybe don’t try to catch up on a season’s worth of Boardwalk Empire?
3. Turning on the light. This actually can be a good thing (see below), but in general, if you wake up and have to pee or you stand a chance of falling back asleep fairly quickly, don’t turn on the lights or lift up your black-out blinds. (You all have black-out blinds, right? If not, you should! They’re super cheap at Ikea and make a world of difference.) For the same reasons you want to avoid electronics, you also want to avoid turning on the lights: It tells your brain that it’s time to be awake by suppressing sleep hormones. Pas bon.
4. Drinking booze. We’ve all seen the research about nightcaps actually disrupting sleep, and here’s why: It robs you of REM and the other, deeper stages of sleep—which are the ones that make you feel most rested. A glass or two of wine can make you feel nice and relaxed, and that can be sleep-promoting, but drinking too close to bedtime (not to mention in the middle of the night) should probably be avoided.
5. Just lying there freaking out. If you’re past the point of no return—meaning you can just tell you won’t be falling back asleep any time soon—do something else. You can go ahead and break rule number 3 here. Get up and do something, anything, until you feel sleepy again.
1. A cup of herbal tea or some aromatherapy. Many herbs—chamomile, lavender, valerian root—have been shown in research (and by wise grandmothers) to make you sleepy. Similarly, jasmine has a sedative effect when inhaled, as do Hope Gillerman’s Sleep Remedy and Essence of Vali’s. Just be sure to do your research and/or check with your doctor before you start dosing yourself. Nature makes some very powerful plants
2. Reading something you’ve read before. This works wonders for me. A yogi and a nerdy scholar at heart, I have been rereading The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali for years now. Here’s why it works: When you read things you are already familiar with, it doesn’t stimulate your mind with new information the way an exciting novel or a piece of nonfiction would. In fact, it has the opposite effect of comforting you with information you already possess, and, well, kind of boring you.
3. Meditate. A tough sell at 4am, I know, but it helps quiet the mind and ready you for more sleep. Our tips are here—and the compassion meditation is an especially nice one to do because it puts your focus on people you love. You could also try listening to recordings of meditations by Pema Chodron (or someone else, but man is she good). You can break rule number 1, above, for this one, obviously.
4. Do some yoga. Nothing too vigorous, but some poses have been shown to promote sleepiness. There’s a nice list over here.
5. Wake up your buddy and chat and/or have sex. This requires a forgiving and generous significant other, but if you have one, and you know they won’t mind hearing what’s on your mind and helping you simmer down, this can be very helpful. As for sex, just bear in mind that for some people, sex is sleep inducing (for example, every single man who ever walked the earth*) and for others it’s sleep inhibiting.
6. Pretend it’s already tomorrow. If you’re really stuck, try pretending it’s not 4am but 8am and it’s time to get ready for work or school. Take a shower, brush your teeth, drink some water—but be sure to skip the coffee. It sounds nuts but this has worked for me! At some point, when you’re going through the motions, something in your mind will click and you’ll think: “This is totally insane. I should be asleep right now.” And then maybe, just maybe, you will be.
Your turn! What are your tips: What’s the best—and worst—things one can do when one can’t sleep?
* I kid! Sort of.
OK maybe that’s not exactly what happened but hear me out: On Tuesday, I did a TV interview for work. It was super fun! But if there’s one thing I don’t love about these things, it’s the makeup. Not really because it isn’t “clean”—I do this infrequently, so that’s not really a concern. It’s just that there’s so much of it.
I’ve tried to do my own makeup for TV before, and guess what? It sort of looks like crap. In TV land, everyone—including the dudes—is pancaked, so when you’re not, it just looks bizarre. Plus, these things are always rushed, I don’t like being too fussy, and I can’t afford to hire my own all-naturals makeup artist.
But here’s the rub: conventional makeup really, really irritates my skin. So does the stress of work and, yes, being on the tube—I love doing it in the moment, but beforehand, I get nervous! I have written before about how my complexion is far less temperamental than it used to be, and a big reason for that is the fact that I’m super strict about what I’ll put on it. I also try to be very consistent with my stress-busting strategies: Yoga a bunch of times a week, regular bedtimes, daily meditation, some nondenominational prayer. These things make a big difference in how I feel (and look), and when they get thrown off—and they all have lately—well, you know what happens.
So by the time Tuesday night rolled around, I was fending off a freakout that I would wake up the next day with monsters on my face. I could feel them coming on. Now, as fate would have it, I also had tickets to see my favorite musician perform for just the second time in my life—despite the fact I’ve been a rap fan since I was in elementary school. So off I go to the show. I knew from the first song that this would be the best concert I’ve ever been to—and it was!
I had SUCH a ball. I danced and sang along like an unbridled dork for two hours, fell asleep peaceful and happy, woke up peaceful and happy and…way clearer. Yup. Monsters averted!
Here’s the thing: Anyone who has broken out a bunch knows that the anxiety that comes with a breakout is way worse than the breakout itself. Even worse, in my opinion, is that sinking dread you feel when you know a breakout is coming! Of course you never look as bad as you think you look, but the crazy psychological tricks you’ll play on yourself when your skin is cranky can be miserable.
Thankfully, because I had such a packed day—and a day packed with things I was giddy about—I had no time to indulge in those crappy feelings. Instead, I had more fun than I’d had in ages. And just like that, my skin bounced back. It isn’t perfect, but it’s calm, and it’s healing.
Was it the cascade of feel-good hormones? A fluky monthly hormonal shift that happened at just the right time? Was it…Jay-Z? I’m not sure. But it was a good reminder that happiness, good old fashioned fun, and not taking yourself (or your skin) too seriously can produce miraculous results.
So the next time you feel a bad one coming on, maybe do something super fun? That would be my advice from here on in. (That and green tea clay, naturally.)
Has anyone else noticed anything like this? And do you have any feel-better strategies to beat off a bad skin day (or week, or year)?