Aromatherapy is a common medicinal technique that deploys aromatic plant oils, including essential oils, either inhaled or applied to the skin through massage, to positively influence our mood, mindset, pain sensitivity and sleep.
Sadly, it has become all too easy to label something, be it a diffuser, soap or shower gel, as ‘relaxing’, ‘energizing’ or ‘refreshing’; such adjectives are so loosely thrown around nowadays that they have become near vacuous terms.
The inquisitive bio-hacker intent on living a more Biophilic lifestyle that brings them closer to nature can and should demand more from the products he or she purchases, and aromatherapy still has a role to play in that process.
Ancient Chinese, Indian, Roman and Greek populations all appear to have made ready use of essential oils, both in religious or ritual practices and more practical applications such as cosmetics and perfumes.
More recently, scientific studies have provided considerable evidence to back up aromatherapy’s claims to aid with reducing anxiety, improving sleep and enhancing cognitive performance; here we will address each in turn.
essential oils and anxiety reduction
One study focused on women undergoing an image-guided breast biopsy, exploring the use of aromatherapy scents compared to a placebo in a randomized, controlled study.
Anxiety was self-reported before and after the biopsy by 87 women using the Spielberger State Anxiety Inventory Scale. A statistically significant reduction in anxiety was shown through the use of lavender-sandalwood aromatherapy compared with the placebo group.
aromatherapy for improved sleep
A meta-analysis of 12 studies using a random-effects model revealed that the use of aromatherapy was effective in improving sleep quality in 95% of cases with inhalation proving more effective as an application than massage therapy.
The study concluded that readily available aromatherapy treatments do indeed appear to be effective and promote sleep. More research may need to be done to develop specific guidelines for how to use aromatherapy to achieve the desired effect.
a natural solution to enhanced mental performance
A sample of 42 administrative university workers performed a computer task in a university classroom while assigned into an aromatherapy group and a control group. Oil diffusers were is use during the session, one with petitgrain essential oil (orange tree leaf extract) and one with almost oil as the control.
Before and after the intervention, participants completed anxiety and mood state questionnaires (the Stait-Trait Anxiety Inventory and the Profile of Mood States). Heart-rate variability (HRV) was also measured before, during (20-25 min), and after the intervention to analyze autonomic nervous system regulation.
The aromatherapy group performed the task 2.28 min faster than the control group suggesting that inhaling petitgrain essential oil specifically and aromatherapy more generally can help to improve cognitive performance in the workplace by reducing stress levels and increasing attentiveness and alertness.