A short while ago, a friend asked me for some advice.
She has a 3-year-old son, and he’s been going through a patch of bad sleep.
During the night, he’s been sleeping lightly and waking up over and over. And once he wakes up, he has trouble falling back asleep.
Of course, this wakes up mom as well, and as you can imagine, neither of them is very rested or happy as a result.
Since I’ve been very interested in essential oils, my friend asked whether there are any oils that can help her little boy get to sleep more easily and sleep more deeply.
The short answer is yes — essential oils can definitely help kids sleep.
But which oils actually help, and how can you make sure you’re using them both safely and effectively? Read on to find out.
Which essential oils help with sleep?
There are about 300 commonly available essential oils, and many of those are believed to promote relaxation.
In part, this is due to the positive emotional response to smelling a pleasant aroma. However, essential oil constituents also have direct, physiological effects on our bodies.
Among the relaxing and calming essential oils, a handful are specifically recommended for promoting sound sleep. This isn’t just anecdotal evidence either — there have been multiple scientific studies to back up the claim that oils like lavender or chamomile in fact help with sleep.
Here’s a list of 5 essential oils that are particularly suitable to help kids sleep:
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
- Chamomile (both Matricaria chamomilla and Chamaemelum nobile)
- Sweet orange (Citrus sinensis)
- Clary sage (Salvia sclarea)
- Cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica)
Chances are, you’re already familiar with the aroma of lavender, chamomile, and orange peel (as well as the plants from which they come).
As for clary sage, it’s a small, flowering plant originally native to the Mediterranean (you can see it in the photo below). Its aroma is often described as floral, earthy, and fruity.
And cedarwood (specifically Atlas cedarwood) comes from a variety of cedar that grows in North Africa. The aroma of this essential oil is sweet and woody.
Now, this list of 5 oils for sleep is by no means exhaustive. However, I selected these oils both because they help with sleep and because they are good oils for kids to use.
(An example of an oil I passed over is valerian. Though it’s frequently recommended for improving sleep, its strong and pungent aroma is likely to turn kids off.)
Are these oils safe for kids?
There’s a growing awareness of the need to use essential oils safely.
In other words, just because essential oils are sourced naturally, this doesn’t mean they pose no safety concerns or that they can be used carelessly. This is even more true when it comes to kids.
In figuring out which oils are safe for kids, I referred to “Essential Oil Safety” by Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young. This book is the most authoritative text on the topic.
According to this book, all five of the oils above have no known hazards or contraindications if used properly, and should be safe to use with kids.
The key is that you use these oils properly — and that’s what the rest of this article is about.
At which age can you start?
There are various recommendations from experienced aromatherapists on when you can start using essential oils with kids.
For example, aromatherapist Leslie Moldenauer recommends avoiding the use of essential oils, both topically and by inhalation, for babies under a few months of age. She also recommends only using essential oils topically on kids after the age of two.
Robert Tisserand also writes in “Essential Oil Safety” that kids up to three months old are “at greater risk of skin sensitization [from topical use of essential oils] due to the immaturity of their skin”.
On the other hand, he isn’t entirely opposed to the use of certain essential oils (such as the ones listed above) in very light dilutions, even on newborns.
How should you diffuse essential oils to help your kids sleep?
The first way you can actually use essential oils to help your kids sleep is by inhalation.
Inhalation is the gentlest way to use essential oils, and yet it can be surprisingly effective.
An easy way to do this is simply to put a few drops of essential oil onto a cotton ball and place this next to your kids’ pillows. The oil will gradually evaporate and allow your kids to fall asleep more easily and to stay asleep during the night.
You can also opt for a diffuser, a little gadget that vaporizes essential oils throughout the room.
Many diffusers have a setting where they turn on and off regularly, and using this is a great idea (for example, 15 minutes on, one hour off).
Diffusing continuously throughout the night is both unnecessary — the body adapts after a while — and might lead to a too-high concentration in a closed room.
How should you use oils topically with your kids?
A second way to use essential oils is topical application.
Basically, this means taking an essential oil, mixing it with a carrier, and spreading it on your kids’ skin before they go to bed.
You don’t need to cover your kids in oil to help them sleep — a bit on the chest and shoulders should be enough. Other parts of the body (back, or the feet) are also ok.
The main thing to know is you need to dilute essential oils adequately before applying them to the skin. Using essential oils undiluted can cause allergic reactions, and even if this doesn’t happen, undiluted use will dry out your kids’ skin unnecessarily as the oils evaporate.
So what’s a safe dilution for the oils above? Here’s a breakdown by age, taken from “Essential Oil Safety”:
What do these percentages mean in practice? Well, there are about 100 drops in a teaspoon, 3 teaspoons in a tablespoon, and 2 tablespoon to an ounce. Based on this, here’s a table listing the number of drops of essential oil you need for a given concentration in various amounts of carrier:
It’s unlikely you will get these measurements precisely right — I don’t know how you’d measure 0.6 of a drop, and the truth is that drops of essential oil will vary in size anyhow.
The point here is that it takes a very small amount of essential oil to make a recommended dilution, particularly for younger kids. The difficulty of measuring this out exactly (unless you’re making a really big batch) is another reason for avoiding topical use with babies.
What can you use as a carrier?
I mentioned before you should dilute essential oils in a carrier.
As you might know, essential oils don’t mix with water. They need a fatty substance, such as an oil, in order to dilute.
Most commonly, this is going to be a vegetable oil — you can use almond oil, or jojoba oil, or coconut oil. As long as it’s made up of fatty acids, it will dilute essential oils.
If you’ve got a fragrance-free cream or lotion (one that’s oil-based), you can also use that as a carrier for the essential oils.
How should you add oils to a bath?
A third way to use essential oils to help your kids sleep is to add a few drops to your kids’ evening bath.
This can help your kids relax and wind down in anticipation of bedtime.
It’s important to point out again that essential oils do not dilute in water, even if it’s hot and there’s a lot of it.
So how should you add essential oils to a bath?
One option is to dilute them in a carrier oil. This will remove the risk of irritating your kids’ skin; however, the oily blend will just sit on top of the water.
To really disperse the essential oils throughout the bath water, you’ll need to use a surfactant (a substance that can bind both water and oil).
Your shampoo or shower gel already contains surfactants. You can also use a substance like castile soap. Simply pre-mix your essential oils with one of these, and then add the blend to your kids’ bath.
What should you do next?
That’s all you really need to help your kids sleep better with essential oils.
Simply get a couple of oils from the list above, and see how your kids respond to them.
Try out different methods of application, and just make sure to follow the safety recommendations I’ve written about above.
If the first attempt doesn’t prove successful, give it another try with a different oil.
Essential oils have helped many kids — and their parents — get a good night’s sleep. Chances are, they will work for your family too!