If you’re a new parent, you’ve likely thought about whether or not to sleep train your baby. And which method to use. And when to start. The catfight in the healthy sleep arena is FIERCE. In the left corner we have the attachment parents singing songs of abandonment and emotional sabotage. In the right corner, we have the CIO clique staking claims about sleep deprivation and developmental delays. And both fighters seem to be backed by scientific studies. Wherever you place your bets, there’s a referee to tell you how irrevocably you’ll screw up your child.
I’m not going to attempt to sift through the conflicting data or share which camp I reside closest to – but I will point out some consistencies. With so many soap boxes and pointing fingers, finding areas of accord is a blessing!
I’ve read several books and many articles, and as far as I can tell, creating a consistent pre-sleep routine and using the same soothing mechanisms every time you put your child down is the shiny middle of this sordid venn diagram.
Some of the best advice I came across was to not consistently do anything you wouldn’t want to continue to do with a toddler. Bouncing my swaddled up infant on a yoga ball was really working out until I imagined suppressing a squirming toddler in my lap while I sang “the sleepy song.” Lately, I’ve been incorporating things that are effective, require minimal work, and are portable – like white noise, dim lights and you guessed it, essential oils! By consistently incorporating a scent into the bedtime routine, you can train your little one to associate that aroma with sleep.
When a fragrance is inhaled, odor molecules are trapped by olfactory membranes, fitting like little puzzle pieces into receptor sites in the epithelium. This triggers electrical impulses to the olfactory bulb in the brain, which then transmits the impulses to the limbic system of the brain. Smell is the only sense that is directly linked to the limbic lobe, which is why a scent can evoke a response before we are even consciously aware of it. All other senses are routed through the thalamus, a sort of brain-switchboard that passes stimuli on to the conscious thought center (aka the cerebral cortex.) IN SHORT, unlike our other senses, when it comes to smells, we REACT FIRST and think later. This makes it easy to understand why diffusing a scent, once you’ve clearly established an association to sleep, can make your little one drowsy before they even realize it’s bedtime.
Theoretically, you could achieve a strong association with any scent, but since some essential oils are inherently down-regulating and others are inherently stimulating, I would recommend choosing one that is known for its calming properties, such as lavender.
Lavender is my go-to oil for sleep mostly because the aromatic influence is calming, relaxing and balancing, but ALSO because it is one of the more affordable oils and has many other applications. I always have lavender on hand for skin care, first aid, allergies and healing.
There are a few ways I use lavender with my son. Every night without fail, after story time but before the last stages of our bedtime routine, I put 2 drops of lavender in the diffuser (you may use more depending on the size of your room, but I find that less is more, especially with babies and young children.) For nap times, in lieu of setting up the diffuser every single time, I simply use a linen spray that I spritz into his crib before putting him down. This is also a convenient option for travel! A third way to introduce the scent is to put a few drops into your favorite carrier oil or lotion and use it for infant massage. (I recommend a 1-2% dilution for infants).
AS always, be sure to buy your oils from a company you trust. With the ever expanding awareness of essential oils, more and more companies that are willing to cut corners and use chemical extenders to maximize profit are labeling their synthetic imitators with promises like “100% pure” and “therapeutic grade.” Don’t be fooled, as these labels are not regulated! Since essential oils are highly concentrated and have the unique ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, it is especially important that we choose products that are completely safe, especially for our little ones!
To learn more, sign up for my free oil course.