Ara Walline, Doctor of Naturopathy at Unravel Therapeutics

Ara Walline ND

Written by: Dr. Ara Walline, Naturopath


How quickly does loss of sleep impact your health? In just under one week, according to new research findings from the University of Pennsylvania (1). A group of healthy individuals restricted to 4 hours of sleep, showed significant changes in eating behavior as well as weight gain after just 5 consecutive nights in the study. Those whose bedtime was delayed until 4 AM filled in the time with self-selected sedentary activities including eating meals that tended to have a high fat content. Not surprisingly, at the end of the week of observation, the sleep restricted group had gained weight, while the group whose sleep time was extended to 10 hours actually lost weight.

getting to sleep naturaly


Natural medicine offers many ways to help individuals who are sleep challenged re-establish a healthy sleep cycle and reap the benefits of their rest. One of the most effective sleep treatments falls under the category of biofeedback. This group of non-pharmocologic interventions helps individuals to develop their capacity to consciously relax tense muscles, quiet anxious thoughts, and ultimately shift the nervous system to a state of balance where sleep is possible. While these skills are being developed, a range of individualized natural therapies can be used to support the systems of the body that have been weakened by chronic sleeplessness and the often associated high stress levels.


One of the sleep promoting natural interventions that I use in my practice is therapeutic essential oils. Essential oils are the chemicals in plants that allow it among other things to fight off disease, recover from injury, and attract pollinators that are necessary for its short and long term survival. In humans, these chemicals enter the blood stream through the nose and have direct beneficial effects on sinus and respiratory tissue. They also positively impact the nervous system, and the limbic system or emotion center of the brain.

Essential oils have been used therapeutically to support sleep and modify mood for centuries. Scientific investigations into their effects are beginning to explain how and why they work. One such research study collected standard polysomnographic sleep data as well as self-rated assessment of mood and sleep quality (2). Participants exposed to just 2 minutes of lavender essential oil prior to bed over 3 consecutive nights reported improved “vigor” in the morning. The sleep data also showed that exposure to the lavender scent increased deep or slow wave sleep in both men and women without causing drowsiness or delayed waking in the morning.

Every essential oil has primary as well as secondary benefits based on the chemicals from which it is composed. While lavender is a well-known and scientifically validated sleep promoter, there are a variety of other essential oils that also support healthy sleep and may have secondary benefits that are more specific to an individual’s unique needs. The naturopathic intake and assessment helps to identify these needs and thus offer a treatment that is more broadly beneficial to the individual.

(1) Spaeth AM; Dinges DF; Goel N. Effects of experimental sleep restriction on weight gain, caloric intake, and meal timing in healthy adults. SLEEP 2013;36(7):981-990.
(2) Goel N; Kim H; Lao RP. An olfactory stimulus modifies nighttime sleep in young men and women. Chronobiol Int 2005; 22(5):889-90