Written by: Mallorie Stallings
Updated March 18, 2021
Aromatherapy is a complementary approach to health involving the use of oils derived from plants, called essential oils (1), to improve a person’s mental and physical well-being. The practice of aromatherapy goes back thousands of years (2), as people have long recognized the ability of aromatic plants to perfume, heal, and uplift.
Essential oils are found in many household products (3), including perfumes, soaps, lotions, shampoos, laundry detergents, and insect and mosquito repellents. When used for aromatherapy, the fragrances of essential oils are usually inhaled or applied to the skin in a diluted form.
Scents may be sprayed onto pillows, dropped into a bath, or added to a diffuser that disperses the fragrance around a room. Carrier oils are used to dilute essential oils before being used in lotions, as many essential oils are too concentrated to be put directly onto the skin.
It’s important to remember that, although safety testing has shown very few side effects of aromatherapy, some studies have pointed out potentially harmful effects associated with their use. Every person reacts differently to essential oils, so if you’re concerned about whether or not aromatherapy is right for you, talking to a doctor is a great place to start.
Best Scents to Wake You Up
Plenty of different essential oils are commercially available, and many of these are used for their scent in aromatherapy. Some essential oils reduce stress and promote relaxation, while others stimulate and energize the body. Choosing the right scent for aromatherapy can help you overcome an afternoon slump and leave you feeling alert and refreshed. Below are some of the best scents for waking up:
Mint has a long history in natural medicine. Traditionally, mint is utilized for its cooling properties and for treating digestive and breathing problems (4). Peppermint essential oil is anti-inflammatory and improves breathing and athletic performance (5). Researchers suggest that peppermint oil improves athletic performance due to its ability to relax muscle fibers, increase oxygen concentration in the blood, and reduce levels of lactate that are produced during exercise. Peppermint oil has also been shown to enhance memory (6), increase alertness, and reduce nausea and upset stomach (7).
Rosemary is a common household plant native to southern Europe and Asia. Long considered a sacred oil (8), rosemary is believed to alleviate several health issues, including headaches and stomachaches (9). Commonly used in cooking for its strong flavor, rosemary is also a powerful antioxidant (10).
When rosemary essential oils are used in aromatherapy, research has noted stimulating effects (11), including increases in heart rate and breathing. Study participants who inhaled the scent of rosemary essential oil reported feeling refreshed and more active after aromatherapy. Rosemary essential oil may also improve mood and memory (12).
Citrus essential oils come in many varieties, including sweet orange, lemon, grapefruit, and lime. Considered one of the most widely grown food crops worldwide (13), citrus fruits offer a plethora of health benefits. Citrus oils are equally as versatile. When used as an ingredient in foods, citrus essential oils may help to combat the growth of several strains of bacteria (14) responsible for food poisoning. Citrus fragrance has also been tested as a treatment for depression (15).
Lemon is a popular citrus essential oil, considered to be both activating and mood-enhancing (16). In research, participants using lemon oil experienced increased heart rates and enhanced performance in mental and physical tasks. Aromatherapy with lemon oil may have other cognitive benefits (17) as well, like relieving stress and anxiety.
Sweet orange is another popular citrus oil. In traditional aromatherapy, sweet orange oil is often used as a stimulant. Like lemon essential oil, research suggests that the fragrant scent of essential oils from the sweet orange family improves breathing and athletic performance (18).
Sage, a member of the mint family, offers similar benefits to its cooling cousin. Several species of sage are produced for their essential oils (19), including common sage and Spanish sage. Essential oil from Spanish sage has been studied for its potential health benefits and found to improve memory and mood. Participants in one study reported feeling more calm, content, and alert after inhaling essential oil from Spanish sage.
On days when cold and flu symptoms are keeping you in bed, eucalyptus essential oil may help wake you up. Eucalyptus oil has a long history in medicine and is still used in many common cough drops and topical ointments. Traditionally, eucalyptus is used for treating burns and wounds, lowering blood sugar, and helping to control asthma. Research suggests that eucalyptus oil is both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory (20).
One of the first spices brought to Europe from China, ginger has been used in traditional chinese medicine for over 5,000 years (21). Consuming ginger root is used in several cultures to relieve common health issues, including pain, nausea, and vomiting. Aromatherapy with ginger essential oil can offer a pick-me-up after a big meal, as ginger essential oil aids digestion. Ginger essential oil has also been studied for the purpose of alleviating postoperative pain and nausea (22).
When it comes to waking up, there’s nothing quite like the smell of coffee. Coffee is one of the most consumed beverages in the world (23) and offers a plethora of health benefits. Drinking coffee may reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and cancer (24). The aroma of coffee has also been studied as a form of aromatherapy. Research investigating the effects of coffee fragrance showed enhanced attention, memory, and alertness.
Essential Oil Blends
Essential oils can be used alone or mixed together to create unique blends. Blending oils not only produces new scents, it also allows you to enjoy the combined benefits of multiple essential oils. Here are a few blends for waking you up:
- Sweet Orange and Rose: A small study of female university students investigated a blend of essential oils from sweet orange and rose (25). Only 90 seconds after inhalation, the women in this study reported feeling more comfortable and relaxed.
- Peppermint, Basil, and Helichrysum: Researchers found that a blend of peppermint, basil, and helichrysum essential oils reduced mental exhaustion and burnout (26).
- Lemon, Eucalyptus, Tea Tree, and Peppermint: A study investigating the potential benefits of aromatherapy on quality of life used a blend of lemon, eucalyptus, tea tree, and peppermint oils (27). Participants wore pendants that contained this blend of essential oils. Results from this study showed reduced stress levels, fewer symptoms of depression, and significantly higher sleep quality.
Everyone has their own response to different smells, so it may help to experiment as you find the best scents for waking up. Trying different scents and combinations of essential oils is an exciting way to start your day.
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