Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that can cause significant problems in daily life. People diagnosed with this neurological disorder commonly experience symptoms such as sleep attacks, excessive daytime sleepiness, sleep paralysis, and cataplexy — sudden muscle weakness that can be brought on by strong emotions. People with narcolepsy have many treatment options. Some turn to essential oils for help with managing their symptoms. Essential oils will not cure narcolepsy, but some evidence suggests they may help improve sleep and lower anxiety.
It is important to talk to your doctor before trying essential oils as a complementary treatment for narcolepsy. Your neurologist will be able to advise you on the potential benefits and risks so you can make an informed decision as to whether essential oils are an option you want to pursue.
Essential oils are concentrated plant extracts. The compounds are found naturally in the leaves, flowers, fruits, roots, and stems of certain plants. Plants themselves use their essential oils for many functions, including attracting or repelling insects and animals, controlling infections, and healing damage.
Essential oils are made by pressing or steaming plant parts to extract their fragrance-producing compounds. Different methods may be used to extract essential oils, each of which can result in a very different end product. They are referred to as “oils” because they contain the plant’s oil-soluble chemicals.
Some people recommend essential oils as aids for overall wellness and for a variety of conditions, including narcolepsy. However, there’s not yet enough research to determine how, exactly, essential oils affect human health, including any effects they might have on the symptoms of narcolepsy and the sleep-wake cycle.
Some research indicates that certain essential oils may help people sleep better. Lavender oil and valerian oil are the most commonly studied. Lavender has been found to help improve sleep when it is inhaled. This can be done using lavender oil and a diffuser — a device that releases scented vapor — or by simply placing a lavender patch on your chest before going to sleep. Valerian oil seems to work in similar ways. It has also been tested alongside acupressure in research. However, this study did not specify whether researchers believe it was the oil or the acupressure that aided sleep.
Other types of oils may also help improve sleep in some people, including:
Notably, participants in these studies did not have narcolepsy.
Frankincense oil, on the other hand, may help promote wakefulness and decrease non-rapid eye movement sleep, according to early animal research.
More research is needed to establish the safety and effectiveness of essential oils for anxiety and to determine how they work to calm the nervous system.
Aromatherapy is commonly used to reap the potential benefits of essential oils for narcolepsy. Because narcolepsy does not manifest itself on the skin, there is no reason to apply it topically. As noted above, there are many essential oils that may help you feel calmer. Whether a particular oil will be best for you depends on its potential benefits and the types of fragrances you prefer.
You may need to experiment for a while with essential oils before you’ll be able to determine what works best for you — particularly if you are sensitive to certain scents and oils.
Aromatherapy is a form of complementary and alternative medicine that uses essential oils to affect a person’s mood or health. Aromatherapy may be done with an aroma stick — a portable stick with a wick soaked in essential oil. Johns Hopkins Medicine advises against using essential oil diffusers, as they may have negative side effects in certain people, including young children and people with chronic health conditions.
However, many people — including those in some of the aforementioned studies — have used diffusers without experiencing any difficulties. Consider first trying a diffuser when you are not trying to rest to make sure it’s a healthy, safe option for you.
Aromatherapy accessories — such as bracelets, necklaces, and keychains — made with absorbent materials allow you to apply your preferred essential oils and smell them throughout the day.
You can choose to diffuse essential oils whenever it works for you. If you experience anxiety alongside narcolepsy, try inhaling the oils before entering situations that make you anxious or when you notice yourself experiencing symptoms of anxiety. If you want to see if oils will help you sleep better, inhale their scents for 20 to 30 minutes before bedtime. Using a diffuser means that you can keep diffusing them through the night, too.
If you are trying to develop healthy nighttime sleep patterns or a sleep schedule, try using essential oils when going to bed or just after waking. This can help you relax and adapt to your schedule. You can use them as triggers to tell your brain when to wake up and when to go to sleep.
There are some known risks associated with essential oils. It is important to note that even if you do not have known sensitivities, you should never ingest essential oils.
There is no cure for narcolepsy at this time, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must approve a medication before it can be considered an effective treatment for a health condition. Essential oils are not regulated by the FDA or any U.S. government agency, so be careful when purchasing any. Some may be harvested incorrectly, and some manufacturers may not disclose all their ingredients. Some companies also may claim that their products are “therapeutic grade,” but this is just a marketing term. It does not refer to the safety or efficacy of the oils.
The lack of regulation makes it difficult to ensure that you are using high-quality oils that will give you the maximum effect. It also raises the risk that you will be exposed to something harmful mixed in with the oil.
Some people may have side effects or allergic reactions to certain essential oils when they’re inhaled or applied topically. Reactions are more likely in people who have atopic dermatitis (eczema) or have had reactions to topical products in the past. Although it is possible to have a negative reaction to any essential oil, Johns Hopkins Medicine notes that the following types of oils are more likely to cause adverse reactions:
If you are looking to try essential oils for narcolepsy, consult your health care provider first. They will be able to offer medical advice and alert you of any potential adverse effects. If you have gotten the OK from your doctor, there are some initial steps you should take to prevent side effects.
Pure (undiluted) essential oils are highly concentrated. Diluting them in a carrier oil (such as jojoba or coconut oil) may help prevent skin irritation or adverse reactions.
As with any new product, test a new oil mixture by applying a small amount to an area of skin. If you experience any irritation, redness, or other sign of an allergic reaction, do not use the product and contact your doctor.
MyNarcolepsyTeam is the online social network for people diagnosed with narcolepsy and their loved ones. Members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their experiences living with narcolepsy, including on topics like essential oils.
Have you tried using essential oils with narcolepsy? Share your experiences and tips in the comments below or by posting on MyNarcolepsyTeam.