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The smell of sleep: How to use aromatherapy at bedtime Woman sleeping with aromatherapyValerie Bennis found her destiny in an essential oil blend. One of the first products this software manager–turned-aromatherapist created was for a client with insomnia. “It turned out this was just the start of requests from New Yorkers looking to get better quality sleep,” says Bennis, who founded Essence of Vali around her remedy simply called Sleep. Featuring an all-star cast of soporifics—marjoram, lavender, cedarwood, and ylang-ylang essential oils, Sleep put Bennis’s little Christopher Street apothecary into the spa limelight and the middle of a sleep epidemic: Trouble sleeping now vies with weight loss as the top health complaint at spas.

Because it’s not addictive, aromatherapy has become a holistic remedy for sleeplessness in SoHo to Sunset Park. Even if the medical community still views it as a poor substitute for Ambien, says Bennis. “People are using aromatherapy to create a tranquil environment for sleep. A pill just can’t give you that.” Here are Bennis’s best bets for getting rest:

Essence of Vali Sleep, aromatherapy with lavender
A drop of Sleep ($18) on your pillow is meant to help you nod off

Make sure you go with a pure plant-based product.
The word aromatherapy is misleading, says Bennis. “It’s not just any aroma. For healing benefits, everything should come from a plant—the liquid of the bark, leaf, stem, or seed that we call “oils.” Synthetics may smell roughly the same, but it’s the complex chemistry of the plant proteins that’s believed to be therapeutic. It’s their effect on the olfactory bulbs and the limbic system that can help induce a relaxed state, say aromatherapists. No one was ever cured by a pine tree hanging from a rearview mirror.

Consider a blend.
People are familiar with lavender or other fragrant oils, explains Bennis. “But there are actually several hundred essential oils, each with their own health-benefiting profile,” says Bennis. “What most people don’t know is that blended oils work synergistically, yielding an exponential benefit.” In other words, you get 1+1=3 kind of results. It’s a kind like mixing eggs and milk and getting a soufflé.

Don’t view aromatherapy like just another pill.
You can’t overdose on essential oils. But that doesn’t mean you should add a drop to your pillowcase and expect your life to change. Think about how sleeping pills work: “They don’t treat the cause of sleeplessness, just the symptoms, says Bennis. “Aromatherapy shouldn’t be used as another version of this.”

valerie bennis
Aromatherapist Valerie Bennis

Fix your sleep problem, not just its symptoms.
Instead of looking to aromatherapy as a quick fix, Bennis suggests that sheep-counters “participate more fully in their healing process” by addressing life stressors and imbalances (like work, relationship worries, no workouts) and dump caffeine and sugar from their diet to see results. “Healthy people can sleep,” Bennis points out.

Create de-stressing experiences for yourself.
To win the race for good sleep, New Yorkers need to take the tact of the Tortoise and slow down. That means chilling out, doing some yoga, reading a book—all the things we know we should do. Or take Bennis’s advice, loosely based on Hippocrates’: “If you ask me, the way to health is to have bath and an aromatic massage every day. A foot rub at home will do.”

Essence of Vali Sleep $18 is sold at and many spas around NYC, including Yelo.

Have you used aromatherapy to get better or more sleep? Tell us, here!