You don’t see them around much anymore. But they still exist. If you are wondering what I am referring to– I’m writing about those small smelling salt ampoules containing ammonia. To use, you just easily break one by hand and place it underneath some unfortunately unconscious person’s nose. Whew! They are effective! Were you out of it for whatever reason, with the exception of a coma or medically induced condition, the strong scent of ammonia in your nostrils has a very high probability to snap your brain into gear!
Smelling salts work as a stimulant. How? The ammonia fumes that rise from the salt irritate the membranes of the nose and lungs triggering a reflex that causes the muscles that control breathing to work faster. If you’ve ever had the occasion to be rudely brought back to an awakened state in this manner– it was an unpleasant experience I am sure. The scent is joltingly harsh.
I use the example just mentioned to bring back up the matter presented in my last post, sleep. Sleep, or the lack of it can have a significant impact on performance. Sleep, is a different kind of unconsciousness, for sure. Just this week, a NY Times article presented the outcome of a study where the performance of study participants sleeping 4-6, and 8 hours a night were measured. Need I tell you which group performed better? Of course it was those with 8 hours of sleep. Those sleeping 7 hours (in between the two groups), were just a little better in their performance than those sleeping 4-6 hours. Even those who stated that they have generally, successfully navigated the day with just 4 or 5 hours of sleep found out that their performance wasn’t as good as they believed it was. The lesson here, is that we aren’t good judges of how well we perform without enough sleep. How about those that slept more than 8 hours, say 9 hours each night of the study? They performed at the same level as those with 8 hours. We can conclude from this that more sleep is better than less sleep. You might not think it would take a study to emphasize what just seems practical.
With many people sleeping fewer hours each night than 8, in contrast to those who topped all in the study by having a higher level of performance after 8 hours of sleep, it’s no wonder that the performance of sleepy people is faltering. We’ve heard of some instances lately. Airport staff falling asleep at radar screens. Bus drivers falling asleep at the wheel. Sound pretty scary?
There is nothing that replaces sound sleep. It’s a naturally regulated function that comes with the fascinating creation that we each are. Yet, lifestyle does impact our quality of sleep. Aromatherapy can have a positive effect by temporarily augmenting one’s mood, level of energy, attention, and as a result improve performance. Aromatherapy can be your mid-morning or mid-day pick-up, your study buddy inhaler, your in-your-pocket therapy treat that can allow you to be better focused when lack of sleep might otherwise have you in a fog. Aromatherapy can improve mental clarity, concentration and memory. And, as we’ve covered before, aromatherapy can improve sleep by helping you get there sooner rather than later!
To look at sleep and performance more closely, I will refer to essential oils that are stimulating to the central nervous system (CNS). That’s what a stinky smelling salt ampoule is able to successfully and consistently accomplish when used as a first aid remedy! It doesn’t just irritate some membranes in the nose and lungs, some specifically targeted chemical molecules hit some sensory nerves and the body reacts.
I am fortunate to have access to a Component Database developed by the scentsational Aromahead Institute that introduced me, seriously, to aromatherapy. There are so many essential oils. I know many well from my studies and repeated use, however I love being able to go a website and perform a super easy and comprehensive search for information that otherwise isn’t at my fingertips. Via the Internet, it now is. I’ve looked up CNS stimulating essential oils and chemical families to bring you this very short list of aromatherapy winners that you can research a bit more for a stimulating essential oil that will work for you. I know a lot of people and very few have shared with me that they sleep 8 or more hours a night. I admittedly rarely sleep 8 hours a night. My performance, then beyond what I believe about myself, can likely be improved. I carry an aromatherapeutic inhaler with oils that help me focus throughout the day, everyday. I wouldn’t leave home without it!
Camphor, belonging to the Ketone chemical family, is an essential oil that stimulates the central nervous system. If you’ve ever opened a jar of Vicks Vapor Rub you immediately were met by the aroma of camphor, eucalyptus and menthol. I was not a fan of this product as a child, yet my Mom would slather it all over my chest whenever I had a cold. It might as well have been smelling salts under my nose. It was my first experience with something that was icy hot on my skin– and an affront to my nose.
Peppermint contains significant amount of menthol and methone, both central nervous stimulants. It is a familiar scent, fragrance, aroma to everyone. I can’t think of anyone I know that if I were to mention the word “peppermint,” would not know what I was talking about. They would probably think about a candy, some toothpaste or a mint rather than an essential oil or the plant. Peppermint has a strong personality. It can get a yes or a no on the like scale. Many people like it and there are some that really dislike the aroma. Peppermint is plentiful! The US is the major producer of this wonderful plant also known as Mentha x piperita. It also grows abundantly in numerous other places around the globe. The essential oil is steam distilled from the leaves of the plant.
This essential oil is packed with therapeutic benefits, among them being its analgesic, antispasmodic, decongestant, cephalic and stimulating actions. It can help one become clear-headed and thus improve concentration and reduce mental fatigue. As stimulating as peppermint is, interestingly for some people it is cooling and for others it is warming (its both for me). But, it’s very present aroma is not easily mistaken. I recommend it to students, who are obviously tired or sleepy, when administering tests. I offer them a piece of peppermint candy (I love those soft mints) or an Altoid (for eye-opening awakening). That peppermint oil is widely used as a flavoring agent in candy, mints, gum, etc., should not surprise anyone. I think you could be drop-head tired and put an Altoid in your mouth and you’d sit up straight in a few minutes. I’ve seen it happen! Did you know that Altoids have been around since the 19th century? I am, however, not recommending the essential oil of peppermint be taken internally.
Peppermint is fascinating! Peppermint has been repeatedly studied and found to improve alertness and performance on various tasks. Remember, I said that for some people the effect is warming and for others it is cooling. What’s really cool about peppermint is that for some people it is stimulating and invigorating while for others it is not– it can, instead, promote sleep.
In a 2005 study, printed in Biological Psychology, involving 21 young people between the ages of 18 and 26, effects of peppermint differed dependent upon their perception of the scent (odor) as more or less intense. In the study, peppermint was presented against another familiar item with no distinctive odor: water. If you didn’t pass the water versus peppermint qualifier, you were excluded from the study. Some participants rated peppermint as stimulating and others viewed it as sedating. What I found most interesting about the study, among other factors, was that each participant was registering 8 hours of sleep nightly as a requirement for participating. There were also pronounced differences between the experiences of men and women in the study. When rating peppermint as more stimulating than sedating, women responded similarly taking longer to reach rapid-eye movement (REM) i.e., deeper recuperative sleep. It didn’t matter with men who reached REM sleep independent of how they perceived peppermint. Results of the study also highlighted that peppermint improved mood and lessened sleepiness and fatigue. I’ve provided the link below for further reading.
There are some concerns about using peppermint that are particular to its direct contact with skin (it can be irritating); using it with children under age five, and having it close to the nose of infants.
If even remotely conscious and given the choice, I’d select peppermint, any day, as my preferred whiff if something is going under my nose in a hurry. I get curious stares when I use my green inhaler when riding the subway. Don’t think I want to be the picture I see of others dozing on the train. If you want some samples of what I mean, select the NY Times link. Don’t laugh too hard unless you are getting at least 8 hours of sleep a night. Being picture imperfect could happen to you.
How Little Sleep Can We Get Away With? http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/magazine/mag-17Sleep-t.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=sleep%20performance&st=cse&gwh=321A6A8E0275C3BF7D740ADF0772EA04
Sleep Changes Vary by Odor Perception in Young Adults http://www.aromatherapy.ir/article/Aroma%2025.pdf
Visit the Aromahead Institute’s Component Database: http://components.aromahead.com