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Aromasticks and sleep problems

Patients with cancer are often affected by sleep problems and contributing factors, such as increased pain and anxiety, immunity and wound healing, that can affect their quality of life. The Royal Marsden in London and Surrey conducted a study and audited the use and perceived benefits of aromasticks as an aid to sleep in patients affected by cancer.

Patients referred to complementary therapy were offered, by teams at both Royal Marsden sites and who reported sleep problems, the aromasticks. The aromasticks contained one of three blends and were offered to the 65 participants who were asked to choose one.

Blend A, consisting bergamot (Citrus bergamia) and sandalwood (Santalum austrocaladonicum)

Blend B, frankincense (Boswellia carterii), mandarin (Citrus reticulata) and lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

Blend C, sweet orange (Citrus sinensis), petitgrain (Citrus aurantium), lavandin (Lavandula hybrida), mandarin (Citrus reticulata), bergamot (Citrus bergamia), lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and Roman chamomile (Anthemis nobilis).

Blend A was the most popular with 33 participants choosing the blend; blend B were chosen by 23 and blend C chosen by 9 participants. Patients were asked to hold the aromastick under the nose and to take four or five deep breaths in and out, as is usual practice, when needed. On a 1-10 Likert scale patients were asked to rate their sleep, for at least two nights before and after using the intervention. They were also asked to rate how effective they thought the aromastick was at aiding sleep. 63 patients completed a follow-up questionnaire, The results based on data from the study showed that 55 (92 per cent) reported that they would continue to use these to aid sleep and 59 (94 per cent) used their aromasticks.

Thirty nine (64 per cent) of patients showed improvement in their sleep by at least one point, overall,

on the 1-10 Likert scale after using an aromastick.

Looking at the three blends individually:

Blend A: 20 patients (67 per cent) showed an improvement in sleep score

Blend B: 14 patients (64 per cent) showed an improvement in sleep score

Blend C: 5 patients (56 per cent) showed an improvement in sleep score

The aromastick were rated as good to excellent at aiding sleep by 46 out of 61 patients (75 per cent). It was noted by the author that: ‘Patient comments seem to indicate that the way the aromasticks help could be as much to do with relaxing, being calm, having a distraction and enjoying the aroma as helping to increase time asleep’. Aromasticks often form part of a treatment, involving massage or reflexology it was noted and the blend can be tailored to individual needs.

Patients had to choose one of three pre-blended aromasticks in this study, also, 31 participants were undergoing chemotherapy which can alter perception of odours.

Source: Dyer J, Cleary L, McNeill S et al (2016). The use of aromasticks to help with sleep problems: A patient experience survey, Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice 22: 51-58.