The experimentation into the constituents of essential oils, and their effects on memory, is extensive, predominately in an effort to find inexpensive and effective treatments to curtail the horrors of Alzheimer’s and dementia. These give us great insights into what happens to the mind and the body when they come into contact with plant extracts. Simultaneously, research into meditation shows how brainwaves change and affect concentration. It is a growing and fascinating area of research.
Things that can affect concentration
Concentration, itself is a complex thing; something we take for granted and yet it can just as easily disappear, making times like exams or difficult periods at work not only stressful but sometimes precarious. Sleep deprivation, in particular makes concentration very difficult and while mum is able to rest during her maternity, often dad can feel things slide as he returns to work very quickly after baby is born. (Please excuses gender stereotyping here!)
Hormonal imbalance such as PMT and, in particular, menopause can often trigger absent mindedness and forgetfulness along with the horrible mood swings.
Essential Oils to Support Concentration
Using essential oils can help you to focus attention, awaken the brain, induce confidence and set goals.
Rosemary for Remembrance
There is an old saying that goes rosemary for remembrance, and in addition to being a traditional flower to be added into love bouquets, evidence now shows that rosemary does, indeed help us to remember. It is cephalic and stimulating andscientists in Thailand, in 2013, showed exactly what happens to the body when we use it.
A group of twenty healthy volunteers were asked to inhale rosemary oil. Readings were taken of their skin temperature, their heart and respiratory rates and their blood pressure; an EEG was taken to monitor brain wave activity and changes.Questionnaires were taken about their perceptions about how they felt and their mood.
Results were illuminating.
They showed heart rates speeding, blood pressure risings , and rates of respiration increasing; all significant changes demonstrating how the body was being stimulated by the oil. The EEG however, showed that alpha brain waves were receding and there was an increment of beta waves(1).
Alpha waves are very calm. They are meditative and increase when we are peaceful and are proven to aid how well someone learns. Beta waves however are busy, they are active and awake. They are associated with being focused and sharp as well as with critical thinking. The problem being with beta waves, is they border on anxiety, they are part of the fight and flight response that gets us ready to attack.
Lavender, by contrast, rapidly increases alpha waves(1). It calms the mind and increases learning, but it makes us significantly less alert and can (very slightly) impair memory.
So, then lavender and rosemary exert different effects not only on cognition, but also on mood(2). How do we choose between the calming and soothing lavender, that could send our kids off to sleep in the warmth of the summer exams, and rosemary which acts, in effect like a double espresso on speed? The answer is we combine them to balance and synergise them for the very best effects.
Interestingly, studies also show our brain perceives and reacts differently to oils depending on what we are doing. When participating in active physical labour it will prefer different scents to those it would if we are studying. Research tells us that the brain has a natural predisposition to sweet basil best as a precursor to study. Basil is an incredibly empowering oil too, so apart from its cephalic effects, you do have a sense of determination and “Let’s do this…!” when you enter the examination room. When all said and done that self-belief really is half the battle.
Camomile is calming and balancing, and studies show Chamomile matricaria or blue camomile may ease the symptoms of ADHD(4). There are also trials showing vetiver can help focus by grounding and centring these types of people.
Pepperin is a constituent found in black pepper; it is sharp, pervasive and very stimulating. This would be an excellent pick me up for sluggish (post-natal dad and hang overs for example) heads but completely inappropriate for children with attention disorders.
Studies show that writing on pastel coloured paper positively impacts exam scores for dyslexics. Try colour coding the oils to match with papers. Lemon is uplifting and energising, and bizarrely the brain seems to register the fragrance as yellow. Orange is a very good oil for revision time. It is relaxing and uplifting, garnering confidence and a positive outlook about the exam. Meanwhile, itreduces anxiety.
How you use essential oils is complex here, because there are definite human rights issues around subjecting an entire classroom of different personalities and disorders to a diffuser full of one specific oil. My child will have very different requirements and preferences to yours. Try adding a couple of drops to a handkerchief or an inhaler stick for them to take into school as sniff when they feel they most need support. Paint essential oils onto unvarnished pencils to have them completely hidden and doing their work. Use the oils topically, by making a cream to massage into the neck, allowing the oils fast access to the brain.
- Sayorwan W1, Ruangrungsi N, Piriyapunyporn T, Hongratanaworakit T, Kotchabhakdi N, Siripornpanich V.Effects of inhaled rosemary oil on subjective feelings and activities of the nervous system. s.l. : Scientia pharmaceutica, 2013.
- Sayorwan W, Siripornpanich V, Piriyapunyaporn T, Hongratanaworakit T, Kotchabhakdi N, Ruangrungsi N.The effects of lavender oil inhalation on emotional states, autonomic nervous system, and brain electrical activity. s.l. : Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand, 2012.
- Moss M1, Cook J, Wesnes K, Duckett P.Aromas of rosemary and lavender essential oils differentially affect cognition and mood in healthy adults. s.l. : International Journal of Neuroscience, 2003.
- H1., Niederhofer.Observational study: Matricaria chamomilla may improve some symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. s.l. : Phytomedicine , 2009.