The Effect of Aromatherapy on Insomnia and Other Common Symptoms Among Patients With Acute Leukemia

Lisa Blackburn, MS, RN-BC, AOCNS®; Sara Achor, BSN, RN, OCN®; Betty Allen, AD; Nicole Bauchmire, MS, RN, CNP, OCN®; Danielle Dunnington, AD, RN, OCN®; Rebecca B. Klisovic, MD; Steven J. Naber, PhD; Kirsten Roblee, BSN, RN, OCN®; Angela Samczak, AD, RN, OCN®; Kelly Tomlinson-Pinkham, MSN, RN, OCN®; Esther Chipps, PhD, RN, NEA-BC


Purpose/Objectives: To determine if the use of aromatherapy improves insomnia and other common symptoms in hospitalized patients with newly diagnosed acute leukemia.

Design: A randomized, crossover, washout trial.

Setting: An inpatient acute leukemia unit at the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard L. Solove Research Institute of the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University in Columbus. 

Sample: 50 patients who were newly diagnosed with acute leukemia and hospitalized to receive their initial four weeks of intensive induction chemotherapy.

Methods: Patients were offered a choice of three scents to be used during the trial: lavender, peppermint, or chamomile. Each patient was randomized to receive either the chosen aromatherapy intervention or a placebo intervention during alternate weeks, with a washout period in between. Sleep quality and other common symptoms were measured. 

Main Research Variables: Aromatherapy, sleep, insomnia, pain, tiredness, drowsiness, nausea, lack of appetite, shortness of breath, depression, anxiety, and well-being.

Findings: Most patients reported poor quality sleep at baseline, but aromatherapy had a statistically significant positive impact. Improvements were noted in tiredness, drowsiness, lack of appetite, depression, anxiety, and well-being because of aromatherapy.

Conclusions: Aromatherapy is a viable intervention for improving insomnia and other symptoms commonly experienced by patients with acute leukemia. 

Implications for Nursing: Oncology nurses can employ aromatherapy safely and inexpensively, and with minimal training, as an effective tool in decreasing many symptoms that plague patients with leukemia. Patients can exercise a greater sense of control over their treatment environments through the use of aromatherapy.

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