Updated at: 04-03-2022 - By: Jane Brody

Few people think about smell when they think of sleep and the sense of smell. When it comes to sleep, the obvious effects of light, noise, and comfort are given more attention than other factors.

Smell has a direct impact on sleep, even if it isn’t immediately evident. Despite the fact that most people don’t wake up when they smell something, the sense of smell and sleep have a complex interaction.

Aromatherapy with various scents may help you sleep better, wake you up in the morning, or even impact your dreams and memory formation while you’re sleeping. In addition to regulating your sleep, circadian rhythms also influence your sense of smell.

Even though study into the relationship between smell and sleep is still ongoing, being aware of what has been discovered thus far can help you create a sleeping environment that is more favorable to restful sleep.

How Does the Sense of Smell Work?

The olfactory system, which includes your sense of smell, is quite intricate. Chemical signals from all kinds of substances in our surroundings are received by olfactory neurons in the nose. Because they are directly linked to the brain, the neurons that are activated when a smell is detected may be quickly identified.

How Scents Can Help Improve Your Sleep | Sleep Cycle

The nose and the back of the throat are two places where scents can reach neurons, which is why taste and smell are so intertwined. Nerves in other sections of the body can also help identify irritating substances through the common chemical sense.

Can Certain Smells Help With Sleep?

Certain scents may help people sleep better because of the potency of the sense of smell. When it comes to getting a good night’s sleep, there are certain scents that help you relax and fall asleep more easily.

Psychological and physiological responses can be elicited by odors in addition to their detection and identification. Your sense of smell can have a variety of effects on your mood, from making you feel calm to making you feel nauseous. Emotional responses to odours can be stored in the brain so that they can be reactivated whenever they are encountered.

Not surprisingly, certain scents are frequently connected with a more attractive bedroom. Eighty-seven percent of participants in the National Sleep Foundation’s 2012 Bedroom Poll reported that their sheets had a fresh aroma, and seventy percent said that they had a better night’s sleep with fresh sheets.

Although sheets are one source of bedtime smells, there are suggestions that aromatherapy may encourage better sleep by bringing additional scents into the bedroom.

Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy uses the aromas of plants to try to improve various elements of health. As far back as ancient Egypt, aromatherapy relies on the use of essential oils, which are liquids derived from plant materials such as flowers and herbs.

Essential Oils

For aromatherapy, essential oils can be used in a variety of ways.

  • The oil is dispersed and mixed with the air in a space using the indirect inhalation method, resulting in low quantities of aroma in each breath. Diffusers and absorbent materials such as tissues can be used to disperse the oil.
  • The essential oil’s components are more concentrated in the air or vapor used in the direct inhalation approach. Most people use hot water and drops of essential oil to inhale the vapor at home, rather than using specific nasal equipment in clinical investigations.
  • Using a carrier oil, essential oils are diluted with a more neutral oil and applied to the skin by rubbing or massaging. As a result, both the nose and skin’s olfactory receptors can detect the scent. These receptors may provide an additional input to the body’s sensory system, despite the fact that much more research is needed.

Can Aromatherapy Help With Sleep?

Aromatherapy has been shown to improve sleep quality by generating a relaxing and restful environment in the bedroom.

In the hours leading up to bedtime and during the night, it may be advantageous to be exposed to scents that promote a good mood, peace, and relaxation. Insomnia is frequently caused by mental hyperarousal, such as stress and anxiety.

Essential oils that help with relaxation may be able to lessen this sleep barrier. Scientific study has shown that essential oils can help people sleep better, according to a review. An enhanced quality of sleep was found in a study of patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition that is commonly accompanied by nightmares and major sleeping issues.

More research is needed before it can be recommended as a treatment for insomnia or other sleep disorders, but promising results suggest that aromatherapy has the potential to help people sleep better. To name a few, aromatherapy research faces certain difficulties:

  • Because of the ease with which a smell can be detected, a placebo cannot be used to conduct investigations that would have more scientific weight if they were blinded and randomized.
  • Many current aromatherapy studies use a hose or nasal applicator to administer smells directly to the nose during sleep. It’s not clear if other aromatherapy approaches, such as indirect inhalation, produce the same advantages.
  • It’s possible that essential oils utilized in research investigations may have different chemical compositions than those available to the general public.

Are There Side Effects to Aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy has been shown in most studies to have few or no negative effects, and essential oils are generally considered safe when used according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Certain essential oils, especially those that are applied to the skin, may cause allergic responses in certain persons. Various essential oils, including those derived from citrus fruits, have been shown to increase the skin’s sensitivity to the sun and other UV rays.

It’s been discovered that the compounds in tea tree and lavender essential oils may act as endocrine disruptors, which means they interfere with the production of androgens (the male hormone) and estrogen (the female hormone). These oils have been associated to prepubescent breast growth in girls and aberrant breast development in boys in rare situations, according to studies. At least 65 different essential oils include the chemicals suspected of causing endocrine disruption. Essential oils may cause endocrine disruption, but further research is needed to determine whether or not this is a problem.

Smell and Sleep: How Scents Can Afect Sleep | Sleep Foundation

What Are the Best Scents for Sleep?

However, the optimal varieties of aromatherapy for sleeping have yet to be determined. A person’s preferred fragrance and type of sleeping difficulty will influence what works best for them.

Some of these oils have been found to help people sleep, however this information should be considered preliminary or undertaken in a specific patient population that may not be applicable to the general population.

Aromatherapy should not be used as a substitute for other treatments for insomnia or sleep disorders unless specifically prescribed by a doctor.

Lavender

Lavender is one of the most researched essential oils in the world. Lavender has been linked to better sleep in a number of studies, including those involving persons who suffer from sleep disorders. Heart rate and blood pressure can be reduced by the aroma of lavender. Researchers found that exposing participants to lavender before bedtime improved their quality of deep sleep, resulting in an improved mood the next day.

Rose

Rose essential oils have showed promise as a sleep aid due to their pleasant scent and status as a popular garden plant. Despite the lack of clear evidence, a study of sad patients found that inhaling rose-scented air as they slept improved their mood and sleep.

Aromatherapy with the smells of a variety of rose known as damask rose (rosa damascene) improved sleep quality in a hospital’s coronary care unit.

Roman Chamomile

Using roman chamomile essential oil on pillows has been shown to increase the amount of time elderly persons spend in bed. For cancer patients, Roman Chamomile essential oil-based massages lowered their self-reported levels of anxiousness, according to another study.

Jasmine

It was discovered that diffusing jasmine essential oil into a person’s bedroom while they slept increased their sleep efficiency, allowing them to get more shut-eye.

Smell and Sleep: How Scents Can Afect Sleep | Sleep Foundation

Cedar Extract

When taking a nap during the day, a study found that participants who inhaled the aroma of cedar extract fell asleep more rapidly.

Cannabis

Those who inhaled cannabis essential oil derived from plants lacking the psychoactive ingredient THC, found it to be more calming, according to a pilot study.

Ylang-Ylang

The Cananga tree’s Ylang-ylang essential oil has been linked to a calming effect and slower reaction times, making it an ideal choice for use before bedtime.

What Are the Best Scents To Wake You Up?

Similarly to aromatherapy for sleep, there isn’t a single scent that will make everyone feel awake, but research has identified a few aromas that may be good to some people.

Coffee

But not everyone like the taste of coffee or is willing to take in the stimulant caffeine. Another approach is to simply breathe in the smell of coffee, which has been shown to boost alertness, concentration, and memory without the use of caffeine itself.

Rosemary

Essential oil of rosemary has been discovered to stimulate the brain and may improve overall cognitive function.

Peppermint

The scent of peppermint essential oil is distinctive, and studies have shown that it improves memory and alertness when used topically.

Sage

Preliminary research with essential oils from common sage (Salvia officinalis) and Spanish sage (Salvia lavandulifolia) have found both to be associated with enhanced mental performance.

Blended Oils

Blended essential oils may aid with concentration and attention. Cognitive function and focus were increased in one study using an oil mix including the key chemical components 1,8-cineole, 3-carene, -pinene and -caryophyllene

How Does Sleep Affect Your Sense of Smell?

A stuffy nose will remind you that our sense of smell isn’t always equal. Your circadian rhythm has an impact on your olfactory system. Even while it is best known for its role in regulating sleep and wakefulness, this circadian rhythm has a role in countless other bodily functions.

Smell sensitivity fluctuates throughout the day in accordance with our circadian rhythms, according to a study by researchers. In general, sense of smell is the strongest in the evening (around 9:00 p.m.) and weakest overnight and into the wee hours of the morning. This reduction in smell sensitivity through the night may explain why odors generally don’t cause people to wake up from sleep.

Can Smells Affect Dreams?

Smells have been shown to influence dreams, but the exact nature of this effect is still unknown. People who identify nice fragrances with great outcomes have better dreams than those who correlate them with negative outcomes, according to a study. Research has shown that exposure to a familiar scent or a favorite smell can lead to more bad nightmares. However, other studies have shown that this is not the case.

It’s not yet apparent if and how aromatherapy can influence dreams, and further work is needed before this is known.

Can Smell During Sleep Improve Memory?

Sleep plays a role in consolidating memories, which is one of the reasons it is so critical for education. Smell exposure in the bedroom has been studied by sleep experts as a way of bolstering this process of memory consolidation.

Use fragrances as a memory aid in this learning strategy. A person is exposed to a certain scent while awake and absorbing new information in order to do this. Then, as they sleep, they are exposed to the same scent. This odor-based cueing increased students’ language recall in a study of elementary school students. There may be further advantages to testing the next day after being exposed to that same scent again.

However, students and others who desire to improve their odds of retaining relevant information while they sleep may benefit from this strategy.

Can Smell Help You Feel More Awake in the Morning?

Many individuals are interested in aromatherapy as a sleep aid, while others want to learn how to use odors to wake up feeling more awake and focused.

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Aromatherapy can’t make up for a lack of sleep, but it can help you get a good night’s rest. Some fragrances, however, have been shown to improve alertness and energy in the morning and throughout the day.

A history of smelling

One of the most fundamental functions of the human body, according to biologists, is the effect of smell on the brain. Early Man’s capacity to detect and respond to smell was vital to his survival. Is there smoke in the air? You’ve got to run. Is it beginning to rain? You’re looking for a place to hide. The smell cells in our nose are directly linked to the limbic system, which is among the oldest parts of the brain. The limbic system is in charge of all of our long-term memory as well as our emotions and behaviors.

Smell has long been shown to have a profound effect on our lives, from what we dream about to how much we spend.

It was found that when a nice aroma was sprayed around a gambling area, the quantity of money gambled practically doubled.

When we are exposed to certain fragrances, our bodies respond in unique ways. Using our sense of smell to improve our sleep quality?

Smell and sleep – a not so unusual friendship

Participants at the University of Heidelberg’s Sleep Disorders Centre were exposed to one of the following treatments or therapies:

  • the floral scent (pleasant smell)
  • the odor of hydrogen sulfide (unpleasant smell)
  • Nobody can smell it.

The participants’ dreams were directly linked to the smell they had been exposed to, and the results were awe-inspiring. Those who were exposed to a nice smell had positive dreams, whereas those who were exposed to the smell of sulfur had negative dreams or even nightmares. The findings were so conclusive that researchers decided to look into the connection between unpleasant odors and nightmares.

We may conclude from this and other studies that smell has a significant impact on sleep. Why? Because the same area of our brains that regulate our sleep also regulates our sense of smell.

Which smells, on the other hand, have a sedative effect?

These scents can help you sleep better

  • Drinking coffee before going to bed may help you sleep better, according to some studies. It may have a relaxing impact, according to UCLA experts.
  • An effective way to help you sleep is with the scent of roses, which has been shown to reduce blood pressure and the number of breaths taken per minute. In such case, you’re in luck, because rose is already a widely recognized and easily incorporated aroma.
  • Smell of lavender has been shown to reduce anxiety, stress levels, pain, and more by lowering your heart rate.
  • Geranium has a calming, mood-lifting scent that is frequently referred to as a natural antidepressant. Then there’s the question of how much sleep you’ve missed due of your anxiety. Geranium is a wonderful sleep aid since it helps you relax and drift off to sleep more peacefully.
  • When it comes to its influence on sleep, Clary Sage is believed to be more relaxing than normal Sage. Menopausal women may benefit from clary sage’s antidepressant properties, according to one study. For those who like something with a more earthy aroma, this is a viable option.
  • Sweet marjoram is one of the most pleasant and elegant scents, and it was formerly a favorite of upper-class women. Sweet marjoram, one of the many varieties of marjoram, is especially suggested for those suffering from insomnia due to its sedative properties.
  • Jasmine: If you’ve ever had a cup of tea, you’ve probably smelled jasmine. Jasmine’s pleasant aroma has been linked to lower levels of anxiety and improved sleep quality in studies. If you appreciate the scent of jasmine, a simple addition to your nightstand is all you need.

From peppermint and chamomile to help with snoring, to olive oil for sleep apnea, the list of sleep-inducing scents goes on and on. It’s also worth noting that any aroma that makes you happy is likely to help you sleep better.

Scientific data suggests that lavender aromatherapy may calm the nervous system’s activity, enhance sleep quality, promote relaxation and boost the mood in those with sleep difficulties.

How to introduce scents to your bedtime routine

Even if you don’t have a lot of money to spend, there are a lot of products out there that can help you include scents into your nighttime rituals.

Most businesses sell lavender and jasmine plants, which you can set on your nightstand or in your bedroom window sill for a delicate smell.

Put some coffee in a bowl next to your bed and see whether it impacts your sleep patterns.

Essential oils including sweet marjoram, clary sage, and geranium are very popular. Try putting them in an aroma diffuser or a small bowl of water before you go to sleep, or apply them to your skin (wrist and neck) to see if they help you sleep. Is the scent too overpowering for your liking? Instead of going to sleep, try having a bath with a few drops of essential oil.

Many air and fabric fresheners and candles are scented with rose, which is a popular choice. See whether the scent of one of them aids your sleep.

There are, of course, things that are particularly designed to help people sleep better, such as pillow spray. You have complete freedom to make your decision.

Ready to discover which scents soothe you and allow you to sleep soundly?

And how to use aromatherapy to revive OR relax you

There are many ways to enhance your productivity, restoring your energy, or even helping you sleep, but aromatherapy isn’t one of them. Our sense of smell is widely considered to be one of our most powerful and influential faculties, according to scientists. The sense of smell is ten times more accurate than the sense of taste, according to new research.

When you inhale something, your olfactory bulbs, a pea-sized cluster in your brain, are bombarded with signals from the millions of scent receptors. The limbic system, which controls basic human actions (as well as learning and emotions), gets activated as a result of this process. Ever had a fragrance bring back a memory? You’ve now learned the reason for this. To activate the immune system, adjust blood pressure and stimulate digestion simply by inhaling a scent kicks off a chain reaction in the brain.

Imagine being able to practically sniff your way to a better night’s sleep or increased productivity.

Swapping pills for scents

Imagine being able to heal yourself without ever needing to take a medicine. A variety of smells can help alleviate tension, pain, nausea, insomnia, and boost mood, according to numerous studies. Combining smells and essential oils—aromatherapy—has even been shown to kill flu, E. coli, and cancer cells.

Between 2005 and 2010, a report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration said that the number of patients taking Ambien for sleep-related concerns and ending up in hospital emergency rooms virtually doubled. With a little aromatherapy, we can’t help but imagine how much quieter the emergency rooms might be.

Deep Sleep Gives Your Brain a Deep Clean - Scientific American

Nevertheless, how do you begin? Currently, there are no laws governing the industry, which necessitates deeper studies into the potential harmful effects. In the case of essential oils, there is some evidence that while moderate exposure can be beneficial to the heart, chronic exposure can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Experts recommend limiting your exposure to no more than an hour a day and adhering to the bottle’s directions. In the event that you are taking medicine or have a long-term medical condition, it is always best to inform your doctor of your situation. Exercise caution and keep track of your development as you would with any medication.

Ready to sniff your way a healthier night’s sleep?

Using a diffuser (which may cost anywhere from $25 to $200) is the most efficient way to disperse essential oils into the air, but a bowl of hot, steaming water can also be used to do the trick. Drop a few drops of essential oil onto a cotton ball and inhale normally for one to two minutes while driving or at work.

Check out our top aromatherapy scents if you’re interested in giving it a try:

  • For centuries, lavender has been used as a sleep aid, as well as a remedy for anxiety, insomnia and migraines. Before going to bed, spray your pillowcase with a little water.
  • Reduced anxiety and a calmer attitude can be achieved by consuming oranges and lemons. Diffusing essential orange or lemon oil while getting ready for work in the morning will help you feel more alert and focused. Talk about a paradigm shift in outlook.
  • The stress hormone cortisol is decreased by peppermint, which also lessens weariness. Additionally, it has been demonstrated to lessen a person’s desire for sweets. It’s best to have peppermint tea in the afternoon rather than a cup of coffee, which can disrupt your sleep.
  • Rosemary has been shown to increase mental stamina and performance when faced with mentally taxing tasks. It has been shown to increase stamina and stave off weariness in studies. Invest in a rosemary plant for your office windowsill so that you can pick and sniff as needed.
  • When it comes to improving your cognitive abilities and alertness, sage has also been proved to lower blood pressure in medical research. Hang a few sprigs in your kitchen to help you relax during the frantic minutes leading up to dinner.
  • Chamomile has been used for generations as a gentle, calming sleep aid in the treatment of insomnia because of its soothing properties. Place a cotton ball soaked in chamomile oil near your pillow on the mattress and inhale the aroma.
  • Jasmine has sedative and energizing properties, making it useful for a variety of health conditions. Stress and anxiety can be alleviated by drinking jasmine tea. Headaches can be alleviated by applying a compress of jasmine flowers to the area.
  • Relaxation, mental sharpness, and sickness prevention are among benefits of bergamot. If you have an upset stomach or just want to unwind before going to bed, try it in tea!
  • Rosa can be used as a skin tonic and mood enhancer when applied topically.

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