Alaska Sleep Education Center

How Your Sense of Smell Affects Sleep

Posted by Stefanie Leiter

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on Nov 9, 2020 2:58:00 AM

Beautiful woman drinking a cup of coffee

We already experience less sleep when our bodies are put under stress. And 2020 has been an unprecedented year of stress. From isolation, quarantine, job or financial loss, an election season, and coronavirus concerns, we need all the help we can get to receive each pressure minute of sleep. The Alaska Sleep Clinic wants to help you identify how your senses can enhance your REM cycle toward a healthier sleep.

Scientists have linked scent and long term memory in a study conducted by the American Psychological Review. A simple scent like buttery popcorn can remind us of a movie theatre or passing a woman with a certain fragrance makes us remember a childhood memory of our mother or grandmother. Each whiff provides a link to a memory. A certain combination of smells can become a link to recall the scent of your bedroom at bedtime.

Finding the right mix of scents is what creates better slumber. A study in 2019 found that bad odors and good odors (like the smell of flowers) exist in the olfactory system in our brains. A bad odor (like tobacco smoke) can actually deter a restless sleep while good scents provide more energy when we wake up. The study in the Journal of Posttraumatic Stress even found that good scents provide deeper sleep and healthier dreams.

Providing a more technical definition of the olfactory system is described by the Sleep Foundation as “special cells in the nose, called olfactory neurons, receive chemical signals from all kinds of compounds in our environment. These neurons are directly connected to the brain, allowing for rapid identification of smells based on which neurons are stimulated.”

But how do we choose the right scents to pair for a good night’s rest? A few leading fragrance retailers think they have found the perfection combinations such as The White Company in London and Bath & Body Works in the United States.

Working alongside British perfumers, the Sleep Collection from The White Company suggests lavender, chamomile, and clary sage combinations. Their collection includes candles, diffusers, pulse point oils, body cream, body oil, bath soaks, and hand cream.

Bath & Body Works now offer four options in their aromatherapy and sleep collection depending on your personal fragrance preference. Each line offers body creams, hand creams, pillow mist, essential oil mists, body scrubs, candles, and body wash.

  • Lavender Vanilla contains aloe and bamboo extract to inspire relaxation;
  • Rose Lavender contains shea butter and vitamin E to inspire tranquility;
  • Chamomile Bergamot contains a combination of oils and shea butter to create a sense of well-being; and
  • Cedarwood Vanilla contains cedarwood oils to promote soothing feelings while the vanilla calms the mind.

If you chose to go with essential oils, there are three main uses for aromatherapy at bedtime:

Direct inhalation: breathing in the air or vapor through hot water while showering or in an inhalation device providing high concentrations of the oil’s scent;

  • Indirect inhalation: adding drops of oils in a diffuser to disperse the scent in a concentrated area like the bedroom providing low concentrations of the oil’s scent; and
  • Skin application: neutral oils that can be rubbed or massaged into the skin which allows the olfactory receptors other than the nose to receive the scent.

No matter the method for adding scent into your nighttime routine, journaling how your mind and body react to certain scents can help determine its effects. Both retailers from London and the United States offered scents like vanilla, lavender, clary sage, bergamot, and chamomile to engage the senses.

Shopping at stores like TJ Maxx or Home Goods can be a good place to start with their inexpensive diffusers and sleep combination scents that provide directions on how to introduce essential oils at night. For a few helpful sleep blend recipes, visit Essential Oil Haven’s website.

Still searching for the solution? All of these can help an unrestful night in any bedroom but there are also professionals who can aid in your fight with insomnia when the answer is not easy. Call the Alaska Sleep Clinic for a free 10 minute consultation.

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Topics: sleep assessment, senses

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