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Alluring Aromas Make Sweet Dreams

Pleasant scents and off-putting odors influence the emotional colors of dreams

by Craig Weatherby

What you smell as you sleep has the power to influence your dreams, according to findings presented at the 2008 American Academy of Otolaryngology meeting in Chicago.

Aromatherapy is an ancient way to relax when awake and induce or improve sleep.

During aromatherapy, essential oils from flowers, trees, herbs, and spices are wafted through the air, inhaled, or rubbed into the skin.

(The term essential “oils” is a misnomer. The fragrant chemicals extracted from plants include esters, ketones, aldehydes, terpenes, and other non-oily, volatile compounds.)

The scents of lavender and orange have been clinically proven to relieve anxiety in dental offices, while the scent of rosemary enhanced students' focus, alertness, and math test scores (Lehrner J et al. 2005; Diego MA et al. 1998).

And now German researchers report findings from what they say was the first controlled study to document the impact of scents on dreams.

Roses versus rotten eggs

German researchers at Heidelberg University recruited 15 healthy women (Stuck BA et al. 2008).

When the women entered rapid-eye movement (REM) sleepwhich is when most dreaming occursthey were exposed to a scent-free placebo, the smell of roses, or the smell of rotten eggs for 10 seconds.

Each woman was exposed to each substance once.

One minute after exposure to the odor, scent, or placebo, the participants were awakened and asked to describe their dreams and how they felt during them. (Dreams were remembered well enough after most awakenings to allow participants to recall the emotional characteristics.)

After exposure to rotten eggs, the women reported having predominantly uncomfortable dreams.

In contrast, the scent of roses produced mostly pleasant dreams.

(This author wonders whether this helps explain why his perpetually rose-scented grandmother always seemed in a good mood.)

We won't be surprised if this news stimulates sales of aromatherapy diffusers, aroma candles, scented pillows, potpourri, and sachets.

We can only hope it makes their purchasers' dreams more pleasant.


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