Scents, smells, stenches. These three words are all essentially the same thing, but each word elicits a very different response depending on what you associate with it. Whatever your reaction, scents definitely do trigger emotional and physical responses, but usually only when we’re awake. With this in mind we’re investigating whether scents have an effect on our dreams, and even whether they can enhance them.

What are olfactory dreams?

Olfactory dreams is the term given to the belief that scents can affect our dreams. There are some people that even claim to be able to smell in their dreams, such as Francesca Faruolo, director of the Bologna based Smell Festival. Francesca claims that her dreams are often fragrant and that this is because she has a ‘highly trained sense of smell’.

Image of woman dreaming of scents of flowers

However, whether or not this is actually true is debatable, as there is little research on the subject. The only existing study was conducted in 1865 by Alfred Maury, though his findings are disputed. Maury claimed smelling cologne whilst he was asleep led him to experience an array of highly scented adventures, however, researchers disagree. After all, knowing he would be smelling a certain scent is much more likely to have been the factor that affected what he then dreamt about.

Scents and dreaming

Olfactory stimuli can influence our dreams, says Professor Thomas Hummel of the University of Dresden’s Smell and Taste Clinic. But, smelling a rose won’t mean we dream of a bouquet of them. Instead, the scents we smell whilst dreaming will either make our dreams more positive or negative, depending on whether we enjoy those smells.

A study into the impact of smelling whilst dreaming found that different scents weren’t directly represented in the subjects’s dreams and, in fact, ‘there was hardly any kind of a dream dealing with smelling and tasting’. Instead, the study found that those participants that enjoyed a rose scent whilst dreaming had more positive dreams. Those subjected to the smell of rotten eggs suffered from unpleasant dreams. What is clear then, is that the emotional relationship we have with certain smells is what impacts our dreams.

Image of woman smelling bad scent

Emotional reactions to scents

We already know that we have emotional reactions to certain smells, which is why smelling a certain perfume can make us think of a loved one. It’s also why catching a whiff of an otherwise pleasant scent might make us grimace, because of the negative memory we associate with it. As well as affecting us emotionally these smells can also affect us physically, as they trigger certain bodily reactions. Ginger and citrus smells, for example, are often used in body washes as they help to wake us up when enjoying our morning shower. On the other hand, smells like vanilla and lavender, known for their relaxing properties, are best inhaled before bed. If you enjoy a soak in the bath before climbing into bed, you may wish to invest in a bubble bath in a smell that relaxes you.

What scents affect us most

Image of lavender field

As well as certain scents invoking an emotional and physical response when we’re awake, there are some smells that can affect the quality of our sleep. The most well known of these is lavender, which often comes in the form of a pillow spray to aid an easy transition to sleep. In a study focusing on the modification of night time sleep as affected by an olfactory stimulus, thirty one participants were administered lavender oil when sleeping.

The study showed that the scent increased the percentage of deep sleep in both male and female subjects. The conclusion of the study was that lavender works as a mild sedative, promoting deep sleep in both young men and women. Lavender also helps to decrease heart rate and blood pressure. Both of these benefits make achieving quality sleep much easier.

Though being able to smell in dreams is more likely to be something we imagine whilst asleep, scents definitely do provoke certain responses whilst we’re dreaming, both positive and negative. They can enhance the emotional reactions we have to the content in our dream, and help to relax us more deeply. If you’re hoping to achieve more positive dreams then stocking rose and lavender scented items in your bedroom is a good place to start.

Have you ever found that certain scents have enhanced your dreams in anyway? Let us know about your experience in the comments section.