How Smells Influence Dreams Positively or Negatively

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Did you know that smells can affect what you dream about? This may come as a surprise to many, but research shows that smells can influence the dreams you have. In this article, we shall briefly delve into how smells influence dreams positively or negatively.

Studies by two German scientists have confirmed that smells affect dreams. It actually makes sense when you think about it. Smells stimulates various behaviors and reactions, smells can trigger memories, influence emotion like sadness, fear or romance, food aromas can cause cravings and boost or suppress appetite, and smells can even cause sexual arousal.

Dr. Boris Stuck, a professor of otorhinolaryngology at Heidelberg University who led the study reported that they were able to stimulate people who were sleeping, positively and negatively- that is good scents and odours respectively, and measured the stimuli to find out how it affected dreams. The study says that those who were exposed to a fouls smell while sleeping, had negative dreams, while those who were exposed to a sweet fragrance reported having positive dreams.

Smells can affect what you dream about
Smells can affect what you dream about

“We were able to stimulate the sleeper with high concentrations of positively and negatively smelling odours and measure if the stimuli were incorporated into the dreams and changed the emotional tone of dreams,” said the study’s lead author.

The research proves that, just as smells can influence emotions while we are awake, smells just as easily affect emotions while we are sleeping to influence dreams. Smell is largely regulated by the limbic system in the brain which is also responsible for controlling emotion and behavior.

How do smells influence dreams?

Olfactory (nasal) stimuli can influence our dreams; another study at the University of Dresden’s Smell and Taste Clinic, led by Professor Thomas Hummel, showed the same results as those of Heidelberg University, that while smelling a sweet smelling flower will not mean dreaming of flowers, rather, the impact of different smells is a positive or negative dream depending on whether it appeals to the person exposed to it or if they find it repulsive.

It is well known that smells can affect the emotional state of a person that is why certain fragrances can cause you to remember a specific person or place, however, the influence of smells on dreams is shows the extent to which scents can influence our emotions.

Smells can affect the emotional state of a person
Smells can affect the emotional state of a person

The subjects of the research were exposed to the chosen smells when they entered the REM (rapid eye movement) phase of sleep, when most dreams are experienced. They were exposed to a dosage of scented air, either foul or sweet, and then woken up a few minutes after to be questioned about what they were dreaming about.

It is important to note that none of the people in the study reported smelling the rose fragrance or the smell of rotten eggs used for the experiment. The studies confirm that smells do not feature in the dreams of those sleeping at all- none of them reported having a dream about smells or tastes.

When exposed to rose flower smells, they all reported having a positive dream while for the foul smell, all reported having a negative dream when exposed to rotten eggs. According to Dr. Stuck, smells influence the emotional direction or content of the dream- what he termed as “emotional colouration”.

This research, presented at the 2008 American Academy of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery Foundation Annual Meeting was eye opening because it could help us better understand why some people are more prone to nightmares while others rarely have bad dreams. It may just be the window into how people can prevent bad dreams which in chronic cases affects emotional wellbeing and quality of sleep.

The findings further underscore the power of flower extracts for promoting better sleep. You should think more seriously about getting flowering plants for your bedroom to help you sleep and for sweet dreams.

Even though bad dreams have previously been attributed to anxiety and stress, it is possible that the majority of those who have bad dreams may be because of the smells they are exposed to while sleeping. Could it be the smelly clothes in the laundry basket at the corner of your bedroom? The foul smells of dirt utensils wafting into your bedroom from the kitchen?

It is now be clear why flower extracts and oils are recommended and have gained popularity for relaxation and better sleep. Smells are powerful enough to determine what kind of dream you will have! The meditative Eastern cultures must have discovered the secrets long ago, which is why they are always burning sweet incense around them while sleeping.

Flower extracts and oils are recommended
Flower extracts and oils are recommended

The researchers are now working with people who experience nightmares to find out if exposure to certain smells can have a positive influence on their dreams for pleasant imagery instead of the bad kind. This could be a breakthrough in the treatment of those who suffer from bad dreams and nightmares.


So, the next time you wake up in fear and sweaty from a bad dream, remember how smells influence dreams positively or negatively and that the reason for your misery may be in the scents of the air you are breathing while asleep.

Try getting flowering plants for your bedroom or find out which essential oils to avoid for sleep if you are using them. More importantly, before you even think about infusing your surrounding with sweet scents while sleeping, you need to ensure that your environment is clean. Ensure that your clothes, the bedding, carpet, walls etc. are clean and are not stinky otherwise, not matter how much you invest in smells to influence dreams, you will not get much respite. Remember that foul smells tend to overpower the pleasant ones.

I hope that you enjoyed reading this article and that you now realise how powerful smells are.

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