Many people cannot sleep if it is too loud or too bright. But what about smells? Can smell wake you up too? A question that science has already asked and which might prove life-saving for many. Can people smell while they sleep? Let’s find out.
It’s a popular, somewhat cheesy image that the advertising industry and TV formats like to use. It’s morning, rays of sunshine slowly make their way through the window, birds are chirping and a young woman is sleeping in bed. Only when the smell of coffee from the kitchen reaches her and she has inhaled it deeply, she wakes up, stretches, gets up, and starts the day with a smile.
But, can smells really wake people up? What is clear is that another of our seven senses also works well during sleep. Just like loud noises usually mean an alarm, which is why they wake people up, it would only make sense if smells also wake people up, because they can also indicate a danger. If it smells like smoke, for example, it can only mean that it is burning and that you should get to safety.
In the United States of America, scientists conducted a study to find the answer for whether smell can wake people up.. They exposed their six sleeping test subjects to the scent of peppermint and the pungent-smelling pyridine that is created in fires. None of the test subjects woke up from the peppermint aroma. On the other hand, the test subjects sometimes woke up to the aggressive smell of smoke, but only if they had only slumbered slightly anyway. In the deep sleep, however, nobody noticed the acrid smell. In contrast, moderately loud tones disrupted sleep in all sleep stages examined.
Smoke alarms strongly recommended
The human sense of smell does not seem to be sensitive enough to be able to warn of dangers such as a fire. Incidentally, this is also the reason why smoke alarms are urgently recommended in bedrooms as the smell of smoke does not wake us, but the loud shrill of a smoke alarm does.
When you sleep, you tend to perceive noise, then light, and only then smell. Healthy sleepers might also only notice odors if they were in a light sleep. In deep sleep, we do not perceive any odors and in medium-deep sleep or dream sleep hardly any, at least if we are healthy sleepers. Sensitive sleepers or sleep-disturbed people are more likely to perceive smells. But that does not mean that olfactory perception, which is also known as the olfactory system, rests at night. It takes the night for the olfactory memory. We want to keep pleasant smells in our memory.
The romantic image of the woman who wakes up from the smell of coffee is a fairy tale. People first wake up and then smell the coffee. Not the other way around.