Boris Stuck is a German researcher who has two different areas of interest – he
studies sleep and also the sense of smell (scientists call this olfaction).
Several years ago, he decided to combine his two interests and see if smells affected
sleep or the dreams people have when they're sleeping. He says there's been
very little research on this combination.
first thing Stuck did was to find people who would be willing to sleep in the
lab at the University of Heidelberg, where he works. While they were sleeping,
someone sat at the subjects' bedside.When monitors indicated that the person had entered the phase of sleep
where dreaming occurs, he or his colleagues exposed the subjects alternately to
the smell of roses and the smell of rotten eggs.
expected that those subjects may incorporate the stimulus in their dream,
because we knew from other research… that if you just give them some kind of
noise or sound, or whatever, very often this is incorporated into the dream, it
becomes then part of the dream content, Stuck says.
says he expected this to happen for the sense of smell as well.
it didn't actually, so no matter what you use, people hardly ever dream about
smelling, Stuck reports. Nobody told us they were dreaming about roses or
something like that. This didn't happen.
Stuck did find something unexpected. He found that the smells had an impact on
the emotional content of the dreams.
you use positive stimulus, nearly all the subjects reported that the dream they
had was predominantly positive, emotionally positive, Stuck says. For his
research, the rose smell was the positive stimulus.
if you use the negative smell, the rotten eggs, nearly all the subjects
reported that the dream they had was more negative, there were more negative
emotions, Stuck says.
Stuck says the emotional effect was surprisingly strong – it was something
experienced by almost all the subjects.
says this kind of phenomenon might be used to help people who have suffered
trauma – or who have recurrent nightmares – to overcome their difficulties with
sleep. He says he'll be exploring these ideas further in future research.
Stuck presented his research this week at the annual meeting
of the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery Foundation in