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Odours you smell while you're asleep have the potential to influence your dreams, according to German researchers.
For their study, the researchers recruited 15 young women who were exposed to a series of different aromas as they slept. Their brain waves were monitored so scientists knew when they entered REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the period when dreams normally occur. At that time, the sleeping subjects would be given a whiff of a particular smell for 10 seconds. A minute later, they were woken up and asked to recall their dreams.
When the volunteers were exposed to the pleasing fragrance of a rose, most of them later reported dreams with generally "positive" feelings. The disgusting smell of rotten eggs, on the other hand, triggered dreams with negative impressions.
Boris Stuck, a researcher at University Hospital Mannheim, noted that the women did not actually dream about smelling something. "It obviously does not determine what you dream about, but it influences how you experience a dream."
Dr. Stuck said the findings, presented this week at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation in Chicago, might some day be used to help treat patients with posttraumatic stress disorder who are tormented by recurring nightmares.
But simply sleeping in a room full of fragrant flowers will not produce sweet dreams. Prolonged exposure to a particular aroma will overload the brain's smell receptors, he explained. Essentially, you become desensi-
tized to the odour and cease to smell it.
What's needed, he said, is a compact machine that monitors brain activity and automatically releases a pleasing scent under the nose only when dreams are occurring.