Scent of rose enhances learning during sleep says aromatherapy study

scent of rose enhances learning during sleep

New research has found that aromatherapy, specifically the scent of rose, enhances learning during sleep, even outside of a laboratory setting. 

A new aromatherapy study has found that the scent of rose enhances learning during sleep. And it can be used in an everyday setting.

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Freiburg – Medical Center, the Freiburg Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health (IGPP) and the Faculty of Biology at the University of Freiburg.

Fragrances can be used in a “targeted way”

“We showed that the supportive effect of fragrances works very reliably in everyday life and can be used in a targeted way,” said study leader PD Dr. Jürgen Kornmeier, head of the Perception and Cognition Research Group at the Freiburg-based IGPP and scientist at the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the University of Freiburg – Medical Center in Germany.

For the study, several experiments were conducted with 54 students from two 6th grade classes from a school in southern Germany. The students were given English vocabulary to learn and took an exam a week later. 

The children were split into four groups:

  • Group 1, the control, was not exposed to any odor cues.
  • Group 2 was told to put rose scented incense sticks on their desks while learning at home and during the vocabulary test.
  • Group 3 was told to put rose scented incense sticks on their desks while learning at home and nearby during each night before the test but not during the test.
  • Group 4 was exposed to the rose scented sticks while learning at home, every night before the test, and during the test.

Use during sleep is the critical factor

According to Medical News Today, Groups 3 and 4 performed significantly better on the test than Groups 1 and 2. Particularly interesting is that Group 2, which experienced the aroma during learning and testing, did not benefit, and that Group 4 did perform slightly better than Group 3, but the difference was not statistically significant. These findings suggest that exposure during sleep is the critical factor.

“The students showed a significant increase in learning success by about 30% if the incense sticks were used during both the learning and sleeping phases,” Franziska Neumann, first author of the study, said in a statement.

Another key finding is that the fragrance also works when it is present all night. Previous studies had suggested that in order to enhance sleep learning, the fragrance had to be only present during a particularly sensitive sleeping phase. And since an electroencephalogram (EEG) measuring brain activity is required to determine if and when a subject has achieved this phase, the findings weren’t suitable for everyday use. The new research suggests otherwise. 

“Our study shows that we can make learning during sleep easier,” said Kornmeier. The results suggest that this technique could be useful for people in real-life situations hoping to enhance sleep learning.

Rosemary also has been found to enhance learning

Previous research also found that the scent of rosemary may enhance learning as well. A study found that students working in a room with the aroma of rosemary essential oil achieved 5% to 7% better results in memory tests.

Findings like these can help people in the spa and wellness industry target retail sales. Products with scents of rose and rosemary, for example, can be packaged to appeal to guests who want to enhance learning and memory. 

The study was published in the Nature Group’s Open Access journal Scientific Reports on 27 January 2020.


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