Study suggests sleep aromatherapy improves memory

Sleep aromatherapy improves memory

A recent study has found that sleep aromatherapy may notably enhance memory, suggesting a non-invasive method protect against dementia.

A new study by neuroscientists from the University of California, Irvine indicates that exposure to scent during sleep can notably enhance memory. Researchers say the findings indicate a non-invasive method to bolster memory and potentially protect against dementia. 

Releasing a scent into the bedrooms of older adults for two hours nightly over a span of six months, was found to be associated with significant memory improvements. According to a media release, study participants experienced a 226% increase in cognitive capacity compared to a control group.

 Men and women aged 60 to 85 without memory impairment were divided into two groups and given a diffuser and seven cartridges, each containing a single and different natural oil. The enriched group received full-strength cartridges and the control group received the oils in tiny amounts. Participants put a different cartridge into the diffuser each evening before going to bed, and it activated for two hours as they slept.

The scents they used were rose, orange, eucalyptus, lemon, peppermint, rosemary, and lavender.

“People in the enriched group showed a 226% increase in cognitive performance compared to the control group, as measured by a word list test commonly used to evaluate memory. Imaging revealed better integrity in the brain pathway called the left uncinate fasciculus. This pathway, which connects the medial temporal lobe to the decision-making prefrontal cortex, becomes less robust with age. Participants also reported sleeping more soundly.” 

Numerous previous studies suggest that the loss of olfactory capacity may predict development of more than 60 neurological and psychiatric diseases, including Azheimer’s and other dementias, Parkinson’s, schizophrenia, and alcoholism. Researchers have also previously found that exposing people with moderate dementia to up to 40 different odors twice a day over a period of time is associated with improved memory and language skills and decreased levels of depression. The UCI team’s research is an attempt to turn this knowledge into an easy and non-invasive dementia-fighting tool.

“The reality is that over the age of 60, the olfactory sense and cognition starts to fall off a cliff,” said Michael Leon, professor of neurobiology & behavior, in a statement. “But it’s not realistic to think people with cognitive impairment could open, sniff and close 80 odorant bottles daily. This would be difficult even for those without dementia.”

The study’s first author, project scientist Cynthia Woo, said: “That’s why we reduced the number of scents to just seven, exposing participants to just one each time, rather than the multiple aromas used simultaneously in previous research projects. By making it possible for people to experience the odors while sleeping, we eliminated the need to set aside time for this during waking hours every day.”

A product based on the study and designed for people to use at home is expected to come onto the market this fall. The study was supported by Procter & Gamble.


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