Thursday, November 22, 2012

What Does a Dream Smell Like?

Jan Brueghel (I) - The Sense of Smell - WGA3581
Jan Brueghel (I) - The Sense of Smell - WGA3581 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Influence of Scent on Sleep and Dreams   

        Thanksgiving and the holiday seasons are times that we associate with many odors and aromas.  The smells of savory meals, tantalizing goodies, and Christmas trees will be bombarding our senses and bringing back old memories.  There's something particularly evocative about many smells and the holiday seasons are rich in these prompts to the subconscious.

            This seems like an appropriate time for a topic that came to me after a recent dream that I had.  An aspect of this dream made me wonder about the connection between the sense of smell and the dreaming experience.   Do smells affect our dreams or does the dream cause our minds to conjure an illusion of smell within that dream?   Or could it be a case of either one of these things occurring depending on the circumstance and the dream?

            As is the case with other types of external stimulation, smell must undoubtedly influence what we are dreaming.   If food aromas are present we are likely to dream about food and start feeling pangs of hunger.  If we were to smell smoke we might dream about fire and in some cases be awakened to actual fire--the dream could act as a warning to wake up.  The external stimuli could be cooking smells, perfumes or scented candles and the like, or even bodily emissions from ourselves or our sleeping partners.

            Studies have shown that aromatherapy can have an influence on better sleep and more pleasant dreams.  Likewise, sleepers exposed to unpleasant odors will often report unpleasant dreams.  Various oils are on the market to produce more restful sleep with more vivid dreams.

My Dream Case Study

         In a recent dream I am going through many strange places with my "children"  (or they may be grandchildren or not even really children that I know at all).   Some of these places are very dark and spooky.   I enter into certain places that have a musty putrid smell that I relate to evil-- the smell is accompanied by a warmth.    These are cavernous places with deep canyon-like recessions that disappear into darkness.  I am afraid I or my "children" will fall into one of the "canyons" --they appear to be dark, jagged, and dangerous, but I sense that they could be soft like blankets.

       .   Many people make appearances in and out of the dream corridors.  I seem to be at a fair or amusement park or some very public event.  I see people leaving and I am trying to join them.  Sometimes I find myself on the streets leaving.   The place seems all very unfamiliar though I sense that I know it or recognize it.

          My former boss is there at one point.  I am giving him some paperwork from my office, including sheets that appear to be some sort of inventory report related to a very large order of mostly older or discontinued items  for an Asian customer.

           My dream thoughts keep returning to the smell I sensed in the dark cavernous places.   I continue to think about the nature and the origin of this odor after I wake up.

Where Did the Smell Come From?

           I am not aware of any odor within the bedroom that would relate to what I sensed in the dream.  There is a possibility that the "smell" is merely a illusion based on certain expectations of the dream place.  My mind has probably manufactured the smell which in reality did not exist.  Still I am puzzled since the smell was so distinct and real that I wonder if the had really come from somewhere in the room or had entered the room from outside.

           Have you experienced smells in dreams?  If so what was the experience and to what would you relate the source?   Are you able to imagine smells so vividly that your olfactory senses are actually stimulated?   

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  1. I can't remember any 'smell' dreams, or even any where it was prevalent. I remember sensations, like falling into water, falling off things (and hoping I don't hit bottom).

    Dreams are interesting, no doubt about it. I like to think our dreamscapes uses that part of our brain that we don't use in our waking hours. Nice post, Lee.

  2. An interesting thought. Up to a week ago I would have said I don't think I have ever noticed a particular scent during my dreams, but for the past 5 or 6 days I have had a recurring dream, early in the morning that is always accompanied by a very distinctive and not unpleasant scent. Not exactly sure what the trigger could be.

  3. On one occasion, I had a dream about smelling face powder, and to this day I cannot tolerate the smell of certain cosmetics. I still haven't been able to correlate that dream to anything meaningful in my life - curious indeed.

  4. When I read this I could not remember ever smelling in my dreams. Last night I had a dream that morphed into an unpleasant place, a former co-worker was trying to avoid me and when he spoke to me I thought "wow he was drinking at lunch".

    This morning when I was checking a crossword site I remembered I dreamt that one of the posters had returned. I checked and sure enough there he was.

    Two odd things in one dream.

  5. I remember many sensations from my dreams, including the most basic ones (thirst, hunger, taste...), but never smell actually.
    I wonder what that depends on.

  6. DG -- When you dream about falling into water do you fell wet?

    Farawayeyes -- The smell dreams have been so infrequent that the most recent one really caught my attention.

    Paula -- Maybe there was face powder or some similar cosmetic near the bed where you were sleeping?

    fmc -- You lost me in the second paragraph. What was this poster?

    Jay -- Now I'm trying to recall experiencing the sense of taste in a dream. That might seem to have less of an explanation than smell.


  7. There is a crossword site for the NYT puzzle with the answers and insight on the puzzle. It has a lively bunch of commenters with frequent snarking that once in a while blows up into a full fledged war zone. One commenter then quits posting for a while and eventually comes back as if nothing happened. His longest snit lasted about a year and a half. I think he is hilarious and he had been on a snit for a few months. I dreamt he returned to commenting the night before he showed up, same night as I dreamt of the smell of booze on the co-workers breath. Sorry not clear the first time, I hate to take up too much space.

  8. I can't, off the top of my head, think of a dream involving a smell, but I'm positive I've had some influenced by smells, though. Usually not in a pleasant way. For instance, hospital smells conjure up very strong dreams for me.

    I can conjure smells up from strong memories, and vice versa. It can happen decades after whatever it is.

  9. FMC -- Thank you for the clarification. I've had dreams of a similar nature before--that is dreams about people I don't actually know but are aware of through some media content. The commenter must have had a lot of impact to your subconscious memory. Never be afraid of taking up space on my blog. I love long detailed comments and ongoing discussions in my comment sections.

    Shannon -- Hospital smell is an excellent example. I've only had one experience of having a hospital stay and many visits to others in the hospital and I know of those smells. I'm sure they could influence the dreams of one staying in the hospital or smelling something like medicinal alcohol might make one dream of being in a hospital. And yes, smell can be strongly associated with memories.


  10. Lee - in answer to your question: No, I don't remember feeling wet. I never hit bottom, I wake up. Not hitting bottom, even in a dream, is supposed to be a good thing.


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