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Scent May Help Improve Learning During Sleep

A new study confirms that scent can impact learning during sleep.

For the study, researchers at the University of Freiburg in Germany recruited sixth grade pupils who were learning English vocabulary — one group with scent sticks, and another group without the scent sticks.

The study found that students remembered the vocabulary much better with a scent, according to the researchers.

“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 Dr. Jürgen Kornmeier of  the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the University of Freiburg-Medical Center in Germany.

For the study, first author and student teacher Franziska Neumann conducted several experiments with 54 students from two sixth grade classes in a school in southern Germany. The students were asked to place rose-scented incense sticks on their desks at home while learning English vocabulary and on their bedside table at night.

In another experiment, they also placed the incense sticks on the table next to them during a vocabulary test at school during an English test.

The results were compared with test results in which no incense sticks were used.

“The students showed a significant increase in learning success by about 30 percent if the incense sticks were used during both the learning and sleeping phases,” said Neumann.

The results also suggest that the additional use of the incense sticks during the vocabulary test promotes memory, the researchers added.

“One particular finding beyond the seminal initial study was that the fragrance also works when it is present all night,” said Kornmeier. “This makes the findings suitable for everyday use.”

Previous studies had assumed that the fragrance needs to be only present during a particularly sensitive sleeping phase. However, since this sleep phase needs to be determined by measuring brain activity with an electroencephalogram (EEG) in the sleep laboratory, this was not suitable for everyday use, the researchers noted.

“Our study shows that we can make learning during sleep easier. And who would have thought that our nose could help considerably in this,” Kornmeier concluded.

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

Source: University of Freiburg

Scent May Help Improve Learning During Sleep

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2020). Scent May Help Improve Learning During Sleep. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 3, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 1 Feb 2020 (Originally: 1 Feb 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 1 Feb 2020
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