Can we experience smell in dreams?

by | Mar 22, 2020 | Human Body

Can we smell in dreams? While it is a fact that the sense of sight and hearing are used in dreams, can the same be said about the sense of smell? Do people smell in dreams? Can smells affect one’s dreams? Can external smells reach the nose of the dreamer? Scientists have had varied views about it. Experiences through the sense of sight and hearing are only normal to feel in dreams. However, when it comes to smelling, uh-oh. Who can say that he actually remembers having smelled something in his dreams? Very few, if any. As it is, not many people can relate their dreams in details because they do not even have vivid dreams.

smelling in dreams

Photo by Sarah Mak on Unsplash

Meet Francesca Faruolo – She smells in her dreams!

Well, the same cannot be said of Francesca Faruolo who purports that many of her dreams are fragrant, in her own words: “I have very positive olfactory dreams, especially featuring orange flower, a flower linked to the heart.” Francesca Faruolo is the director of the Smell Festival taking place every year in the month of May in Bologna, an Italian city. According to her, people who have a heightened sense of smell can have olfactory dreams, as simple as that.

What does science say on smell in dreams?

Actually, research concentrated more on external smells affecting people in their dream state. So, little data exists to corroborate the statements of Francesca.

A professor of psychiatry from the Brown University, Rachel Herz,  has herself led experiments to shed more light on the rapid-eye movement (REM) phase of sleep: the stage where dreams occur. From her observations, people in the REM stage are not responsive to smells. She argues: “You don’t smell the coffee and wake up; rather you wake up and then smell the coffee.” So, all in all, according to her, one does not perceive smells while in the state of dreaming: one is locked up in the world of dreams, unable to use the sense of smell to indirectly connect with the living world.

However, she does add that if we break slightly from dreamland and smell something, we may be caused to wake up if the smell appeals to us, as in the case of one waking up by coffee smell. Her theory expounds that smells felt in dreams are made in the brain, and do not come from outside.

smelling coffee while sleeping

Alfred Maury’s Experiment

However, around 150 years ago, scientists of that time did try to dig deeper into this subject. In 1865, Alfred Maury, a French physician, wrote at length about his own dream experiences whereby he self-stimulated his senses. His aim was to verify whether being stimulated by smells could affect dreams or not. So, he proceeded as follows: he asked his assistant to put ‘eau de cologne’ near his nose while he was off into dreamland. When he woke up, he related that he had dreamt that he was in the shop of the perfumer-inventer of cologne, Giovanni Maria Farina, in Cairo.

Does this really prove that smells have any effect at all on our dreams? Or, was it his brain that was wired to think of cologne since he was already thinking of that before he slept prior to the experiment?

Other scientists have other views of this topic. Thomas Hummel, professor at the University of Dresden’s Smell and Taste Clinic agrees with Herz that smells do not have the ability of waking us from sleep. However, he does say that external smells can produce an effect on our dreams.

Maury has been the only scientist to have affirmed that the stimulus of some smell can directly affect our dreams by actually feeling the smell in the dream.

However, even Herz and Hummel have agreed that olfactory dreams are a reality, except that they are very rare. Another expert in the field, Rosalia Cavalieri, author of The Intelligent Nose, explains this by saying that we rely mostly on out sense of sight and hearing, rather than on that of smell, which is, so to say, not developed as much.

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