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Simply the Scent of Your Long-Term Partner Can Help You Sleep Better

·539 words·3 mins
Psyched for the Weekend

Well, today’s study is kind of cool. I haven’t written about it too much, but both of my parents had insomnia. They both had different kinds, and I took after both of them, so sleep has been a constant struggle for me throughout my life. When I was a little girl, I was usually the first one up in the house, trying to find quiet ways to entertain myself while the rest of my family slept.

This is because I tend to struggle the most with maintenance/terminal insomnia. Even now I will often get up at 3 or 4 in the morning involuntarily, only having slept a few hours, not able to go back to sleep (my father was the same way).

It’s awful and annoying. But it’s something I’ve worked on with sleep medicine doctors. And something I do a fair job managing and finding a happy medium.

And it’s much better than it used to be. Strangely, I found that when I started dating Justin — now my husband — that simply sleeping next to him really improved my condition.

It seemed a little weird at the time, how stark the improvement was.

Simply the Scent of Your Long-Term Partner Can Help You Sleep Better

But today’s study has made me wonder if it was rather simple: Could it have been because I found his scent comforting? Like deep attachment aroma therapy?

Here’s what they did in today’s study: They had one member of a couple wear a shirt for 24 hours, during which time they didn’t wear any additional fragrances. Then they gave the second member of a couple a second shirt. This shirt was either: the one their partner wore for 24 hours, worn by a stranger, or not worn by anyone at all.

They didn’t tell the second partner which one it was, and they slept with this shirt on their pillow for the next 4 nights, while they wore a device on their wrist that measured their sleep/wake cycles. They also asked this second partner how they felt they slept and which scent they thought the shirt had. Here was what they found:

  • When people thought they were sleeping with their partner’s scent, they reported better quality sleep.
  • Second partners were wrong about a third of the time about which scent the T-shirt had.
  • When people slept with their partner’s scent, they got another nine minutes of sleep.
  • Exposure to their partner’s scent did not cause the second partner to report they had better sleep.

When taken altogether, these findings indicate that there _is _an effect here. However, it operates outside of conscious awareness. Which is hella neat, if you ask me.

I do notice that I sleep better when he’s around than when he’s away. But that’s confounded by other factors — how he sounds, how he feels, the potential of the sight of him being comforting.

It would appear that there’s something instinctual going on re: scent, too.


This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.



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