Mental activity in sleep often involves visual and auditory content. Chemosensory (olfactory and gustatory) experiences are less common and underexplored. The aim of the study was to identify olfaction-related factors that may affect the occurrence of chemosensory dream content. Specifically, we investigated the effects of all-night exposure to an ambient odour, participants’ appraisal of their current olfactory environment, their general propensity to notice odours and act on them (i.e., odour awareness), and their olfactory acuity. Sixty pre-screened healthy young adults underwent olfactory assessment, completed a measure of odour awareness, and spent three nights in weekly intervals in a sleep laboratory. The purpose of the first visit was to adapt to the experimental setting. On the second visit, half of them were exposed to the smell of vanillin or thioglycolic acid and the other half to an odourless control condition. On the third visit, they received control or stimulation in a balanced order. On each visit, data were collected twice: once from the first rapid eye movement (REM) stage that occurred after 3 a.m., and then shortly before getting up, usually from a non-REM stage. Participants were asked to report the presence of sensory dream content and to assess their current olfactory environment. Neither exposure, nor participants’ assessments of the ambient odour, or olfactory acuity affected reports of chemosensory dream content but they were more frequent in individuals with greater odour awareness. This finding may have implications for treatment when such experiences become unwanted or bothersome.
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