Do Smell Dreams Exist?

I woke up this morning and entered something into my Ecosia search bar that I honestly never thought I would type. Do smell dreams exist? I ask this because over the last few weeks, something about my nocturnal thoughts and experiences has changed. Maybe it’s the diet that I’m on that’s changing the chemistry of my brain. Maybe my own mind is trying to tell me something or get some point across. Maybe it’s all hormonal. After all, the last time I had some weird dream experiences, I was pregnant. I am turning 40 this year and I already knew I was perimenopausal.

This blog is being written to hopefully educate others on what exactly I found when I was searching. To be honest, I was getting a little bit freaked out, asking myself if I was having olfactory hallucinations or a stroke. I’ve heard somewhere, I’m not sure exactly where, that smelling burnt toast is the sign of a stroke, but I now can’t find anything concrete online that backs that up. I’ve also read that some smells are imagined by the brain when you’re depressed or have some other underlying mental illness. In my waking hours, I feel fine. I did smell smoke a few weeks ago, but my neighbour smokes in his garden and my window was open, so I had no concerns.

olfactory dreams smell scent smells scents

My dreams have always been pretty standard. I mean, everyone dreams weird stuff, don’t they? I can’t say there was ever anything remarkable about them and certainly no smell dreams, except that I did occasionally suffer from nightmares around the time of my period, and as previously mentioned, when I was pregnant the weirdness factor went up a few notches. I bought myself a dream catcher, which stays above my bed. It doesn’t matter whether it has a placebo effect or not. It keeps the nightmares at bay.

dream catcher

I never even thought about whether my dreams were in black and white or in colour until someone asked me that question when I was in my late teens. I thought they were in colour, but wasn’t sure…? I now believe that I’ve always dreamed in colour. A few years ago, I had a black and white dream with one singular coloured object in the dream. I really noticed the difference when I woke up. That’s why now, whenever anyone asks me that question, I’ll always say colour.

But this smell dreams thing is new and different and my logical brain wonders why this is such an issue for me. After all, I imagine images and sounds in dreams and it doesn’t matter one bit. Sometimes, I even feel something touching me. It’s all part of the story my brain is telling me to keep me asleep, right? There’s nothing odd about any of it. Except, smelling things in dreams does feel odd, because it’s never happened to me before last month and I am still looking for answers.

I found this article on a BBC site. Francesco Faruolo is the director of a flower festival in Italy and she insists that olfactory dreamers do exist. That would now include me? I read on with interest, especially when she said that people who have a highly trained sense of smell or use scents in their waking lives are likely to experience scent dreams. Yes, of course! I used to be a perfume stylist. I sold perfume, I made it, I hosted perfume parties and now I’m working on a perfume blog. It makes perfect sense. If anyone’s going to have scented dreams, it’s me.

olfactory dreams scent

What’s more interesting is this quote I found from Helen Keller in the article. “I smell and taste much as in my waking hours… In my dreams I have sensations, odours, tastes, and ideas which I do not remember to have had in reality.” She was famously blind and deaf and learned to read, write and communicate. Her brain wouldn’t have had the ability to recall images or sounds, so it must have drawn on the sensory experience she had – scents and touches.

I now have some answers, but even more questions. My brain has chosen NOW to start doing this and I’m not sure why, or what’s different. Is it all linked to the diet? I have to admit, I’m much hungrier now that I’ve drastically cut back on chocolate and other sugary foods. It’s not quite a sugar cleanse, but I’m certainly in a caloric deficit since restricting sugar. Everything tastes sharper and more appealing. I’m enjoying food more and savouring the taste. Since scent and taste are closely connected, could I be having these scent dreams because I’m obsessing over food in my dreams?

Well, that would make sense if the smells were always foody scents, but one of them was matches, which is alarming if you aren’t holding a match in your hand and can’t see one, but it’s actually one of my favourite scents. The first time it happened, it was matches – not just smoke or fire. It was that sulfur smell you get when you strike a fresh one, so vivid that it couldn’t be mistaken. Was I dreaming about matches at the time? I wasn’t seeing or hearing much of anything in that semi-conscious moment. I was just smelling.

So, after reading everything I can get my hands on, annoying my husband by wanting to dissect the experience and analyse it, and doing a lot of thinking, I’ve decided it’s not something I have to worry about. It’s simply my brain using a new storytelling device. It might have no meaning. Everything I’ve read on the topic confirms that it’s not common, but it does happen and it’s just a symptom of a really creative imagination. I’m going to start a dream journal, just because it’s interesting to see what I’ve been dreaming and when. Perhaps there is a link to hormones, or sleep patterns or particular events in my life. Who knows? After a few months of journalling, I might find out.


1 Comment

  1. 02/10/2020 / 14:15

    As the olfactory system sends signals to the brain which are interpreted as smells, then it’s logical to assume that ‘smell dreams’ are part of dreaming. During dream states, the brain is obviously working with a past time when the smells being dreamt of were prominent in your life .. also being a fiction writer means that your imagination is well exercised .. so this could also explain it as well 🙂 x

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