Sleep Disorders

Updated 04 March 2020

Smelling your partner's shirt may help you sleep better at night

Having trouble sleeping? New research suggests that a romantic partner’s scent may improve sleep.

Tossing and turning at night? According to new psychology research from the University of British Columbia, a romantic partner’s scent may be a helpful component in improving sleep.

A news release stated that study participants experienced better sleep quality when exposed to their partner’s scent during the night, even though the partner wasn’t physically present.

The research was accepted for publication in the journal Psychological Science and is yet to be published.

"Our findings provide new evidence that merely sleeping with a partner's scent improves sleep efficiency. Our participants had an average sleep efficiency improvement of more than 2%," said Marlise Hofer, the study's lead author and a graduate student in the UBC department of psychology.

Natural body odour

According to Hofer, the effect could even be similar to what has been seen from taking oral melatonin supplements. Melatonin is often prescribed as a sleep aid.

Researchers analysed 155 participants who were given two T-shirts – one worn by their partner, and another one, either worn by a stranger, or clean. The partners had to refrain from using deodorant, smoking, exercising, perfumed body products or any foods that could alter their body odour – so that there were no elements that could taint their natural body odour.

The participants had to place one of the shirts on their pillows, without being told which is which. The T-shirts were swapped the next night. After each night of sleep, the participants had to complete a survey to determine how rested they felt.

The sleep quality of the participants was also measured by using an actigraphy sleep watch to capture their movements during the night.

A sense of safety

The general conclusion was that the participants enjoyed better sleep when they were sleeping with their partner’s T-shirts.

"One of the most surprising findings is how a romantic partner's scent can improve sleep quality even outside of our conscious awareness," said Frances Chen, the study's senior author and associate professor in the UBC department of psychology. "The sleep watch data showed that participants experienced less tossing and turning when exposed to their partners' scent, even if they weren't aware of whose scent they were smelling."

The researchers believe that the presence of a long-term partner could be associated with a sense of safety, calmness and relaxation, which may lead to better sleep. And since scent is a signal of physical proximity, only something carrying the scent, such as an item of clothing, might be enough to improve sleep, without your partner actually being there.

So, if you struggle to sleep while your partner is out of town or if you are traveling without your partner, tell them to give you a shirt they've worn – it might help you get some shuteye.

Image credit: Toa Heftiba, Unsplash


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Sleep disorders expert

Dr Alison Bentley is a general practitioner who has consulted in sleep medicine and sleep disorders, in both adults and children of all ages, for almost 30 years. She also researches and publishes on a number of sleep-related topics both in formal research journals and lay publications including as editor of Sleep Matters, an educational newsletter on sleep disorders for doctors.

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