Rotten eggs can help people quit smoking

Neuroscientists have found that exposing people to a strong (disgusting) smell while they sleep could be a simple way to help them quit smoking.

Researchers from the New Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel tested this on 66 smokers who wanted to stop but weren’t using any smoking cessation techniques. One group of participants slept in the institute’s sleep lab, where they were exposed to the smell of cigarettes mixed with either rotten eggs or fish, while their sleep patterns were monitored.

When asked the next morning, none of them remembered having smelled anything during the night. Another group was exposed to the same smells separately while they slept, and a third was exposed to the smells at the same time while awake.

Only the group that had been exposed to the blended smell of cigarettes and eggs/fish reported smoking less over the next week. Participants who were exposed to the smells during non-REM sleep had the most success, smoking 30% fewer cigarettes. This is the stage of sleep when our brains consolidate learning, meaning it could be key to behaviour modification.

Professor Noam Sobel and Dr Anat Arzi from the Department of Neurobiology say that the technique is especially useful when it comes to changing addictive behaviour because the brain’s reward centre is closely connected to the areas that process smells. It even seems as though these parts of the brain are more receptive when we’re asleep. And the advantage of using smells is that unlike other stimuli, they don’t wake us up.

Says Dr Arzi, ‘What we have shown is that conditioning can take place during sleep, and this conditioning can lead to real behavioural changes. Our sense of smell may be an entryway to our sleeping brain that may, in the future, help us to change addictive or harmful behaviour.’

Image via Sibel’s Flickr.

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