With holidays around the corner, many people began thinking what their New Years Resolutions will be. If yours is to stop smoking or break other addictive unhealthy habits, there may be new information that could help!

Conditioning applied during sleep shown to change behaviors when awake.

New research from the Weizmann Institute of Science reports that sleep learning, which is conditioning applied during sleep, can induce behavioral change. The research team exposed smokers to smells of rotten eggs and fish while sleeping and then asked them to record the number of cigarettes smoked the next week. The study showed substantial reduction in smoking following the conditioned sleep. (1,2,3)

Dr. Anat Arzi had previously shown associative conditioning could occur during sleep if odors were used as the stimulus. The subjects did not remember the odors that were used in the night, but the next morning they reacted unconsciously to the paired smells. Dr. Arzi reports that the use of bad smells or bad odors does not wake us. (1,2,3)

The study was performed on 66 participants who desired to quit smoking, but understood that they were not being treated for that problem. Cigarette smoking was chosen due to its ability to be quantified and because it has a smell. After providing information about their smoking routine, those in the sleep group went to a sleep lab where their sleeping patterns were monitored. At stages of sleep, they were exposed to paired smells of cigarettes and a foul odor. None of the participants remembered the smells the next morning, but the participants reported smoking less over the next week. The subjects who were exposed to the paired smells while awake showed no decrease in smoking over the next week. (1,2,3)

Foul odors paired with cigarette smoke during sleep cycle induced a 30 percent decline in cigarette smoking.

The team noted that those who were exposed to paired smells in sleep smoked 30 percent less cigarettes. The research team suggests that olfactory conditioning may be helpful for addiction research due to the brains reward center being involved in addictive behavior and interconnection with the region that processes smell. (1,2,3)

The scientists noted that the group with the best results an average of 30% fewer cigarettes was composed of those who had been exposed to the smells during stage 2, non-REM sleep. This supported the groups earlier findings which suggested that we mostly forget what happens in our dreams, but conditioning that makes its way into our subconscious during the memory consolidation stage may stick. (1,2,3)

Dr. Arzi states, We have not yet invented a way to quit smoking as you sleep. That will require a different kind of study altogether. What we have shown is that conditioning can take place during sleep, and this conditioning can lead to real behavioral 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 behavior. (1,2,3)

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