Bedtime without your partner on Valentine’s Day could make sleep elusive. But a new study suggests one remedy: Cuddling up with a piece of his or her clothing.
Researchers say having a loved one’s natural scent nearby could be as effective a sleep aid as melatonin.
“One of the most surprising findings is how a romantic partner’s scent can improve sleep quality even outside of our conscious awareness,” said study senior author Frances Chen. She’s an associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver.
For the study, 155 people were given two T-shirts to use as pillowcases. One had been worn by their lover; the other was clean or had been worn by a stranger.
While the participants’ partners were wearing the shirts, they were told not to use deodorant or scents or do anything that might affect their body odor, such as smoking, exercising and eating certain foods. The T-shirts were frozen to preserve their scent.
Participants spent two nights in a row sleeping with each shirt. They weren’t told which shirt was which, but they reported feeling more well-rested after using the T-shirt with their lover’s scent. Data from sleep monitors confirmed it.
“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 lead author Marlise Hofer, a doctoral candidate in social psychology at UBC.
“We saw an effect similar in size to what has been reported from taking oral melatonin supplements — often used as a sleep aid,” Hofer added in a university news release.
The study has been accepted for publication in the journal Psychological Science.
The findings could lead to future research examining simple and effective methods of improving sleep, such as packing a lover’s shirt when you travel alone, Hofer said.
Meanwhile, researchers are recruiting volunteers for another study to find out whether parents’ scent improves slumber for babies.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute offers a guide to healthy sleep.