Reduce your Risk for Alzheimer’s disease: Smell Your Way to a Restful Night’s Sleep

Individuals with sleep problems have 1.68 times higher risk for the cognitive impairment and/or Alzheimer’s disease. Approximately 15% of Alzheimer’s disease may be attributed to sleep problems.1 Sleep is a lifestyle factor that can be affected by many different stimuli and health conditions. Finding natural ways to improve sleep may be important for reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in certain populations.

There is evidence that certain smells may have an effect on your sleep. Approximately three quarters of people say they get a more comfortable night’s sleep on sheets that smell fresh.2 While many fresh scents are available in laundry detergents, fabric softeners, and dryer sheets, these scents are derived using chemicals. Even products labeled green, organic, or natural have been found to emit hazardous chemicals.3   Hence, it is recommended that you wash your sheets weekly in hot water with an unscented laundry detergent and ½ c of vinegar to remove any odors and soften them. Then, dry them with wool dryer balls to remove static cling.

So how do you get that fresh scent? Essential oils are the safest way to add scent in your bedroom. Lavender has been shown to decrease heart rate and blood pressure, potentially putting you in a more relaxed state. In one study, researchers monitored the brain waves of subjects at night and found that those who sniffed lavender before bed had more deep sleep and felt more vigorous in the morning.4 Patients typically do not sleep well in the hospital, but researchers found that lavender essential oils increased quality of sleep and reduce anxiety of patients in an Intensive Care Unit.5 Elderly people with dementia who were exposed to rosemary and lemon essential oils in the morning and lavender and orange in the evenings showed improvements in personal orientation related to cognitive function.6

However, clean sheets and essential oils are not the whole solution. Adults may produce up to 100L of sweat in bed every year.7 This moisture is absorbed by your pillows and mattress. As you sleep, the temperature of the pillow and mattress environments are raised by your body heat. A warm, moist environment is an ideal place for fungus to grow and dust mites to thrive. Research has shown that pillows are a significant source of fungus, with one of the most common fungi found related to a high incidence of allergies.7

Don’t fret though; you can clean your pillows and mattress to keep them smelling fresh too. First, it is recommended you wash your pillows at least every four months, but as often as every two months if you have allergies. Not all types of pillows have the same care instructions, so check the tag on yours carefully before you wash them. To ensure our pillows are dry, we run ours through the dryer cycle twice with wool dryer balls.

However, your mattress cannot simply be tossed into a washing machine. The best way to clean your mattress is by sprinkling it with baking soda. The baking soda will draw out the sweat and moisture in your mattress, which you will remove when you vacuum it. The longer you let the baking soda sit on the mattress, the more chance it has to absorb moisture. Be sure to use the furniture attachments on your vacuum to really get into the creases of the mattress when you vacuum it. To ensure a really long absorption period, remove your sheets before you leave town and sprinkle your mattress with baking soda. When you return home vacuum the mattress and place fresh sheets on top. If the overnight scenario doesn’t work for you, try sprinkling your bare mattress with baking soda in the morning and then vacuum it at night. You should do this at least twice a year, but it is ideal to do it quarterly.

To protect your mattress further from sweat and skin cells, use a mattress cover over the mattress to act as a moisture barrier. It is also recommended you use a mattress pad between the mattress cover and your sheets. The mattress pad will increase comfort and act as an additional barrier between you and your mattress. You should remove and wash your mattress pad and cover regularly also.

Finally, your bed is not the only surface in your bedroom that needs attention. Before you remove your sheets each week, dust the hard surfaces in your bedroom with a damp rag. When you remove your sheets to wash them, the dead skin cells on the top of your sheets become airborne. After you switch your sheets from the washer to the dryer, enough time has passed for the dead skin cells to come settle onto the floor. This is a great time to vacuum your carpeting or damp mop your hard-surface bedroom floor.

As you are looking for nonpharmacological ways to address sleep health, remember the scent and cleanliness of your bedroom may be a good place to start. Clean sheets, pillows, and mattress can go a long ways toward improving your satisfaction with your bedroom environment and essential oils like lavender may help you relax and fall asleep easier.


  1. Buby OM, Brannick M, Mortimer J, et al. Sleep, Cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sleep. September 2106; pii: sp-00173-16. [Epub ahead of print]
  2. National Sleep Foundation. Smell: What you breathe while you sleep can affect how you feel the next day. Accessed on October 24, 2016.
  3. Potera C. INDOOR AIR QUALITY: Scented Products Emit a Bouquet of VOCs. Environmental Health Perspectives. January 2011; 119(1): A16.
  4. Sayorwan W, Siripompanich V, Piriyapunyapom T, Hongratanaworakit T, Kotchabhakdi N, Ruangrungsi N. The effects of lavender oil inhalation on emotional states, autonomic nervous system, and brain electrical activity. Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand. April 2012; 95(4):598-606.
  5. Karadaq E, Samancioqlu S, Ozden D, Bakir E. Effects of aromatherapy on sleep quality and anxiety of patients. Nursing In Critical Care. July 2015; doi: 10.1111/nicc.12198.
  6. Jimbo D, Kimura Y, Taniquichi M, Inoue M, Urakami K. Effect of Aromatherapy on Patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Psychogeriatrics December 2009; 9(4):173-9.
  7. Woodcock AA, Steel N, Moore CB, Howard SJ, Custovic A, Denning DW. Fungal Contamination of Bedding. Allergy. 2005. DOI: 10.1111/j.1398-9995.2005.00941.x


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