Using your lover's T-shirt as a pillowcase could help you nod off

Alexandra Thompson
·3-min read
Portrait of woman sleeping in bed by daylight
The scent of your partner may leave you feeling calm and safe. (Getty Images)

While some count sheep to help them nod off, new research suggests smelling your lover’s T-shirt could be the key to a peaceful night’s sleep.

Scientists from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver had 155 people sleep on a pillow covered with a clean t-shirt or one worn by their other half.

The following morning, the participants rated their sleep quality, which improved among those who nodded off on their partner’s clothing.

Unwinding to a lover’s scent is thought to give a sense of safety and calm, aiding shut eye.

Read more: Just one bad night’s sleep could trigger anxiety

“Our findings provide new evidence that merely sleeping with a partner's scent improves sleep efficiency,” said lead author Marlise Hofer.

“Our participants had an average sleep efficiency improvement of more than 2%.

“We saw an effect similar in size to what has been reported from taking oral melatonin supplements, often used as a sleep aid.”

Melatonin is a natural hormone that regulates sleep patterns.

A manmade version is available on prescription only on the NHS to treat short-term sleep problems.

Read more: Being on your phone before bed may not affect sleep after all

Insomnia is said to affect just under a third (31%) of British adults to some extent.

In the US, around 30% of people complain of “sleep disruption”, while 10% have “symptoms of daytime functional impairment consistent with insomnia”.

The physical presence of a lover has been shown to make people feel safe, relaxed and calm.

Sleepless and desperate beautiful latin woman awake at night not able to sleep looking at clock suffering from insomnia in sleep disorder concept.
Just under a third of Brits suffer from insomnia to some extent. (Getty Images)

To uncover whether a lover’s odour could aid sleep, the scientists gave the participants two identical-looking T-shirts.

One had previously been worn by their partner, while the other had been worn by a stranger or was clean.

The T-shirt wearers were told not to use deodorant or take part in activities that could affect body odour, like smoking or exercise.

The clothing was then frozen to capture the scent.

Once thawed, it was used as a pillowcase. The participant slept with either this or the “placebo” shirt across two consecutive nights.

The next day, they completed a survey that asked how rested they felt.

A “sleep watch” also monitored their activity throughout the night.

Read more: How to sleep with a blocked nose

Results show the participants felt more well rested if they guessed they were sleeping on their partner’s T-shirt.

Data from the sleep watches also reveals the quality of their shut eye improved when the participants were exposed to their other half’s scent.

The results will be published in full in the journal Psychological Science.

“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 author Dr Frances Chen.

“The sleep watch data showed 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 scientists hope their results will lead to simple, effective ways of improving sleep, like taking a partner’s T-shirt with you when you travel.

They are recruiting participants for a study that will look at whether the scent of a baby’s parents helps the infant nod off.