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Information Processing on Memory Retention: Will Introduction of Lavender Essential Oil in REM Sleep Promote Memory Retention in Alzheimer’s Patients?
Dreams are considered to be a crucial part of sleep, and “can sometimes incorporate external stimuli (e.g. sounds, smells and physical sensations) into their course and content, either directly or indirectly” (Bloxham & Durrant, 2014. p. 129). A study conducted by Schredl et al. (2009) tested two different olfactory stimuli on information processing and emotional content of sleep in young females. The results showed that “the positively-toned stimulus, phenyl ethyl alcohol (smell of roses), yielded more positively toned dreams, whereas the negative stimulus, hydrogen sulphide (smell of rotten eggs), was followed by more negatively toned dreams” (Schredl et al., 2009, p. 285). This study accurately conveys the relationship between olfactory stimuli and dream content. However, it would be advantageous to compare olfactory stimuli with memory retention. This literature review will specifically address the question, “will introduction of lavender essential oil in REM sleep promote memory retention in Alzheimer’s patients?”. By answering this question, we may be able to minimize the severity of memory loss in Alzheimer’s patients all around the world.
The growing numbers of those partaking in complementary alternative medicine, such as aromatherapy, has provided for an interesting area of research. Aromatherapy is a type of medicine that uses pure essential oils derived straight from plants, and is used for many different purposes, including improving one’s behavior, health, etc. Hanson et al. (2013) conducted a study to determine if lavender essential oil helped sleep disruption in people with dementia. Their findings suggested that lavender significantly increased the number of minutes of sleep per night in participants when compared to a placebo pill. This study shows that lavender certainly has a positive impact on sleep, which is extremely important for those suffering from any form of dementia. However, it fails to specify minutes spent in different stages of sleep. REM (rapid-eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep both contribute to the overall function of sleep, but have very distinct functions. Adding the element of sleep stages to this experiment is crucial in understanding dream content and how that might relate to memory retention.
Furthermore, there is ongoing literature examining dream content in both REM and NREM sleep. NREM sleep accounts for 75%-80% of sleep time and dreaming is considered to be “rare” during this stage (Rama et al., 2005). On the other hand, REM sleep accounts for 20-25% of sleep time, but includes dream content (Rama et al., 2005). A study conducted by Boston University School of Medicine assessed the correlation between REM sleep and dreaming, and the risk of developing dementia. Their findings revealed that “each percentage reduction in REM sleep was associated with approximately a 9% increase in the risk of incident dementia” (Pase et al., 2017, p. 1244). The main takeaway from this experiment is that increased dreaming during REM sleep has a negative correlation with the chance of developing some form of dementia. However, this experiment fails to address the relationship between emotional dream content and likelihood of developing dementia. It is critical to understand if having a bad dream will or will not produce the same results of minimizing the risk of developing dementia as having a good dream would. These findings will be useful to help answer my research question because I can then compare emotional dream content to the quality of sleep, along with the risk of developing dementia.
Another important variable to assess in order to answer my research question would be to look at how the brain consolidates and forms memories. It is widely known that sleep plays a vital role in maintaining optimal health and well-being, and that it is significant for learning and forming memories. However, there are still many questions to be answered about how exactly memories are formed. Potkin & Bunney Jr (2012) carried out an experiment that measured the effect of sleep on long-term memory in adolescents. A sample size of 40 adolescents were assigned to sleep and no-sleep conditions and then “were trained on a paired-associate declarative memory task and a control working memory task” (Potkin & Bunney Jr, 2012). Findings suggested that having good-quality sleep was important in declarative memory, with an increase of 20.6% when compared to the group that underwent no-sleep conditions. While this literature is beneficial in understanding how sleep quality impacts memory retention, it neglects to address both long-term memory and short-term memory consolidation and retention. This is critical to help answer my research question because those who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease may experience mild or severe forms of memory loss. Short-term memory loss is generally associated with the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease, however, as the disease progresses it may affect long-term memory (Jahn, 2013).
Previous studies have provided a significant base for research on information processing during sleep and how the introduction of external stimuli has an effect on dream content and emotions. However, there has been an absence of evidence on the relationship between olfactory stimuli and memory retention, specifically with Alzheimer’s patients. As of 2018, over 50 million people in the world suffer from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia (World Alzheimer Report 2018). The studies listed above all contribute to help answer my research question, “will introduction of lavender essential oil promote memory retention in Alzheimer’s patients?”; although, there is no central link between these that have been tested yet. By conducting research that will aim to answer this question, we may be able to slow the progression of the disease by using essential oils to promote memory retention. This research is required and will overall benefit the medical and public health industries.
- Bloxham, A., & Durrant, S. (2014). The effect of external stimuli on dreams, as assessed using Q-Methodology. International Journal of Dream Research, 7(2), 129-140.
- Hanson, L., Cagan, A., Rinehimer, K., Flottemesch, T., Clairmont, J., Sackett-Lundeen, L., & Haus, E. (2013). Lavender essential oil improves sleep in residents of a memory care assisted living facility. Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, 9(4), P655-P656.
- Jahn, H. (2013). Memory loss in Alzheimer’s disease. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 15(4), 445.
- Pase, M. P., Himali, J. J., Grima, N. A., Beiser, A. S., Satizabal, C. L., Aparicio, H. J., … & Seshadri, S. (2017). Sleep architecture and the risk of incident dementia in the community. Neurology, 89(12), 1244-1250.
- Potkin, K. T., & Bunney Jr, W. E. (2012). Sleep improves memory: the effect of sleep on long term memory in early adolescence. PloS one, 7(8), e42191.
- Rama, A. N., Cho, S. C., & Kushida, C. A. (2005). NREM–REM sleep. In Handbook of Clinical Neurophysiology (Vol. 6, pp. 21-29). Elsevier.
- Schredl, M., Atanasova, D., Hörmann, K., Maurer, J. T., Hummel, T., & Stuck, B. A. (2009). Information processing during sleep: the effect of olfactory stimuli on dream content and dream emotions. Journal of sleep research, 18(3), 285-290.
- World Alzheimer Report 2018. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.alz.co.uk/research/world-report-2018.
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