Nocturnal Olfactory Response to Smoke Odor

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By J.L. Lynch

The Irondale Fire and Rescue Service has been teaching its consitituents that they could not smell during sleep and therefore needed the protection of a smoke detector. A challenge to this idea produced the problem of not knowing whether the sense of smell will awaken a human to smoke odor stimulus. The only way to answer that challenge was to perform an inquiry (research) to affirm or deny the existence of olfactory fire protection during sleep.

Through descriptive and evaluative research methods, this research project evaluated the sense of smell during sleep to learn if a sleeping adult could detect the odors of water, smoke, or citurs. These odors were first introduced to conscious subjects to screen them for olfactory response. The subjects went to sleep and a compressor pump nebulized three different odorants through an elaborate delivery system into the sleep rooms. EKG, EEG, EMG, and EOG biomeasurements were monitored for response to the stimuli.

The following research questions were identified for use: (a) Can a defined group of conscious adults detect the presence of the smell of smoke odor? (b) Will the smell of smoke odor awaken a defined group of sleeping adults? and (c) Will the smells of water, smoke, or citrus odors arouse a defined group of sleeping adults? The results revealed that although a significant number of subjects responded to the stimuli, only two of the ten subjects awoke. The integration of an olfactometer into smoke detectors, the use of smell-sensitive components in building materials and household goods, a greater emphasis on smoke detector compliance, and the dissemination of the knowledge gained in this study to convince citizens to protect themselves with smoke detectors were all recommended as a result of this study.