Sleep and Olfaction among Older Adults

Neuroepidemiology. 2017;48(3-4):147-154. doi: 10.1159/000479066. Epub 2017 Jul 26.


Background: Sleep and olfaction are both critical physiological processes that tend to worsen with age. Decline in olfaction can be an early indicator of neurodegenerative diseases, whereas poor sleep quality is associated with reduced physical and mental health. Given associations with aging-related health declines, we explored whether variations in sleep were associated with olfactory function among older adults.

Methods: We assessed the relationship between sleep characteristics and olfaction among 354 community-dwelling older adults. Olfaction was measured using a validated field and survey research tool. Sleep characteristics were measured using wrist actigraphy and with self-report of sleep problems. We fit structural equation models of latent constructs of olfaction based on olfactory task items and let this be a function of each sleep characteristic.

Results: Actigraph sleep quality measures were associated with odor identification, but not with odor sensitivity. Longer duration sleepers had worse odor sensitivity compared to medium (58 h) sleepers, but sleep duration was not associated with odor identification. Reported sleep problems and reported usual duration were not associated with olfaction.

Conclusions: Diminished sleep quality was associated with reduced capacity to identify odors. Determining whether this is a causal association will require further study and longitudinal data.

Keywords: Actigraphy; Aging; Olfaction; Sleep.

MeSH terms

  • Actigraphy
  • Aged
  • Aging*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Self Report
  • Sleep*
  • Smell*