A polysomnographic study of sleep disturbance in community elderly with self-reported environmental chemical odor intolerance

Iris R. Bell, Richard R. Bootzin, Cheryl Ritenbaugh, James K. Wyatt, Gia DeGiovanni, Tina Kulinovich, Jennifer L. Anthony, Tracy F. Kuo, Steven P. Rider, Julie M. Peterson, Gary E. Schwartz, Kathleen A. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Subjective sleep complaints and food intolerances, especially to milk products, are frequent symptoms of individuals who also report intolerance for low-level odors of various environmental chemicals. The purpose of the present study was to evaluate the objective nature of nocturnal sleep patterns during different diets, using polysomnography in community older adults with self-reported illness from chemical odors. Those high in chemical odor intolerance (n = 15) exhibited significantly lower sleep efficiency (p = .005) and lower rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep percent (p = .04), with a trend toward longer latency to REM sleep (p = .07), than did those low in chemical intolerance (n = 15), especially on dairy-containing as compared with nondairy (soy) diets. The arousal pattern of the chemical odor intolerant group differed from the polysomnographic features of major depression, classical organophosphate toxicity, and subjective insomnia without objective findings. The findings suggest that community elderly with moderate chemical odor intolerance and minimal sleep complaints exhibit objectively poorer sleep than do their normal peers. Individual differences in underlying brain function may help generate these observations. The data support the need for similar studies in clinical populations with chemical odor intolerance, such as multiple chemical sensitivity patients and perhaps certain veterans with 'Persian Gulf Syndrome.'

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)123-133
Number of pages11
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 15 1996


  • REM sleep
  • cacosmia
  • chemical odor intolerance
  • dairy
  • environment
  • geriatric
  • shyness
  • sleep efficiency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biological Psychiatry


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