Peppermint, cinnamon can keep you awake

By Time of article published Feb 2, 2006

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New York - To stay alert behind the wheel on long road trips, skip the coffee and try sniffing peppermint or cinnamon.

Researchers from West Virginia have found that getting a whiff of pleasant odours periodically while driving increases alertness, reduces fatigue, and even lowers drivers' anxiety and frustration.

Increased driver alertness could lead to fewer accidents on the highway and decreased frustration could translate into fewer instances of "road rage," Doctor Bryan Raudenbush from Wheeling Jesuit University told Reuters Health.

The current study builds on previous work by Raudenbush and his colleagues, which suggested that, by stimulating the nervous system, peppermint and cinnamon odours enhance motivation and performance, increase alertness, and decrease fatigue among athletes and clerical office workers.

To test the effects of these odours on drivers, Raudenbush's group had 25 college undergrads sniff peppermint, cinnamon, or a non-odour control for 30 seconds every 15 minutes during simulated driving conditions.

In general, prolonged driving led to increased anger and fatigue, and decreased vigour, they report.

However, with the peppermint scent, fatigue, anxiety, and driver frustration ratings fell significantly, while driver alertness ratings rose impressively.

Smelling cinnamon also made drivers more alert and lowered their levels of frustration. Ratings of "workload" associated with driving also fell with periodic whiffs of cinnamon.

Given these results, Raudenbush said, it is reasonable to expect that periodic sniffs of peppermint or cinnamon may produce a more alert and conscientious driver and minimise fatigue associated with long road trips.

"While we used scents delivered through the nose, our past research suggests that mints or gums could also provide the same effects," Raudenbush added.

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