All day, our nose is giving us signals. It’s telling our brains about smells (some smells are better than others) and enhancing our sense of taste. The nose is responsible for sending the brain signals. But how does it actually work? Here’s what Brainfacts.org says:
Smell begins at the back of nose, where millions of sensory neurons lie in a strip of tissue called the olfactory epithelium. The tips of these cells contain proteins called receptors that bind odor molecules. The receptors are like locks and the keys to open these locks are the odor molecules that float past, explains Leslie Vosshall, a scientist who studies olfaction at Rockefeller University.
People have about 450 different types of olfactory receptors. (For comparison, dogs have about two times as many.) Each receptor can be activated by many different odor molecules, and each odor molecule can activate several different types of receptors. However, the forces that bind receptors and odor molecules can vary greatly in strength, so that some interactions are better “fits” than others.
“Think of a lock that can be opened by 10 different keys. Two of the keys are a perfect fit and open the door easily. The other eight don’t fit as well, and it takes more jiggling to get the door open,” explains Vosshall.
The complexity of receptors and their interactions with odor molecules are what allow us to detect a wide variety of smells. And what we think of as a single smell is actually a combination of many odor molecules acting on a variety of receptors, creating an intricate neural code that we can identify as the scent of a rose or freshly-cut grass.
So, basically, your nose sends signals to the brain after little particles get into your nose. Gross. Right? Well, where is your nose pointing while you’re sleeping? Think about it. If you lie on your back while sleeping, your nose is sticking straight in the air and all the dust mites are finding their way into the house you’ve just created. If you sleep on your side, your nose is pointing to your pillow which can be a haven for dust mites.
Have you ever wondered, “What kind of feedback is your brain giving your body while you sleep?” Ever think about all the particles that get into your nose while you sleep? Your nose is pointing to more than you think.