How does sniffing work?


Sniffing is an essential part of how we perceive smell. According to , the process begins when we inhale volatile chemicals through our nose. Our nose has a mucosal lining designed to trap these chemicals. At the roof of our mouth, about two centimeters above, lies the olfactory bulb. This collection of neurons sends extensions into the mucosal lining to detect different odorant compounds. These neurons also connect deeper into the brain, branching into pathways responsible for innate and learned odor responses. The innate pathways trigger natural reactions to smells like smoke, which signals danger, while learned pathways involve associations we develop over time 1.

Furthermore, a study discussed by and Noam Sobel revealed that sniffing behavior involves utilizing two nostrils independently, which enhances our ability to track smells compared to breathing through one centralized nostril. This bilateral system enhances our ability to detect the direction of smells, similar to how having two eyes or ears improves depth perception and sound localization. The study also highlighted the importance of sniffing frequently to increase the sensitivity of the olfactory system, which can enhance one's sense of smell over time 2.

Moreover, engaging in practices like taking 10-15 sniffs can heighten the alertness of the brain and improve the sensitivity of the olfactory system, making experiences like eating more enjoyable as one can better detect and appreciate different smells and tastes 3.

How Smell Works

Andrew explains the neurobiology of smell, including how volatile odors enter our nose, the role of the olfactory bulb, and the innate and learned pathways involved in our sense of smell.

Huberman Lab

How Smell, Taste & Pheromone-Like Chemicals Control You | Huberman Lab Podcast #25