If you have trouble falling asleep and find yourself constantly chasing that deep refreshing slumber that instantly recharges your batteries, you might want to give rocking a try.
According to a new study, rocking puts grown-ups to sleep faster and makes slumber deeper, providing the refreshing rest that we all crave and need. As an added bonus, a night of gentle swaying will also improve your memory the next day, reports Science Daily.
Though this won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has ever rocked a baby to sleep — or to people who have experienced how easy it is to drift off in a gently swinging hammock — the rhythmic motion not only helps you doze off faster but it can actually improve sleep quality throughout the night.
The paper, published yesterday in the journal Current Biology, shows evidence that continuous rocking stimulation has a beneficial effect on brain activity, allowing people to spend more time in non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep, to sleep more deeply, and to wake up less during the night.
“Having a good night’s sleep means falling asleep rapidly and then staying asleep during the whole night,” says study lead author Laurence Bayer, a neuroscientist at the University of Geneva in Switzerland.
In a previous study, his team uncovered that napping for 45 minutes in a custom-made rocking bed helped volunteers fall asleep faster and rest more profoundly. This time around, the researchers decided to take things to the next level and find out if rocking might improve sleep across an entire night.
The team enlisted 18 volunteers — all healthy adults — and invited them to the lab for a series of sleepovers. In one of the nights, the volunteers slept in a gently rocking bed; in another night, they were put up in an identical bed that was stationary.
The experiment revealed that the gentle horizontal rocking motion helped the adults reach a light stage of non-REM sleep called N2 in an average of 10 minutes — as opposed to 16.7 minutes on average for the stationary bed. At the same time, volunteers spent more time in a deep non-REM stage of sleep called N3 after being rocked to sleep.
In addition, rocking led to fewer wake-ups and boosted the number of sleep spindles, a type of brain wave that fosters sound slumber.
Another part of the experiment was to test whether a night of rocking would influence memory. In order to do that, the team devised a memory consolidation test — essentially making the volunteer learn pairs of words and quizzing them both in the evening and in the morning. The results showed that the group was better at remembering the words after being rocked to sleep — which suggests they enjoyed a higher sleep quality, explains Science News.
Humans are not the only mammals that can benefit from a night of gentle rocking. In a separate study — conducted by many of the same researchers, Bayer included — scientists found that mice also sleep better while swinging.
Hailed as the first study to explore whether rocking promotes sleep in other species, the research showed that mice fell asleep faster and slept for a longer time when their cages were rocked. The main differences in results were that “the best rocking frequency for mice was found to be four times faster than in people” and that, unlike the human volunteers, the animals “did not show evidence of sleeping more deeply,” notes Science Daily.
The second paper, also published in the journal Current Biology, shows that rocking stimulation leads to better sleep thanks to the body’s vestibular system, which is responsible for detecting motion and coordinating balance. In addition, the team argues that rhythmic movement can help shape brain activity during sleep.
The scientists believed that these findings could benefit people suffering from insomnia and mood swings, as well as older people who frequently struggle with sleep quality and memory impairments.