The wellness industry is about to get rocked—to sleep....... like a big baby.
Scientific American reported that Current Biology published two studies on Thursday demonstrating how adult brains could be hardwired to respond positively to being rocked to sleep like a baby. The studies, which monitored both human and mice subjects, show that being rocked back and forth “may have significant health benefit such as better quality of sleep and even improved long-term memory formation.”
The first of these studies tested the reactions of 18 healthy young adults who spent three nights in a sleep lab, including one night in a slowly rocking bed. The results will not be surprising to anyone who has fallen asleep on a train, in a hammock, or in a rocking chair. The researchers say rocking decreased the time it took for subjects to fall asleep and afforded them better sleep quality. Subjects who were gently tumbled to sleep had improved memory function, in fact “a night of rocking improved their recall threefold,” Scientific American reports. These subjects also spilled less coffee and other beverages all over their clothes in a comic manner throughout the day (I am guessing).
Laurence Bayer, who headed up the study and is a neuroscientist at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, said that what was surprising about the study “is that we clearly showed that specific brain oscillations of non-REM sleep are synchronized and entrained by the rhythm of the bed motion.”
The second study tested similar reactions in mice, and helped determine the inner ear mechanism that triggers the soporific response. Per Scientific American:
“The authors suspected rocking might exert its influence on sleep by stimulating the vestibular system, the sensory organs in the inner ears of mammals that control our sense of balance and spatial orientation. Using a strain of mice with impaired vestibular function, they showed this is indeed the case. Specifically, half of the mice used in the study lacked ‘otoliths,’ small calcium carbonate–based particles that bob around two compartments of the inner ear and allow mammals to perceive vertical and horizontal acceleration. Mice without these otolithic organs showed none of benefits of rocking during sleep.”
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The lead author of the second study, Konstantinos Kompotis (also at Geneva) concluded “Rocking cradles for babies; rocking beds for younger adults; rocking chairs for the elderly—there are ongoing efforts out there that could improve our sleep and well-being.”
What do we do with this information? After all, there’s tons of stuff that’s good for babies that would also probably be good for us. Like taking lots of naps. And eating soft foods. And not knowing how to read the internet (but the internet is what tells us how to be a baby, thus perpetuating the eternal loop of immaturity-regret). Maybe hammocks will be a trend, or houseboats. For a good do-it-yourself solution, assume the fetal position and gently roll from side to side on your back until sleep takes you.