It's pretty well known that the sensation of being rocked soothes babies to sleep, but can the same be said for adults? Well, according to two recent studies published in medical journal Current Biology, it seems that the best way to get to sleep is by being rocked, either by yourself, by specialised equipment (yes, there are gadgets that can mimic the sensation), or just by bedding down in a hammock or a rocking chair. You could even go as far as saying a fidgety partner is actually beneficial to your sleep... or maybe not. Either way, if you find having a good night's sleep hard to come by, this might just be a solution.
The two studies were conducted by the Department of Basic Neurosciences at the University of Geneva, where researchers found that, when participants were rocked, they fell asleep more quickly. The first study was conducted on humans, and the second on mice.
Study number one involved 18 people, all of whom slept on a moving bed for one night, and a normal bed for another. While the participants slept well through both nights, researchers found that, not only did they fall asleep more quickly on a moving bed, but "they also had longer periods of deep sleep and fewer micro-wakes, a factor associated with poor sleep quality," researcher Laurence Bayer reported to Medical News Today.
In addition, the researchers looked at whether being rocked to sleep affected memory. The 18 participants were given a pair of words before they nodded off, and were tasked with remembering them when they woke up the next morning. "And here too, rocking proved beneficial: the test results were much better after a night of motion than after a still night!" researcher Aurore Perrault told Medical News Today.
This is down to how sleep modulates your brain activity; gentle rocking can help "synchronise the brain activity across the so-called thalamocortical-cortical networks," the researcher explained to Medical News Today. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, these networks are the connections between the thalamus and cerebral cortex, and they "play a vital role in deep sleep and memory building," Medical News Today reports.
The second study focused on seeing how the vestibular system would react when the subject was being rocked to sleep. The vestibular system "manages balance and spatial orientation" in the inner ear, according to AlphaGalileo, who also reported on the studies. If you've ever had problems with your balance or have had an ear infection, you'll be pretty familiar with this system and the effect it can have.
For this study, a group of mice with "non-functioning sensory receptors" and "altered vestibular function" were observed alongside a control group. The researchers rocked the cages of both groups of mice while they slept to see what effect it would have. According to Medical News Today, the rocking help the control group "fall asleep more quickly and sleep for longer, but it did not induce deep sleep or improve sleep quality, as it did in humans." However, as researcher Konstantinos Kompotis went on to tell the publication, "the mice in the first group did not benefit from any effect of swaying during sleep."
Kompotis said: "Vestibular sensory stimulation during rocking, therefore, acts on the neural networks responsible for the specific brain oscillations during sleep." I didn't understand that part, either.
Anyway, these studies certainly give you a lot to think about. Plus, they could also be beneficial for future research into treatment of "patients [who have] insomnia, mood disorders, as well as elderly people, who often [live with] sleep and memory disorders," the study concluded.
Looks like I'll be adding this trick to my sleeping arsenal when I find myself struggling to catch some much-needed zzz's.