Anyone who’s slowly drifted off while lazing in a hammock will be able to testify how rocking can help us sleep. Interestingly, a number of suppliers such as Klafs, Living Earth Crafts and Clap Tzu are also bringing treatment or relaxation beds with rocking movements to the market. And now scientists from Switzerland are adding to evidence which shows that rocking improves both our quality of sleep and memory.
The first study, by the University of Geneva, was based on 18 young adults who spent one night in a sleep lab on a gently rocking bed and another night on a bed which stayed still.
Participants in the beds that rocked not only fell asleep more quickly, but also experienced fewer periods of rapid eye movement, which is indicative of lighter sleep cycles. Meaning, they had a deeper, better quality night’s sleep.
In addition, scientists tested each person’s memory the morning after a night in the lab and found people achieved higher scores after they’d been on the beds that moved.
Further investigations looked at the underlying mechanisms at play and showed that the continuous rocking motion affects brain oscillations. They helped to synchronise neural activity in the thalamo-cortical circuits, which are linked to our sleep and memory performance.
“Having a good night’s sleep means falling asleep rapidly and then staying asleep during the whole night,” says study lead Laurence Bayer. “Our volunteers – even if they were good sleepers – fell asleep more rapidly when rocked and had longer periods of deeper sleep associated with few arousals during the night.”
A second study, by the University of Lausanne, was based on mice and is one of the first to look at how rocking impacts sleep in other species. It showed that while mice in swaying cages fell asleep more quickly, there was no evidence that they had a deeper sleep.
The Lausanne researchers also looked at underlying mechanisms at play by focusing on rhythmic stimulation of the vestibular system – a part of the inner ear associated with balance and spatial orientation. They found that mice which lacked otolith organs, small patches of sensory hair cells in the ear, did not experience the benefits of rocking when asleep.
Overall it was concluded that the two studies, which were both published in the scientific journal Current Biology, “provide new insights into the neurophysiological mechanisms underlying the effects of rocking and stimulation on sleep” and that the findings may help with new approaches to sleep health.