Babies know best: Rocking improves sleep quality and memory

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Recently, the results from two new studies conducted both in young adults and mice have proven that the rocking motion can improve the quality of sleep and increases memory consolidation while asleep. Rocking chairs and hammocks seem to cast a sleeping spell that seems unattainable when sleeping on a normal bed. The motion of rocking side to side has been known to increase the ability for infants to fall asleep.

Both studies were led by Laurence Bayer and Sophie Schwartz from the University of Geneva located in Switzerland. Bayer and her colleagues previously conducted a simulation with the rocking motion during an afternoon nap of 45 minutes. The results show that the consistent motion of swaying back and forth led the subjects to fall asleep faster and to sleep throughout the whole time period.

The first study consisted of 18 young healthy adults, 10 women and eight men. According to Current Biology, the hypothesis Bayer and Schwartz along with their colleagues tested was “that the rhythmic rocking stimulation synchronizes sleep oscillations, a neurophysiological mechanism referred to as ‘neural entrainment.’”

All of the participants conducted a week dedicated to an actigraphy, a non-invasive method of monitoring human rest and activity cycles, in which all of the participants’ sleep activities were measured and recorded. After the actigraphy, the participants went through habituation night, which served to allow the scientists to have a point of reference for the following nights of experimentation. During habituation night, the participants slept in a stationary bed.

After habituation night, the participants went through two experimental nights. On the first night, the participants slept on a rocking bed that would gently sway the bed back and forth. The following night, the participants slept on an identical bed that did not move. According to Current Biology, during both experimental nights, the participants were “under polysomnographic monitoring (electroencephalogram [EEG], electrooculogram [EOG], and electromyogram [EMG]),” the combination of which allowed the experimenters to have a better idea of the neurological response of the subject’s mind, eyes and muscles. The researchers also assessed the participants with declarative memory tasks before and after the night of the experiment.

According to EurekAlert!, “the data showed that participants fell asleep faster while rocking.” From the night spent sleeping on the rocking bed, the data also showed that the participants were in deep sleep and lasted most of the night with non-rapid eye movement sleep, also known as NREM.

Following the results of the first study, Paul Franken from the University of Lausanne located in Switzerland conducted a similar study on mice. According to Current Biology, the hypothesis Franken and his colleagues tested was “that the rocking effects are mediated through the vestibular system,” which is responsible for spatial orientation and balance. In order to test the hypothesis, the mice were placed in cages that rocked throughout the time the mice were asleep.

According to EurekAlert!, “the best rocking frequency for mice was found to be four times faster than in people.” The mice spent less time falling asleep and more time asleep throughout the night, but the mice did not show evidence of being in deeper sleep.

The reasons to why a college student does not get the amount of healthy sleeping hours can vary. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults from the age 18 to 60 need “seven or more hours per night” of sleep. Trying to stay awake during a two-hour lecture at nine in the morning running on four to six hours of sleep is close to impossible. Having a healthy sleep schedule benefits the productivity of students and makes maintaining school and other responsibilities easier.

The results of these two studies can be applied to the lives of students that are incapable of getting enough sleep during the night. Being able to fall into a deeper sleep that lasts throughout the whole night is very beneficial when it comes to being more energized and capable throughout the day. Because of the deeper sleep it provides, the rocking also improves memory, which students can benefit from with exams and simply remembering the class schedule.