We will rock you (to sleep)

Between assignments and that minimum wage job you survive on to pay for your 39c Tesco garlic bread, it is often difficult to keep up on something vital – sleep. If you are like me, you take naps on the bus, but you worry about falling into a deep slumber and missing your stop, or worse, being mugged. Although rationally speaking, the probability of that is low because surely, you would wake up, you couldn’t be in that deep of a sleep on a moving bus… right?

If you sleep better whilst experiencing a rocking motion, e.g. in moving cars, buses or trains, you are not alone. In a recent experimental study investigating sleep and memory, researchers found that adults benefited in myriad ways from being rocked to sleep.

Firstly, participants fell asleep faster when being rocked. You don’t just fall asleep quicker on the bus because you are so overworked and fatigued after a long two-hour class in college, the swaying of the vehicle contributes too. Secondly, participants reached non-REM sleep quicker. This refers to non-rapid eye movement sleep, informally known as “better sleep”. During the deep stages of non-REM sleep, when your eyes are not darting quickly in different directions, your body repairs and regrows tissues, and builds bones and muscles. Moreover, research has demonstrated that non-REM sleep can strengthen your immune system, a cheaper alternative to buying Vitamin C supplements. Additionally, being rocked to sleep lead to fewer abrupt shifts in brain wave patterns, which are an indication of a change from deep to light sleep. Aside from rocking increasing the occurrence of deep sleep, it can also enhance your memory.

In a recent experimental study investigating sleep and memory, researchers found that adults benefitted from being rocked to sleep

Other researchers have demonstrated even more benefits to being rocked to sleep, including an improvement to your overall health and well-being. Since rocking to sleep facilitates deep sleep, you can expect to wake up feeling more refreshed and more ready for that long 3-hour lab you have been dreading all week. Rocking can help improve your circulation, treat motion sickness, and eradicate toxins out of your body via the lymphatic system. Additionally, having more energy than before can increase your productivity.

Aside from improving your physical health, rocking can also improve your psychological well-being. Rocking has been shown to alleviate stress and anxiety, allowing you to feel more relaxed. This juxtaposes the often-repeated quotation by Glenn Turner: “Worry is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere.” Perhaps it needs to be tweaked.

Whilst sleep is often not prioritised, it is potentially one of the most important activities we can do to help ourselves. Even though it seems simple, it is effective and necessary to assure our bodies function at an optimal level. Without good sleep, our immune systems can suffer, resulting in a higher risk of catching colds and other illnesses. As well as this, good sleep can help us learn better and it has been shown to improve memory retention (key for those all-important MCQs).

The current body of sleep research also clearly indicates that the quality of sleep is just as important as the quantity of time spent asleep. You can sleep for lengthy periods of time and yet still feel not fully rested because the quality of your sleep was poor. Sleeping on a rocking bed can help with that.

Rocking has been shown to alleviate stress and anxiety, allowing you to feel more relaxed.

In another study conducted on mice, researchers found that rocking reduced the length of time it took for the mice to fall asleep. As well as this, they slept for longer. However, it was found that this rocking did not actually benefit the mice in terms of experiencing deeper sleep. Studying the reasons behind this, the researchers found that in half of the mice, they lacked the sensory organs we have in our inner ears that allow us to control our sense of balance and spatial orientation.

From the beginning of time we, as babies, were rocked to sleep, and the above demonstrates the potential neurophysiological mechanisms underlying this “natural” phenomenon. But let’s think about the evolutionary underpinnings of this. Why is it that babies and, by extension, adults, sleep better while being rocked? Perhaps we have become accustomed to rocking due to the gentle motions experienced while in our mothers’ wombs. It is possible that this sanctuary in which we lived for the first nine months of our lives provided us with such comfort and feelings of safety and trust that, as adults, we strive to experience it again. With the rocking motion bringing us back to being in our mothers’ wombs, memories of being safe and warm are incited, facilitating better sleep.

Rocking beds are available to purchase but they don’t come cheap, retailing at approximately €3,050. Perhaps for now, make use of sleeping on public transport. The benefits of being rocked to sleep is backed up by scientific evidence, but more research is required to establish what kind of rocking motion and speed provides the most positive effects. Ultimately, great sleep can be had while being rocked, regardless of the location.