People appear to sleep much better when rocked throughout the night

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2191608-people-appear-to-sleep-much-better-when-rocked-throughout-the-night/

A person in a hammock

Rocking could improve sleep

Sally Anscombe/Getty

Adults may sleep better and remember more of what they have learned beforehand when they are rocked to sleep. You shouldn’t start rearranging your bedroom just yet, however, given the study involved just 18 adults, but further trials could confirm the findings.

Rocking beds might provide a new way to help people with sleeping disorders and older people who often have trouble sleeping, says Aurore Perrault of the University of Geneva. It might provide an alternative or a complement to sleeping pills, she says.

Her team had previously found that rocking helped people fall asleep when having an afternoon nap. To test if it helps at night too, 18 men and women with an average age of 23 spent three nights sleeping in the lab.

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The first night was just to let them get used to the surroundings. Then, on either the second or third night, they were rocked throughout the night. The otherwise normal bed they slept on was suspended from posts at each corner, and pushed 10 cm to one side and back every 4 seconds.

“They all rated the rocking night as pleasant and relaxing,” says Perrault. The team found that when the bed was rocked people fell asleep more easily and slept better. They spent more time in deep sleep and had fewer sleep interruptions.

Before going to sleep, the volunteers had to memorise word pairs. The volunteers did better in morning tests after a night of gentle rocking sleep.

The team have no idea why it works. But they have also shown that mice sleep better too when rocked, so it appears the effect isn’t limited to people or even primates.

The next step is to do tests over a longer period to see if the benefits last as people get used to the rocking, says Perrault. She also wants to try it with on older people and those with sleeping disorders.

Journal reference: Current Biology, DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.12.028

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