Science Shows Adults Sleep Best When Rocked Like Babies

New research out of Switzerland supports what many parents have known for millennia: rocking can improve sleep.

The two studies, recently published in the journal Current Biology, were undertaken by research teams at the University of Geneva and the University of Lausanne who wanted to explore the connection between sleep, rocking movement, and memory consolidation.

In Geneva, scientists Laurence Bayer and Sophie Schwartz monitored the brainwaves of 18 healthy young adults for three consecutive nights. Participants adjusted to the lab on the first night, spent the second night on a gently rocking bed, and the last night on a stationary bed, studying word-pair sets each evening and testing their recall in the morning. At Lausanne, Paul Franken’s research team observed sleeping mice, whose cages were rocked with commercial-grade shakers.

Results from both studies showed dramatic improvements to sleep when it was accompanied by rocking.”Our volunteers—even if they were all good sleepers—fell asleep more rapidly when rocked and had longer periods of deeper sleep associated with fewer arousals during the night,” Bayer explained in a statement. Participants were also more likely to accurately remember word-pairs if they had been rocked to sleep, while the mice in rocking cages fell asleep faster and stayed asleep longer.

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Rockabye… grown ups?

While the wisdom of rocking a newborn to sleep has been passed down for generations, this research has exciting implications about how all of us — not just kids — can benefit from rocking as we snooze.

Thanks in part to this kind of research, the market for rocking beds for adults is just beginning to emerge. Yes, you read that right: rocking beds for adults. Georgia-based company Rocking Bed promises to let adults “sleep like a baby again,” with a bed that costs upwards of $3,400 for a guaranteed production slot. The company’s website references sleep studies by Bayer and Schwartz that go back nearly a decade.

If that price tag sounds too steep, Kickstarter has crowd-sourced a budget-friendly version: the Sway Bed Frame is a gently swaying steel bed frame that clocks in at just $293. This automatic rocking bed is currently available for pre-order.

It remains to be seen if more (and more affordable) practical solutions develop as a consequence of this research. What seems certain is that studies like these can help us shine an illuminating night-light on the connection between sleep and rocking, no matter our age.

Molly Morrow

Molly Morrow is a writer from Seattle, Washington who moved to New York City because she was tired of making car payments. Once a hopeless insomniac, Molly now loves researching the connection between sleep, mental health and healing, all in hopes of helping Sleepopolis readers enrich their daily lives through sleep. A typical day for Molly could include writing a detailed review of the latest luxury bed-in-a-box mattress, combing through the results of a pioneering sleep study, or searching out the latest and greatest memory foam products. Molly is a strict-side sleeper who believes any mattress firmer than a 7 should be set on fire. Her writing has appeared in The Stranger, The Princeton Sun, The Airgonaut, The Consortium of Innovative Environments for Learning and the margins of twelve industrial machine manuals scattered strategically across Alaska. In 2016 her short fiction was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and in 2017 she finally got around to watching "The Sopranos"... from bed.

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