According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one out of three adults in the United States are unable to get an adequate night’s sleep. Since numerous diseases are associated and exacerbated by a chronic lack of sleep, this constitutes a major health concern. This is particularly true for the elderly population, where poor sleep quality is, unfortunately, common.

Insufficient sleep appears to take a toll on almost every aspect of an individual’s health. Among the diseases associated with chronic lack of sleep are cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, depression, dementia, and even cancer.

According to the director of the CDC’s Division of Population Health, it is recommended that people make whatever lifestyle changes are required to improve both their quantity and quality of sleep. Some of the specific changes the director recommended are:

  • Going to bed at the same time each night.
  • Rising at the same time each morning.
  • Turning off electronic devices at least two hours before bed.
  • Removing televisions, computers, and mobile devices from the bedroom.

A fascinating new set of studies from researchers at the University of Geneva (UNIGE), from the University of Lausanne (UNIL), and from the University Hospitals of Geneva (HUG), all located in Switzerland, dug deeper into the issue by analyzing the effects of slow and repetitive movement on sleep quality. Their findings showed that repetitive movement improved both sleep quality and memory consolidation. Their findings were published in the journal Current Biology.

We know that a crying baby can often be rocked to sleep or put in a stroller and taken for a walk in order to calm them down. But these findings show that there is a scientific basis for this effect — and that it works for adults also.

The initial phase of the study involved monitoring the brain activity, heart rate, and respiratory rate of a group of participants over the course of several nights of sleep. On some nights, the participants slept on a normal stationary bed, while on other nights, they slept on a bed that moved gently.

Several effects immediately became apparent. When in the “rocking bed,” participants:

  • Fell asleep more quickly
  • Had longer periods of deep sleep
  • Experienced fewer micro-wakes, a factor frequently associated with poor sleep quality

In the second stage of this study researchers sought to determine if gentle motion affected memory consolidation. They tested participants by giving them pairs of words in the evening and testing their memory of these pairs of words soon after waking up in the morning.

In this case also it was determined that gentle rocking proved to be extremely beneficial: the average test results of the participants were far higher after a night’s sleep with gentle motion than with a standard stationary bed.

Researchers hypothesize that gentle rocking helps synchronize brain activity across specific brain networks. Dr. Paul Franken a professor at the University of Lausanne Faculty of Biology and Medicine led another study, carried out in mice.

This study allowed the researchers to pinpoint a specific brain area vital for sleep quality: the vestibular system, a network which includes sensory organs in the inner ear that detect motion and gravity, and which initiates responses for balance and orientation.

The researchers concluded that this new information will help to develop new approaches to treat insomnia – including insomnia due to mood disorders and aging. It is also expected to help people who have certain types of memory disorders, since it is now known that memory is more efficiently consolidated via gentle rocking motion.

It is interesting to imagine beds that offer a gentle rocking motion being sold in the next few years. Then perhaps once again, we can be gently rocked to sleep, just like when we were babies. Pleasant dreams!

Beacon of LIFE, in Oceanport, NJ, is a government-approved PACE program created to provide seniors, their family, caregivers and professional health care providers the flexibility to meet their health care needs while continuing to live in their community.

Beacon of LIFE maintains an interdisciplinary team of professionals who give each client the coordinated care they need. Our staff specialize in working with older people, and work with each client and their family to develop the most effective plan of care.

Our care and services allow people who would otherwise need to live in a nursing home to live where they want — in their own communities, in their own homes.

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