We generally associate rocking with babies to encourage them to sleep but in fact it is good for all of us, and perhaps time to retire to a hammock.
My father joined the Royal Navy in 1935 and in the barracks he first encountered a hammock and said it was one of the best night’s sleep he ever had. On a boating trip with friends about 20 years ago, with sleeping accommodation space at a premium, I slept in a hammock on deck and despite the attentions of seagulls early in the morning, I loved it.
Recent research has reinforced this and also found some interesting correlations between our brain health and the action of rocking. And I suspect that having a friend do the rocking for you also is beneficial!
Two new studies featured in Science Daily, one conducted in young adults and the other in mice, add to evidence for the broad benefits of a rocking motion during sleep. In fact, the studies in people show that rocking not only leads to better sleep, but it also boosts memory consolidation during sleep.
Anyone who has ever put a small child to bed or drifted off in a gently swaying hammock will know that a rocking motion makes getting to sleep seem easier. Now, two new studies reported in Current Biology on January 24, one conducted in young adults and the other in mice, add to evidence for the broad benefits of a rocking motion during sleep. In fact, the studies in people show that rocking not only leads to better sleep, but it also boosts memory consolidation during sleep.
“Having a good night’s sleep means falling asleep rapidly and then staying asleep during the whole night,” says Laurence Bayer of the University of Geneva, Switzerland. “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. We thus show that rocking is good for sleep.”
Further studies showed that rocking affects brain oscillations during sleep. They saw that the rocking motion caused an entrainment of specific brain oscillations of non-rapid eye movement sleep (slow oscillations and spindles). As a result, the continuous rocking motion helped to synchronize neural activity in the thalamo-cortical networks of the brain, which play an important role in both sleep and memory consolidation.
You can read the full report HERE
Getting a good night’s sleep is vital for a number of health reasons and here is a post that explains why.
The Power of Sleep
Sleep is as vital to humans as breathing, drinking water and following a healthy diet. We need exercise and movement throughout the day, to keep us supple and fit, but you cannot run any operating system for 24 hours per day, 7 days per week for 70 or 80 years without carrying out essential maintenance.
If we are doing our bit, we should be providing the body with the raw materials it needs to process, manufacture and rebuild our bodies internally and externally. For many of us, however, the ingredient our bodies are deprived of most is sleep.
During the day, our normal activities help our bodies to excrete toxins but the body also needs time to heal, rejuvenate and rest. Most of the day our body is focusing on keeping you upright and able to accomplish every task you set yourself, including providing you with a functional immune system. At night your body can concentrate on cleansing and restoring all the operating functions, ready for the next day.
For example: the heart normally beats 82 times in a minute.
That is 4,920 times an hour – 118,080 times a day – 826,560 times a week – Almost 43 million heartbeats a year. That is a huge amount of work for the organ that keeps us alive!
However, when we are asleep our hearts beat at around 60 beats per minute, or lower. This means that for 8 hours of the day our heart will beat 28,800 instead of 39,360 times, which is a saving of 10,560 for those down time hours.
If you multiply that over a year you will be saving nearly 4 million heartbeats. Take that in relation to our life-span of an average of 80 years, and your heart will have to work 320 million heartbeats less, saving wear and tear on this vital organ.
The same principal applies to the rest of the body and its operating systems. Your lungs will work less as your breathing slows during the night. Your muscles will rest and recuperate and your brain will undergo diagnostic tests and repairs while you sleep.
Most mental disorders, including depression and Alzheimer’s, are linked to various sleep disorders, some resulting from drugs used to control the disease or from changes in parts of the brain that normally regulate sleep patterns. There are also some concerns that sleep aids, particularly prescribed medication used long term may result in mental impairment. (As always do not stop taking any prescribed medication without consulting your doctor.)
Our dream states are important as it is part of your brain’s downtime function as it sorts information, filing and in some cases deleting unimportant information or spam, much as we do with our computers.
Going without sleep affects hormonal balance, and therefore our mood and stress levels. The glands that produce these hormones, such as the adrenal glands, are on constant alert and have no chance to rest and rejuvenate. As in the case of a rowdy neighbour it is “one up, all up”. The knock-on effect of having all these hormones rampaging around the body is that nobody gets any rest, leading to physical, mental and emotional problems.
Performance levels will decrease without proper sleep and our reactions and internal processes will be impaired. Research has shown that sleep deprivation has the same effect on driving performance as taking alcohol or drugs. People who do not get enough sleep become increasingly less sensitive to certain chemical reactions within the body and in the case of insulin this increases the risk to developing both diabetes and high blood pressure.
If you are tired then your body is trying to tell you something
Taking a nap is actually a way to catch up on your missing sleep. The most natural time for a nap is 8 hours after you have woken up in the morning and 8 hours before you go to bed. This way it is unlikely to affect your ability to fall asleep at night. Even 20 minutes can actually revitalise you and rest your body ready for another 8 hours of activity.
Make yourself comfortable, loosen your clothes and just close your eyes. Even if you do not fall asleep your body will relax and everything from your muscles to your brain will benefit.
Getting to sleep at night
Unless you are Mediterranean, and used to eating late at night from childhood, avoid having dinner just before you go to bed. The recommended interval between eating a heavy meal is at least three hours. I have no idea how anyone can go out for a night drinking, eat a curry and go to bed and not suffer a dreadful night’s sleep.
Alcohol can be a stimulant and whilst excessive amounts may make you sleepy it is going to wake you up four hours later with a raging thirst and a thumping headache. Once in while you may get away with it, but if it is the norm you will become seriously sleep deprived.
Sitting up too late, watching an action thriller is not the best way to ensure a good night’s sleep. Those of us who have dogs who need walking benefit from both the physical activity and the fresh air before hitting the pillow and if you can safely take a stroll at night then it is an excellent idea.
Make sure that there is plenty of airflow in the bedroom and sleep in comfortable clothes. I have no idea how people manage in button up pyjamas as they must be so restrictive and you will be moving around quite a bit at night and getting tangled up in both bedclothes and your nightie is going to disturb you.
I find that, however late I go to bed, reading a few pages of a book is guaranteed to help me drop off. Many people have discovered their own sleep triggers over the years, including warm baths with Epsom salts, herbal teas such as Kava Kava and Valerian, and gentle music that drowns out the noise of neighbours, or a snoring partner.
Earplugs can be very useful, particularly if you are sharing a bed with a snorer, although you may miss the alarm clock in the morning.
If you are going to bed at more or less the same time every night you will find, within a very short space of time, you will wake at about the same time every morning. In fact, it is a good idea to follow the same sleep patterns all week rather than opt for a lie in at the weekend. It establishes a healthy downtime for the body and does not confuse it for two days every week.
Sleep is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle and research is increasingly showing that it is also vital for the development of our brains. Children who do not get sufficient sleep will develop behavioural and learning difficulties as well as compromise their immune systems and future health.
Keeping your children up with you late at night is not healthy. They need far more sleep than we do during their rapid growth spurts. Make sure that they have a nap during the day about half way through their active hours and get them into the habit of getting at least 10 hours sleep per night. When they are very young you will obviously be waking them for feeds and then for potty training but you must always try and ensure that they are kept calm and are put back down as quickly as possible. This will also be healthier for you as this is the time when most parents are likely to suffer from sleep deprivation. The next crisis for those of you with teenagers is when they fail to return before 2.00 in the morning.
Stages of sleep
There are a number of different stages of sleep and it is important that you go through the entire cycle to reap all the benefits.
There are two main phases. In phase one you will be going through Non-Rapid Eye Movement Sleep or NREM. There are different stages within this phase which naturally lead you to phase two or Rapid Eye Movement sleep or REM.
Phase one NREM
Stage One. This is the lightest stage of sleep and although your main senses are turned down they are not off completely and you can be disturbed by certain noises such as snoring, dogs barking or doors slamming.
Stage Two. If you get into this stage you will fall deeper asleep and your heart rate and temperature will begin to level out and drop. This stage represents about half your night’s sleep.
Stage Three and Four are the deepest stages of NREM and represent about 15% of your night’s sleep. Your breathing will slow; your temperature will drop further as will your blood pressure.
Phase two REM
After about 30 minutes in stage four NREM sleep you begin to move back to stage one and two where your brain will become more active and you will begin to dream. If you are woken up at this point in the cycle you are likely to remember the dream you were experiencing at the time. If you have reached one of the NREM stages then you are not as likely to recall anything when you wake up.
This cycle of phase one and two takes approximately 90 minutes and then begins again. To really benefit from this combination of rest and activity you need to complete at least 5 cycles during the night. This adds up to approximately 8 hours of sleep. If you only manage one or two cycles then your brain and body will not have completed its cleansing process and you will feel tired. If this becomes the norm you will begin to notice the symptoms of sleep deprivation.
Sleep is as essential as air, water and food and if you are not currently enjoying a good night’s sleep then you need to work towards finding a solution.
And that might well be investing in a hammock….even if it is only for the exercise!
©sally cronin Just Food for Health 1998 – 2019
A little bit about me nutritionally.
I am a qualified nutritional therapist with over twenty years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines and posts here on Smorgasbord.
If you would like to browse by health books and fiction you can find them here: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/my-books-and-reviews-2018/
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