Brain-Changing Hammocks

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It’s summertime, and hammock season is here. Time to lay back, sway under a shade tree, let the breeze kiss the soles of your bare feet, and drift off. Certainly a hammock can help you relax, but new research suggests it can also alter brain activity to improve sleep.

In a study published in the June 2011 issue of Current Biology, neuroscientists at the University of Geneva claim that gentle rocking makes people fall asleep faster and experience deeper sleep by synchronizing brain waves.

The researchers enlisted 12 men to take two afternoon naps in a quiet, dark room on a bed that could simulate the gentle rocking motion of a hammock. (Chances are, they didn’t have a hard time rounding up volunteers.) For one nap, the bed rocked; for the other, the bed was stationary. Cynthia Graber of Scientific American reports the findings:

All the men fell asleep faster when they swayed. And the scientists monitored the men’s brain activity during all the naps. They found that rocking increased the duration of what’s called N2, a non-REM stage that accounts for about half of a good night’s sleep. Rocking also increased deep-sleep-associated brain activity–so-called slow oscillations as well as bursts of action called sleep spindles.

Though the conclusions drawn from this naptime study are encouraging, the jury is still out on whether hammocks can alleviate insomnia at night. But, why wait for proven results? Put down the Ambien and try a hammock.

Sources: Scientific American, Current Biology

Image by return the sun, licensed under Creative Commons.

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