The Neuroscience of ‘Rock-a-Bye Baby’

A new study shows it works for adult sleep, too.

Comments: 144

  1. Hmm, I've been to sea a number of times on oceanographic expeditions and it does seem I slept better aboard ship, except in really rough seas (being thrown against the bulkhead is not conducive to good sleep). But ocean waves and ship rocking is always somewhat random so it hard to see how the brain could synchronize with it. Next experiment: test people at sea.

  2. This is one reason I don't think that AI will in any way replicate human thought, though it will still be thinking. The same way a brain in a vat, cut off from external stimuli would cease to function as a reliable device, brains "expect" a body to be there to feed it information and bodies expect a brain to send it commands. Considering how much of our language is couched, metaphorically, in terms of sensation, the body itself is a sort of extended brain. It would be interesting to see how much covert muscular activity ramps up in someone who is working out an abstract mathematical problem. I suspect, much more than you'd think.

  3. Rocking chairs were invented long ago and still sit on many porches. People must get them because they like them.

  4. I have struggled with insomnia most of my life. However, when I sleep on my boat it is much less of a problem. I think it is the gentle rocking, even in the harbor, that makes the difference. And I have never had a problem sleeping when sailing on the ocean!

  5. My husband often goes hiking where he spends the night in a hut with his buddies. They tell me he keeps them awake because he 'snores like a freight train', but his snoring puts me sound to sleep. I wonder if this effect might also be found in any sleep environment where there is a rhythmic pattern that evokes a feeling of familiarity, comfort or safety.

  6. @Ann Paddock Your husband should be evaluated for sleep apnea. Excessively loud snoring is often a symptom. CPAP machines have done wonders to help deal with this health issue (some machines can run on a battery pack so he could still go camping with his buddies and then everyone can get a good night sleep).

  7. @Ann Paddock -- When I was a child, my father's snoring also helped me sleep. Others have told me the same.

  8. Hmm? I wonder if I can convince my wife to give this a try. I would love to get a good night's sleep! This does remind me of those long nights of rocking the kids to sleep in their cradle frequently the first few months of their life. That worked well for them and also helped me to fall asleep at work the next day.

  9. After reading so many books and articles on letting your baby soothe herself to sleep, this one gives me such relief! I still sing and rock her to sleep. Perhaps it’s helping her learn!

  10. Yes! I was waiting for someone to say this.

  11. Is this a surprise? Adults fall asleep from the motion of riding in cars all the time, and tragically it happens while driving all too often. And we all know that putting a restless baby in the car for a ride is a sure cure. A rocking bed - a cradle for grown ups - sounds like a great idea.

  12. @Sharri Posen--My daughter never slept in the car, and did not like to be rocked either. Could have something to do with the brain anomaly that was discovered when she was 17.

  13. Nothing is real until research confirms it. ;). I recall years ago the startling research revealing that babies could hear in the womb. I had a similar reaction to that “news.” I love the scientific process, don’t get me wrong. It serves ... but often has to catch up to what we all know, right. It takes so long to get funding and crawl the steps of peer review that Investigators go from “you’re crazy” to “everybody knows that” sometimes before their results can be “validated.” There is a famous quote that says it better but you get my point.

  14. Feeling the rhythmic in/out of the breath is something I find very helpful; If you can stay wakeful long enough, you’ll start to notice (but don’t look too effortfully; it will stop them) random, undulating images. If you “peer” into one of the images without effort or strain, you may find yourself quite wakeful in a dream. Then the fun begins.

  15. "Rock me baby, rock me baby, all night long..." Blues standard, B.B. King, Muddy Waters and others

  16. @Denis Pelletier I think that rocking is different from this rocking.

  17. @Denis Pelletier I think maybe they were thinking of another kind of rocking.

  18. @Denis Pelletier: I don't think "rock" means the same thing in that song that it means in this article.

  19. Last week I read about a guy actually making rocking beds for adults. Wish I remembered the link. I'm curious about how swaying from side to side while awake affects the brain. It's a habit I picked up years ago during an especially stressful period of my life. My best guess is that it somehow calms anxiety. Rocking is common in autistic people, so I imagine it does serve some purpose.

  20. I guess none of the researchers of the various studies have motion sickness. It is sloppy of researcher not to know the boundaries of their experiences.

  21. Don’t forget cars and trains. Very good for sleeping.

  22. @Steph Not the say my dad used to drive. I was scared of missing my last moment of life.

  23. @Steph, except when you are the one driving :)

  24. Not surprised that someone relatively close to infancy still finds a slow motion effective as a sleep inducer. Did any of these studies get applied to people over 70? Almost all of those I know with sleep difficulties are in their later years, not youngsters.

  25. We are retired Medicare-aged folks, but still have a waterbed. I wonder whether that kind of mild motion is also beneficial.

  26. When my mother died and I was severely stressed, for some reason I thought to buy a hammock on a stand. I put it in my living room and slept in it for months of comforting sleep. Looking forward to the mechanized version!

  27. Awake since 3:30, again, and wondering if a rocking device could be appended to my Victorian bedstead.

  28. @Julia Holcomb, I find patting myself to sleep works really well..just as I would pat my babies gently. Counting backwards works well too. Then of course my favorite is listening to guided meditations: eckhart Tolle, Rupert Spira, Thích Nhất Hạnh, Mingyur Rinpoche, Joseph Goldstein, Thanissaro Bhikku, Robina Courtin, Analayo Bhikku... and so so many more...

  29. Aerial yoga classes use large pieces of fabric suspended from the ceiling that can be scrunched up to make soft trapeze-like shapes for dangling on or spread out to create a huge hammock. At the end of the class you get to lie down inside the hammock and have the instructor give you a tap so you rock back and forth gently for a few minutes. Even after going home I get a better night's sleep in my stationary bed. I would love it if someone could market a rocking bed!

  30. The best part of class for many. A lovely reminder. Thank you for noting the similarity.

  31. Hypothesis: Human ancestors slept in trees, safely away from ground predators, for millions of years. An external rocking motion lets the brain know you are up high in the swaying braches and safe, so sleep is encouraged. This is why the best "sleep rocking frequency" corresponds to a substantial tree branch swaying in a moderate wind. Too fast or too slow don't work.

  32. @Tim And you know this how? I know you say 'hypothesis' but a tree is far from a safe, secure place to sleep, especially one that is weak enough to sway with the wind. Parents would have a hard time protecting and holding onto the young ones. More of a flight of fantasy than a hypothesis.

  33. @reid It is well-established anthropology that human ancestors lived in trees and then over time changed to ground dwellers. This helps explain why the human visual cortex is over-developed for ground movement. It is a hold-over from a period when pre-humans had to navigate through a tangle of branches. Please Google "The Evolution Of The Visual System In Primates" by Jon H. Kaas.

  34. I’ve spent decades on airplanes flying around the world and noticed years ago I fall asleep and sleep better in light turbulence. Now I know it’s not my imagination.

  35. @Chris I noticed the same thing, I'm ready for the adult SNOO whenever they market it

  36. Those trains which had sleeping cars were good (still have quite a few in Europe. Lots of people doze off on long commuter train trips. And cruise ships too. Overnight cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Nassau in The Bahamas gave me a good night's sleep.

  37. As an elementary school teacher I learned to integrate as much movement as possible into every activity. It could be as little as sitting in a different desk or on the floor while reading to learning games requiring constant movement around the room. That combined with drawing and using puzzles during instruction gave me the best results over years of working with 8-11 year old children.

  38. @Gail Otteson Good teachers have learned this. Many children have a much easier time concentrating on instruction when they are given options like squeezing a koosh like ball, doodling, standing up against a wall for a bit, or contorting themselves in their desk chair. My main criterion was that it not be a distraction to others. I also found that children do not necessarily need to be looking at you to be listening or attentive.

  39. @Nancy that is nice to hear. My daughter loved to draw in elementary school and it calmed her down (she had anxiety issues) but one teacher would continually reprimand her for drawing while she was teaching, even after I explained she did this to calm herself. That teacher even threw out her drawings at one point. My poor daughter never got over that. She still talks about it, and she is now 25 (and a graduate student in an engineering program).

  40. @VB Wish I'd had Gail or Nancy for 5th grade (back when dinosaurs walked the earth). Though I was a straight A student who always listened in class, I--like your daughter--drew meanwhile. That year, the teacher called me out snarkily in class for "drawing pretty pictures." As you can see, at 78 years of age--after teaching at university level and writing a Y.A. novel that was nominated for three state prizes--I still remember the inaptly named Ms. Joy S. and that day's humiliation.

  41. This is so true! The best sleep i have had in my life was in a rocking boat....I fell asleep in less than a minute, slept the deepest i ever have, and awoke in 45 minutes feeling like I had slept for 8 hours. I always wondered why that was.

  42. Sounds nice. I have always liked rocking chairs. Having just purchased one recently I can tell you that many furniture manufacturers seem to think that they are only needed for the nursery (or wooden ones for a porch). A rocking bed would be lovely. My immediate thought was of the water beds I've experienced. Those, however, tend to have less predictable motion.

  43. Someone needs to invent adult sized mamaRoo (google it). I first saw them in a neonatal unit, but now they are everywhere. Top ones are remote controlled with all sorts of bells and whistles.

  44. I knew there was some reason why I slept so well on cruises.

  45. My wife and children always fell asleep together on car rides. It is a form of rocking, especially on the highway or a gentle ride at night. We started that when my wife was uncomfortable while pregnant and could not get to sleep. It then worked on the kids too, and has kept working for a couple of decades.

  46. "who hasn’t noticed the soothing effects of swinging in a hammock ?" When I lived in Central America in the late '60's many people who lived in the country had a "matrimonial size" hammock hung from the covered porches that surrounded enclosed central patios, where they slept at night. Not only does the gentle rocking promote sleep; hammocks are cooler to sleep in than on a conventional mattress in a tropical climate.

  47. Like everything else in life I discovered especially in my family there is a very strong genetic component to being able to fall asleep quickly and stay asleep for the entire night

  48. At Hancock Shaker Village, a museum of preserved Shaker buildings, the infirmary has cradles for adults. Not a bad idea.

  49. Reading the opinion piece, I feel as if my privacies at the very last moment of the night and any moment in the past had been violated, the reason for which is, in fact, also my privacy. So, you cannot know why. In my opinion, this piece touches the depth of a human life and its secrets, which might be uncategorizable. I loved to make line drawings on notebooks while my listening to lectures at the evening courses I had taken for my graduate degree at a school in Cambridge. Vividly and clearly I remember ultimately critical regards of nearby students who happened to notice my oeuvre of exquisitely delicate line drawings akin to Klee, very likely for they misunderstood completely the nature of my multi-purposeful artistic act. While drawing, I concentrated fully myself onto the given lectures and course subjects too. All people are different in different ways of each. Still, behavioral science, neuro-psychology, socio-mass-readology will never cease to make categorizations, that is the major reason for my finding this opinion piece deep in the subject matter for its self-exposure to the disciplinary problem as a professional genre of the modern day.

  50. I've always wondered about sailors in the Age of Sail. In Ship's Time the day is divided into six four-hour "watches." Sailors are on deck for four hours, then below, to sleep, for four. The "Dog Watch," from 4 to 8 pm was divided into two half watches, so that sailors alternated every day, and neither watch had to stand the Mid Watch from midnight to 4 am every day. I've thought that sleep in four-hour pieces must have prepared men ill for strenuous work on deck day after day, yet the practice continued for centuries. Maybe sleeping in hammocks made sleep more efficient.

  51. @Thomas A rem (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep cycle is about 3 hours. You fall into a deeper and deeper sleep until rem is achieved for a while, then you come out of it. If you sleep for six hours you get 2 cycles. f you sleep for eight, you may or may not get 3. So four hour sleep rotations fit pretty well with the rem cycle. The bigger problem with on again off again four hour cycles is that it does not align with daylight. The body has chemical fluctuations, called circadian rthyms that are sycnhronized to the sun. Sun light actually helps to reset the rthyms each day. I used to work in the music recording business, and we often worked 24 or 48 hours straight, then tried to catch up on sleep when their was no work. Or you could work nights for a couple of days, then a day or two, then back to nights. As far the body was concerned, this was chaos. The circadian rthyms were completely out of wack. It was like living in constant twilight. Never fully awake or asleep. If you have to work weird hours, you are better off working the same shift every day, so that your rthyms can be steady. If you have to work nights, or live so far north or south that the night is six months of the year, exposing yourself to light that imitates the light frequencies of sun light can help you lock your circadian rthyms to your life, so that you are awake when you need to be and asleep when you need to be. And when you get older, you need a lot less sleep, so don't stress yourself over it.

  52. I'm highly susceptible to motion sickness--get seasick on a park swing. Even thinking about a rocking bed makes me queasy.

  53. Rocking chairs used to be a basic part of house furnishings and a porch swing.

  54. Smooth haptic sensing/awareness/control re-integrates haptic consciousness with our other consciousnesses... Sleep is our visual consciousness integrating what it’s seen today with what it saw yesterday and the day before... Insomnia is our aural consciousness refusing to admit the day is done... PTSD is a captioning of our longer-term visual consciousness wreaking havoc on our aural consciousness – though it’s sometimes hard to make the words out... Schizophrenia and other psychoses are the words being more clearly heard... And why the laying on of hands can heal – or at least could, at one time...

  55. I would buy a swing bed for adults if there was an affordable product.

  56. I used to have a device that fit between the mattress and springs that vibrated and caused gentle motion. It was wonderful! Unfortunately it died and I’ve not been able to replace it. Wish I remembered who made it. Have a vague recollection that I got it from Hammacher Schlemmer or Sharper Image. I see Amazon and Sharper Image carry vibrating chairs (used to have one of those too till I moved, should have kept it!).

  57. Most of this emphasizes side-to-side rocking. But I got my best sleep on the Drake's Passage when rocking head to toe. Others that seem to be head to toe: our ancestors sleeping on tree branches, the motion of a rocking chair. Perhaps key is that a mother holding a small baby horizontally in her arms will rock it head to toe, moving her elbows alternately up and down. After my experience on the Drake's Passage, I began to wonder why most cradles rock side to side.

  58. It is unfortunate that children, on "the spectrum" and/or brain injured, who find themselves pathologized and judged for other behaviors and who also rock have often been further pathologized and judged for rocking. Our bodies consist of energy and energy moves.

  59. So few people (aside from teachers and spectrum therapists) seem to be aware of the research on movement and the development and soothing of the brain. My autistic daughter was incredibly helped in her development by sensory integration therapy, this 30 years ago. Most people have under or overdeveloped vestibular systems—the under developed like autistics need much more motion which helps develop synapses between neurons. Overdeveloped folks like my son are more prone to nausea with excessive movement. Tapping of pencils, doodling all help in brain integration. It seems the Europeans, especially the Finnish, understand this better; as they proscribe more physical play and recess for schoolchildren.

  60. I had thought that there was a relationship between REM sleep and memory 'consolidation'. I have read papers disputing this because people who are totally deprived of sleep are still able to form new memories (well, up to the point where they hallucinate!). I would be really interested in learning how they confirmed that rocking helped consolidate memories. On the other hand, I also benefited from doodling or other sideline activities during instruction (or during painful meetings or presentations). I suspect that doodling kept me from attending to the things that made me angry, so I spent the remaining attention on what was being said (during meetings and presentations). Once my Algebra teacher asked me why I wasn't listening to her, and instead working on a computer program. I was very lucky, the program was about computing mars position in the sky and the teacher had worked for NASA! She knew what I was doing-and supported my development in programming. (I did tell her that I knew most of what she was teaching already, only memorizing the quadratic formula and boning up on factor. Actually, my first program was to factor quadratics by exploring all the possible solutions.

  61. I’m not surprised that any movement that generates sensation leads to making it easier to sleep. For decades I’ve practiced a simple trick of focusing on ANY bodily sensation: the breeze from a fan, the coolness of sheets, the breathing of my wife on my neck as she curls up next to me — in order to prevent my mind from thinking in WORDS. Using that technique I have trained myself to fall asleep in a couple minutes. If I allow any words / language / internal narration to describe what I am feeling, I won’t fall asleep. Only thinking about sensations WITHOUT LANGUAGE leads to near-instant sleep. While I’m not a brain researcher, I would hypothesize that it would not be a good idea for the brain to cut its owner’s consciousness off mid-thought. Gentle, non-uniform external sensations are best for allowing me to focus away from thinking in words. I can see why the sway of a hammock provides a similar stream of sensation.

  62. As most train commuters know: all it takes is one hour...cradle and rocking chair in one fell swoop.

  63. @Liz DiMarco Weinmann My limited experience with a sleeper car on an overnight train suggests that the gentle rocking contributes to excellent sleep.

  64. I would love to know if soothing rocking beds or devices would be helpful for people with dementia. Would it bring comfort or frighten them?

  65. Good advice! I bet counting sheep, and those bottles of beer on the wall, works too! How about a study?!

  66. At the rate we are headed with climate change, looks like more people will be living on boats. At least they will sleep better!

  67. And my cat loves to be gently rocked.

  68. has them for $3500, claims to work with your existing mattress and bedframe, except for sleigh beds. I have a sleigh bed, but don’t have $3500 to spare, so I guess it’s back to counting sheep...

  69. As a scientist you surely don't believe we spend "the first nine months of our lives being gently rocked in an amniotic sea."

  70. @Green Tea Walking.

  71. "Orthodox Jews, for example, frequently “shuckle,” gently sway back and forth, during prayer. Does this physical activity enhance the religious experience in some way?" Morning prayers are done on an empty stomach, no food, although drinking is allowed beforehand. With age, I have found that too much of such movement on an empty stomach causes dizziness. As for sleep, sounds like a good idea. If I could could find a way to rock the bed during the night then perhaps I would not be typing comments at 5:00 AM.

  72. The mind feeds the body; the body feeds the mind. I wonder if I am getting a similar feeling from the oscillating fan near my bed.

  73. A friend of mine once slept on a boat moored at the 79th St. boat basin and reported that he felt seasick the whole time.

  74. I'm wondering if anyone has done studies on sleeping with your pets. I know they don't really rock my bed, but their contented gentle snores are surely adding to the experience.

  75. Minimal or no movement "demands;" constraining energies operating. Gentle movement is freeing. Relaxing.

  76. And not just rocking - but swaddling, too: light compression on the body transmits a sense of security. Already someone has a rough equivalent out on the market - a "weighted" blanket. Combine those two with soothing sounds - a stream, rain, birdies ...heaven!

  77. I recently saw an interview with Paul McCartney. The person interviewing him said he sang the song "Blackbird" to his newborn to get the baby to fall asleep. No rocking was required. And the baby instantly fell asleep. I know when I hear the song, I instantly get in a very relaxed mood.

  78. So...a gentle swaying produces a profound rhythm in the brain; a synchronicity that establishes a clarity and focus much like what seems to be induced in everything from the aforementioned "shuckle," to the Sunni whirling dervishes. Isn't all of this really a subtle form of...self-hypnosis? Who knew? Apparently some did, eh? John~ American Net'Zen

  79. One wonders if rocking might help reduce snoring. This could be the beginning of happier marriages!

  80. I rocked my daughter to sleep until she was five—too big for us to fit comfortably in the rocking chair. It was back in the day when conventional wisdom said such parental “indulgence” discouraged children’s independence. How sweet to read the tut-tutters were wrong.

  81. Try rocking yourself to sleep..Self soothing a form of perhaps returning to the womb..mothering.. a safe place.

  82. RE: "We like to think the brain is sovereign, but it is obvious that it sometimes takes its marching orders from the body." Yes. See the book by Harvard psychology professor, Lisa Barrett: "How Emotions are Made." Examining studies of the brain, she describes the relationship between the body and the mind showing that the the brain is constantly monitoring the body, making predictions about what is going on, checking outside and inside the body, and concluding that we FEEL what the brain BELIEVES. This is far different from saying that we are in thrall to our emotions. We, in fact, create them –– not just "sometimes" but all the time.

  83. I like those old vibrator beds in the motels of the 60's.

  84. I'm not sure if anyone is well-served by breathlessly reporting overly-simplified quasi-data.

  85. Have you ever read the lyrics to Rockabye Baby. "Rock-a-bye baby, on the tree tops, When the wind blows, the cradle will rock, When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall, And down will come baby, cradle and all." That's pretty scary. I don't know how cognitive a baby is at certain ages, but this song could embed a fear of heights at the very least. Whoever wrote this as a lullaby, probably had a hand in "Ring around the Rosie". A song about dying of the 'Black Plague.' My tongue is poking my cheek as I write this. "Ashes, ashes, we all fall down!"

  86. My husband just pointed out the scariness of the song recently as i sang it to our little one. Off I go to do some research on the lyrics. So many fairy tales are scary, too. Interesting. I always imagined them floating down from the tree, safely to the ground. What gives for sure.

  87. @Ginger this is a Wampanoag nursery rhyme. It refers to babies who are in a cradle board and hung in a tree where the mother is working. Cradle boards have long pointed sticks and often a halo protector over the head in face in case the cradle does fall, the baby will be protected. The pointed sticks are to pierce the ground when falling and hold the baby upright.

  88. @Ken Floyd, most nursery rhymes are morbid. Why do jack and jill have to fall down. Why does humpty dumpy have a great fall. And the ring a roses all fall down. And so on.

  89. Maybe it explains why cruises are so popular. Better sleep than at the beach! Woohoo!

  90. Clearly, rocking motions have helped to put babies and adults to sleep for many many years. And then we have the old saying "keep a thing for seven years (or longer) and you'll find a use for it." Rock a By-Baby was originally a piece of propaganda attacking the Stuart regime. The wife of James II had a baby; the propagandists claimed it had died and was replaced by another brought into the queen's bed in a warming pan. Maybe the "nursery" rhyme worked—baby and cradle and all did come tumbling down. But it took a violent dethronement, the installation of William and Mary, and a war involving Louis XIV, James II, William of Orange, and the Pope to finish the Stuarts. And now, as the Brits struggle with Brexit, a big obstacle in their way is the sense of entitlement of the spiritual heirs of William and Mary in Northern Ireland. Rock on, Orangemen!

  91. I read this article looking for enlightenment on lullabies! No luck. How does “Hush little baby don’t say a word...” or “Raisins with Almonds “ get the sobbing infant to sleep?” My wife sings “Lulu lulu sans Cameron...” from Mexico which seems to be a nonsense rhyme, but it works with a gentle rocking or tapping on the back: works all the time. Then there is the ditty by that cartoonist from the New Yorker, Roz , “Get the * to sleep” which may or may not be a sedative.

  92. my pet theory after watching my accountant Uncle rocking his legs whilst deeply contemplating a tough call: the Thalamus and Substantia Nigra + Globus Pallidus etc all kick in with movement and thought. To help kick start 'thinking' , that system is pre-enagaged or primed by repetitive physical movement.

  93. Rock on

  94. Any motion sickness reports?

  95. This is why it is so nice to sleep on a small boat.

  96. Thanks, Dr. Friedman -- you're preaching to the choir about the neuroscience of "Rock-a-Bye Baby" in the treetops! For as long as we have trees and treetops on earth is as long as we stressed and anxious adult humans will need a grown-up version of the gentle rocking of the sweet SNOO.

  97. I'd be glad to just have my wife stop snoring!!

  98. No mention of rocking simulating the movement of a fetus in the womb? Maybe this is so pase that the conventional wisdom was never tested but I always thought that was the easy answer. Also I've never heard the term "shuckle" and thought the term of "dovon"... I guess I'm learning a bit today!

  99. Here in the Yucatan, most locals sleep in hamacas....I think I should give it a try.

  100. OMG, what a discovery (sarcastic) It is the inner child of all adults who find comfort in a nurturing setting, duh.

  101. Water beds on the rebound!

  102. Interesting, thanks. I'm sleepy just reading about hammocks. I wonder if repetitive, physical movement such as gently rocking isn't an analog to the aural calm that accompanies listening to a soothing repetitive sound such as waves breaking on a shore. In combination, rocking in a hammock within earshot of breaking waves breaking gently on...the... Zzzzzzzz.

  103. @Taz I recall seeing adult-sized cradles that rocked side to side in a Shaker village in New England. When the aged were close to dying, they were put in these rocking beds. Those Shakers knew something, eh?

  104. @Melinda Quivik Yes, and they had these at more than one location. Pictures - just google "Shaker Adult Cradle".

  105. When I was a shipboard medical officer in the Navy, I don't remember having a sleep problem. I enjoyed the slight rocking we had at sea. Yes, there was the occasional midnight call to sick bay, the early morning maneuvers, the bosun's whistle announcing sea and anchor detail entering port, and the edge of a typhoon or two, but gentle rocking was nice.

  106. This is so beautifully written that reading it has a soothing, calming effect - a verbal transmutation of the rocking of the sea!

  107. Good piece. Bruce Chatwin's classic, "The Songlines" discusses this at length, but sort of 'sideways.' By the time an aboriginal child is old enough to walk (and this may be still true, or going back thousands of years) the child has been "walked" on a parent's back or hip for thousands of miles. According to Chatwin, it's the motion and rhythm of walking that is deep inside of us. We're walkers, wanderers.

  108. No wonder I sleep so well in the car. I often employ a subtle rocking that enhances my meditation.

  109. This concept is so soothing that I can't stop thinking of ways to immediately access this sense of comfort. Right now I'm dwelling on buying a houseboat... Or maybe finding one of those snuggling businesses you hear about, and requesting that I be rocked as well as cuddled -- hey, wait! I'm married! OK, well that makes it more simple! Thanks for the lovely, relaxing fantasy, NYT!

  110. I used to live on and sail boats in the Caribbean. I can verify that I have never slept better than when sleeping on a gently rocking sail boat.

  111. @Joan Chamberlain It's an awesome sensation... while the seas are *calm*!!

  112. Ages ago in my storied work history, I did in-home presentations for a well-known adjustable bed manufacturer. At the time, there were very few furniture stores that offered the same kind of bed that we had. Nowadays many more of them do. I am idly wondering if my old company has heard of this and thought, "Wait, an adjustable *rocking* bed!" Definitely food for thought, if merely idle speculation. Maybe more after a nap. Which definitely won't be taken at work.

  113. Could it be that modern life styles are really terrible for our well-being ? Losing the hammock, natural sleep cycles based on sun set/sun rise, real walking, no screens, etc. actual diminishes brain function. Screen life has reduced our peripheral vision. Processed food, solvents, carbon fumes, pesticides et al cause disease & cancer. Yes- the epidemiologists insist we are healthier, live longer and enjoy much better public health (water, sewage, infectious disease )--and yet... New epidemics emerge- Autism, addiction, sleeplessness, depression, compulsion... Perhaps if we all tried to convert to hammocks there 'd be an epidemic of 'falls from the cradle.'

  114. Up until the age of six I would occasionally have the sensation that my brain was rocking back and forth as I drifted off to sleep. It was a very pleasant and soothing feeling. Remembering this as I got older I often wondered if it had something to do with having been rocked as an infant.

  115. As a doodler, I can tell you how well that went over in school and then at work; if you are not sitting erect like a trained seal, you're slacking. I agree completely that doodling helps with retaining information, to the point that sometimes even just looking at a previous doodle in my notebooks would recall the time, place, and subject matter.

  116. Thank you for your article, Dr. Friedman! For decades, occupational therapists have been using, researching, and teaching parents and professionals about sensory processing (formerly called sensory integration) as a foundational means of improving daily function. Movement, which provides vestibular sensory input to our nervous system, is a primary integrator of our 5 Senses + proprioception+ interoception, and affects our arousal level. It's why little children sometimes 'get wild' when they're actually tired, why some fall asleep immediately in the car, why movement breaks and gym classes should be interspersed with academic activities during the school day, why some adults "have to" go to the gym before work. And that's only the tip of the iceberg! Please read public-friendly books by Lucy Miller and Lindsey Biel for fuller explanations of sensory processing. Or google it. An understanding of the impact of sensory processing on our daily lives broadens our options to resolve problem behaviors and actions while also enriching how we live.

  117. Is there a difference in effect between rocking side-to-side and rocking forwards-and-backwards?

  118. Dr. Friedman, in the tradition of American psychiatry, focuses on brain and body ... omitting reference to personal meaning. MIND. Psychiatry's "person" is a brain. Its “body” is almost mechanical in description. Cold, "explanatory," and (ironically) impersonal. Devoid of ways brain also embodies personal experience in its evolution. Negligent of ways bodily rhythms evolve in one’s emotional perception of the psycho-social environment. Might not soothing rocking & the lullaby’s rhythmic sounds also invoke experiential memory of being lovingly held in maternal embrace in infancy? Yes, these memories are neurologically registered, too. But the brain of an abused infant would not be comforted by Brahms’ lullaby. Nor would an adult whose childhood was traumatic. May I recommend Antonio Damasio's DESCARTES ERROR and Gerald Edelman's BRIGHT AIR / BRILLIANT FIRE. These brilliant and well-recognized neurological treatises attest to Freud's insights on the impact of environment and development on behavior. Meaningful behavior. MIND.

  119. Dr. Friedman, in the tradition of American psychiatry, focuses on brain and body ... omitting reference to personal meaning. MIND. Psychiatry's "person" is a brain. Its “body” is almost mechanical in description. Cold, "explanatory," and (ironically) impersonal. Devoid of ways brain also embodies personal experience in its evolution. Negligent of ways bodily rhythms evolve in one’s emotional perception of the psycho-social environment. Might not soothing rocking & the lullaby’s rhythmic sounds also invoke experiential memory of being lovingly held in maternal embrace in infancy? Yes, these memories are neurologically registered, too. But the brain of an abused infant would not be comforted by Brahms’ lullaby. Nor would an adult whose childhood was traumatic. May I recommend Antonio Damasio's DESCARTES ERROR and Gerald Edelman's BRIGHT AIR / BRILLIANT FIRE. These brilliant and well-recognized neurological treatises attest to Freud's insights on the impact of environment & development on behavior. Meaningful behavior. MIND.

  120. I always thought that recess was critical for learning in the younger grades and especially for boys. Was there a gender difference in how motion effected the establishment of memory?

  121. There's a phenomenon called "entrainment" where brain waves will fall into a rhythm set up by the external world. The rhythm of a walk, a car ride, trance music. Creatives types know this phenomenon, if not consciously, at least from experience. Many an aha moment has happened while walking, riding in a vehicle, ironing, doing the dishes. Rhythmic, mindless and repetitive is the key.

  122. Dr. Friedman and all interested readers, if you're curious enough to look, a non-reductive response to "Why does this work?" is suggested at, and on the playlist at "Welcome to Energy's Way - Step by Step immersion" on youtube. Rocking is a truncated version of the all-pervasive, toroidal dynamics characteristic of every energy field universally, the torus being the geometric solution to Einstein's general relativity equations of 1915. We learn to crawl by enacting these dynamics, and a fusion of meditation, yoga, energy healing and qigong that came to me after 5 decades of study-practice and teaching body-mind-spirit disciplines rekindled these moves in me, revealing to my late acquired clair-sentient ability to read energy quantitatively a far more vast downpouring of subtle energies than is usual from any of these individual higher disciplines as traditionally taught and practiced. Rocking babies gently, smoothly, simply put, brings them home to "cosmic hugging," in an energetic sense -- not the kind of explanation a partisan of reductive neurononsense (eliding correlation and causation if not outright then by implication) would prefer, but to almost any mother or sensitive father, maybe like a "duh!"

  123. I’ve been sleeping in a hammock for five years, ever since I used one on the porch during a heat wave and noticed I fell asleep faster and woke up refreshed. I’ve also noticed the complete absence of morning back ache or stiffness. Not sure if it would work for couples though.

  124. Maybe this is a function of our evolutionary past as primates who slept in trees. We would have had to develop the adaptation of being able to sleep while swaying on a tree bough to survive. Rock a bye baby has evolutionary roots!

  125. I love rocking. I love rocking chairs, hammocks, swings, etc, so this makes sense. Not sure how my partner would feel about a SNOO, but it may be better than my occasional restless les and tossing and turning.

  126. @Amy that's legs, not les.

  127. Perhaps it simulates the experience of being in womb.

  128. The best sleep I've ever had was on the high seas lulled by a gentle rocking.

  129. Makes me wonder if folks who live on boats get better sleep.

  130. why I always fall asleep on trains

  131. Quite interesting. I'm ADD (minus the H). In high school I was a fanatical doodler. While reading the article, I noticed I was jiggling my mouse. Assuming the correctness of these studies, I was self-medicating, not goofing off.

  132. Oi, this is all I need - another excuse for a nap. Nothing against naps, mind you - just that I really don't need another excuse for one.

  133. Most of the people whom I know, including me, rock their babies from side-to-side. It imitates the swaying of the baby in the uterus as the mother walks. Most cradles rock side-to-side, too. This means that rocking chairs are built wrong because they go back-and-forth. Which is not to say that they don't work, but side-to-side might be better.

  134. imagine a one line obituary: She passed away content in the rocking chair she rocked her children.

  135. As an insomniac who also gets extreme motion sickness, I read this with longing to have the ability to tolerate rocking. I don’t like this kind of motion, as the swaying feels like instability akin to vertigo. However, if this bed was available and affordable, I’d zoom in a nauseating New York City taxi ride to try it out.

  136. Dr. Friedman drops a casual statement, "children with A.D.H.D." There is, in fact, no universal agreement among medical professionals (especially in Europe) that such a condition actually exists. I’n 1988 the National Institutes of Health, after an extensive survey of the opinions about the subject said, "‘We do not have an independent, valid test for ADHD and there are no data to indicate that ADHD is due to a brain malfunction." This has not stopped the ADHD industry and many children are now dosed with very powerfdul (and expensive) drugs...all based on what a doctor "thinks" is a neural malfunction. Another reason why shallow medical "studies" should be regarded with extreme care--and skepticism.

  137. Rocking chairs! We already have them. Rocking by the fire... Sounds therapeutic.

  138. So if you can't sleep get out of bed and into a rocking chair. Read a book, not a screen, for 20 minutes. Get back in bed. Goodnight

  139. Sex also helps.

  140. I don’t have access to the article at this moment, so I wonder how BIG a change was seen. Was it an 80% difference or a 10% difference or... I would be less likely to become a rocker if it only added a half hour to my night time sleep.

  141. This is exactly the reason EMDR is so effective. “Bilateral stimulation” (i.e. rocking, tapping back and forth, etc.) both soothes the nervous system and facilitates processing of traumatic memories so they become less triggering.

  142. I always fall asleep when riding a train, especially the Washington Metro.