Why Do I Rock Myself to Sleep?

Although scientists aren’t certain why babies, children, and even adults sleep better when rocked, many of us know it works.

Some research has shown to promote quality sleep in infants, and three studies have made a case for it to benefit sleep in general. If you had a suspicion rocking might help you feel and sleep feel better, then you might be onto something.

Rocking Self to Sleep At Night

There are a lot of theories floating around as to why rocking makes us seem to sleep better:

  • The rocking motion brings you back to a safe and soothing time when you were unborn and as a baby
  • The motion causes a mild form of motion sickness that promotes drowsiness, like a long ride in a car
  • It’s a natural form of stress relief, as we have seen in behaviors from animals in prolonged captivity

Whichever the case might be, it seems that rocking either in a chair, on a hammock, or for babies in your arm helps with falling asleep.

The Studies

There are three studies make a compelling case for sleeping better when rocked gently:

  • a study on night sleep for humans;
  • a study on short naps for humans; and,
  • a study on night sleep for a mouse.

These studies seem to indicate a correlation between rocking and improved sleep efficiency.

For the night sleep and memory study, scientists found sleeping in a rocking bed seem to boost deep sleep, sleep maintenance, and memory consolidation in healthy sleepers. Deep sleep is one of the stages of sleep. During this time, our brain and body begins to restore and repair itself. It’s what helps us feel refreshed when we wake up and ready for our day. Sleep maintenance is our ability to stay asleep. The study also shows that rocking accelerates sleep onset. This means we are able to fall asleep quicker.

Scientists also found that it improves the quality of sleep in the short naps study. Rocking induces slow wave oscillations and spindle activity. Wave oscillations are measures of the brain waves we produce when we are sleeping. Our brain waves slow down to indicate we are asleep. Spindle activities are also an indication when we enter a light sleep stage. The study also found and confirm in the other studies that rocking makes us fall asleep faster and enhance the benefits of restoration from our naps.

For the mouse study, different frequencies of the rocking motion were tested to find the effects on the number and length of waking, NREM-sleep, and REM-sleep episodes. What they found is that rocking decreases sleep-onset latency, increases NREM-sleep time, and reduces active wakefulness. It seems rocking isn’t just for people. The rocking motion also helped the mouse fall asleep quicker, sleep better, and wake up less frequently during its sleep.


A theory drawn from these studies is that the physical sensation associated with the swinging motion closely matches and synchronizes the brain waves that reinforces sleep rhythms. Somehow, the rocking soothes our sleep by easing us into sleep mode, keeping us asleep longer, and promoting deeper sleep.

Although more research is required to understand and identify the underlying mechanisms, the studies conducted in controlled and closely monitored experiments confirm there is a real benefit behind being gently rocked to sleep.

Whether you sleep better with it or not, rocking, like any other methods of falling asleep, is a means to an end. If it helps, then that’s all that matters!

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