We know that babies tend to fall asleep more easily when they are rocked. But how to explain this phenomenon? Researchers have tried to elucidate the mechanisms involved.

To calm a baby or help him fall asleep, some parents rely on their favorite soft toy, hum a song or opt for gentle caresses. But the most popular technique to soothe a toddler is undoubtedly to rock him.

Why is this simple gesture so effective? This is the question that researchers tried to answer. “Babies like to be rocked to sleep, but the neural mechanisms underlying this well-known phenomenon remain largely a mystery”

Rocking to improve the quality of sleep

To understand why being cradled helps babies fall asleep, researchers have focused their work on … fruit flies, in other words fruit flies. A surprising parallel, which nevertheless enabled them to understand the mechanisms in play. “We wanted to make the fruit fly a model system for studying the mechanisms of sleep induction by mechanical stimulation”

The study authors found that when exposed to vibrations, such as those induced by being cradled, flies sleep better . They fall asleep more easily, sleep longer, are less sensitive to light pulses that would normally wake them up, and wake up more alert afterwards. Scientists even explain that flies exposed to vibrations have a sort of “sleep credit”. In other words, they then act as if they had slept more than necessary.

A way to fight against sleep disorders?

These findings not only shed light on why babies like to be rocked, but may also help promote sleep in adults. And for good reason: since the brain of Drosophila is similar to that of humans, “further research could help us develop and optimize sensory stimulation as a sleep aid for humans,” explains. Promising results when we know that, one in three people is affected by a sleep disorder.

Image source: iStock

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