How Rocking Can Help You Heal

Research shows the health benefits from the gentle motion of rocking are undeniable.

Michele DeMarco, PhD

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Photo of a rocking chair in front of a window with a small table with tea on top.
Photo: Elena Kloppenburg / Unsplash

I think my parents glimpsed heaven when they got a Swyngomatic — the thin, metal windup baby swing that was all the rage in 1960s and ’70s. “We took that thing everywhere,” says my mom with an unworldly sigh. “It probably saved our marriage,” laughs my Dad. They are not alone. Parents throughout time and across culture have known instinctively what research has lately confirmed: the soothing, sleep-inducing power of the repetitive rocking motion.

But it’s not just babies that benefit from rocking. A recent study in Current Biology suggests that our brains — young or adult — are designed to respond to gentle oscillation. Researchers used electroencephalography (EEG) recordings to investigate the brain responses of 18 healthy adults who spent three nights in a sleep lab. The first night acclimated them to the sleep environment; the second was spent rocking in a bed; and the third they slept stationary.

The findings were compelling: Even in people who typically sleep well, rocking helped them to fall asleep sooner. It also helped them achieve non-REM sleep, which means improved quality of sleep, and they had fewer disturbances, which allowed for longer and deeper sleep.

Being rocked may help you fall asleep sooner and sleep longer and deeper.

Beyond sleeping

All this is great news for the 50 to 70 million Americans who struggle to get some quality shut-eye. And yet the gentle sway of rocking has also been proven to help with other significant health issues.

Chronic pain

In the 1950s, a young John F. Kennedy was prescribed a rocking chair, styled the “Carolina Rocker,” by his physician to help relieve his back pain. So effective did JFK find the exercise that in the following decade he acquired 14 of these rockers, even installing one on Air Force One and at Camp David.

Rocking increases circulation by sending more oxygen to our joints, which reduces inflammation and reduces pain. (And all you need is five to ten minutes to feel the effect.) Rocking also engages core…

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Michele DeMarco, PhD

Award-winning writer, therapist, clinical ethicist, and researcher specializing in moral injury. I talk about the stuff many won’t. micheledemarco.com