Mayan people have traditionally preferred to hang hammocks rather than make beds. Swiss researchers have found this preference to be justified.
Insomniacs should consider hammocks for better rest, researchers conclude. Heres why:
A hammock allows for quicker, deeper sleep, according to neuroscientists at the University of Geneva whose sleep study involved a bed rigged up so it would sway gently from side to side every four seconds.
“This rocking is very gentle, very smooth, oscillating every four seconds,” said Sophie Schwartz, a professor of neurology who led the study. “It’s not like rocking like you would see some mothers rocking their babies, it’s more gentle.”
In the Swiss study, a dozen adults napped for 45 minutes while scalp electrodes recorded brain activity. During the naps, the beds either swayed or were stationary.
The rocking bed induced quicker sleep, which didn’t surprise the scientists. But they were surprised at the big difference that rocking made in brain activity.
Rocking increased the length of N2 sleep, which takes up about half of a good night’s rest. It also increased slow oscillations and “sleep spindles,” brief bursts of brain activity that agitate the sleeper.
The fact that the brain waves changed so much was “totally unexpected,” according to the results published in the journal Current Biology.
Sleep spindles are associated with noisy environments, a possible sign that the brain is trying to calm sleepers. Spindles also have been linked with the brain’s ability to rewire itself, which is important in recovery from stroke.
Rocking is “changing things in your brain,” Schwartz says.
In Yucatán, most expats sleep in beds, even though hammock hooks are commonly installed in older houses.
But locals appreciate the airiness of a hammock when it’s hot. They also don’t take up much space, great for households with lots of people. They can be packed away during waking hours, freeing up a room for other uses.
Hammocks are colorful, portable and suitable for indoors or out. No house is complete in Yucatán without at least one hammock.