Parents all over the world know that gentle vibrations can help you put your baby to sleep quickly and effectively.
Vibrations from a car have a similar effect. In 2017, automaker Ford even designed a prototype crib that simulates these vibrations to help babies fall asleep at home.
Several experimental studies have confirmed that rocking promotes sleep in infants, adult humans and mice.
But despite the universal popularity of this technique, scientists know little about the reasons behind it. And that prompted a team of researchers from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia to do further research by examining the sleep patterns of… fruit flies.
Their new study (PDF) on the subject was published December 1 in the journal Cell Reports.
Vibrations will lull babies to sleep, just like fruit flies
As lead author Kyunghee Koh explains, how fruit flies sleep is how humans sleep , surprisingly similar. And their new study shows that vibration lulls fruit flies to sleep, just like they do to human babies.
The flies sleep longer when they’re “rocked,” and disturbing lights are less likely to wake them on. Vibrations also make the fruit flies sleep better – they are more awake afterwards and act like they’ve slept longer than they actually slept. This, in turn, allows them to function better even if they have slept less.
But vibration did not affect sleep equally in all fruit flies. The genetic background of the individual fly also plays a role in how effective the vibrations are. And different flies also responded differently to the amplitude and frequency of the vibrations.
The vibration-driven sleep initially increases the activity of the flies. But over time, the flies get used to the feeling and the effectiveness of the vibrations begins to increase.
The researchers refer to this process as a form of “habituation”. The flies understand that the vibrations are harmless and their alertness reflex wanes over time.
Koh also noted that the vibrations don’t work on flies with high dopamine levels. These flies remain on high alert and are therefore unaffected by the soporific effects of the vibrations.
But what about babies?
Is there the same effect on human babies? Researchers don’t yet know enough to answer that question. But lead author Koh said future studies of fruit fly behavior would help them learn more about babies.
Next, they want to learn more about why the vibrations appear to put the fruit flies to sleep by examining the specific brain mechanisms involved. They will also examine whether similar effects can be achieved in flies through visual or olfactory stimulation. And maybe later in babies too.
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Study : “Sleep Induction by Mechanosensory Stimulation in Drosophila” (PDF)Authors: Arzu Öztürk-Çolak, Sho Inami, Joseph R. Buchler, Patrick D. McClanahan, Andri Cruz , Christopher Fang-Yen and Kyunghee KohPublished in: Cell ReportsPublication date: December 1, 2020DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.celrep.2020.1 08462Photo : by Virvoreanu Laurentiu via Pixabay