I’m picking up good vibrations: Secret to good night’s sleep is gentle repetitive movements that reduce alertness, fly study finds

  • Researchers from the US experimented with gently vibrating flies to sleep
  • They found this helped the flies to sleep for longer and wake up more alert after
  • Benefits rose with repeated exposure as the flies learnt to relax to the motion
  • It is not clear if the same applies to humans — but our brains and flies are similar
  • The findings may therefore explain why babies often like being rocked to sleep 

The secret to getting a sound night of sleep may lie in picking up good vibrations — at least it does if you’re a fly, a study has concluded.

Researchers from the US found that flies sleep longer if gently vibrated to sleep — and wake up feeling more alert afterwards — and the same could apply to humans.

Moreover, the flies slept to vibrations more readily with repeated exposure — suggesting they gradually learn to relax when subjected to the motions.

The findings could help to explain the common practice of rocking babies to sleep — along with why car journeys can make people drowsy.

The secret to getting a sound night of sleep may lie in picking up good vibrations — at least it does if you’re a fly, a study has concluded. Pictured, a woman rocks a baby to sleep

‘Babies like to be rocked to sleep,’ said paper author and neuroscientist Kyunghee Koh of the Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

‘But the neural mechanisms underlying this well-known phenomenon remain largely a mystery,’ she added.

In their study, Professor Koh and colleagues found that, when subjected to vibrations, fruit flies stayed asleep for longer. 

The flies were also found to be less responsive to the kinds of light pulses that would normally rouse them quite readily — but, once they had awoken, were found to be more active afterwards thanks to the ‘sleep credit’ they had accumulated.

In other words, the team explained, the flies acted as if they had slept more than they needed during vibration — allowing them to perform better.

‘We wanted to establish the fruit fly as a model system to study the mechanisms of sleep induction by mechanical stimulation,’ said Professor Koh.

The finding suggests that vibration induced sleep — such as might be experienced in a rocking cradle or a car on the move — is similar to regular sleep in a bed and, at least in the case of the flies, helps to fulfil some of vital functions of rest.

How much extra sleep each of the flies got was dependant on their genetic background, along with the amplitude and frequency of the vibrations applied, the researchers found. Moreover, multiple sensory organs are involved, they said.

When vibration was first applied to the insects, they grew more active than usual — but then the motion gradually put them to sleep.

The team also noted that the flies fell asleep more readily when they had been repeatedly exposed to the vibrations — suggesting the operation of a habituation process, a simple form of learning.

 Rock-a-fly-baby? Researchers from the US found that flies sleep longer if gently vibrated to sleep — and wake up feeling more alert afterwards — and the same could apply to humans

‘Flies learn over time that vibration is not threatening, which lowers their reaction to stimulation that would otherwise make them alert,’ Professor Koh explained.

This suppression of alertness is necessary for vibration-induced sleep, the team said.

In contrast, the researchers found that mutant flies with increased dopamine levels — such as makes them more lively — did not fall asleep when vibrated.

It is unclear whether similar mechanisms are at work in humans — however, the brains of flies and humans are fundamentally similar in how they form and function.

Britons are among the most sleep deprived people in the world — with almost two in three saying they don’t get enough shut-eye.

‘Further investigation may help us develop and optimise sensory stimulation as a sleep aid for humans,’ said Professor Koh.

‘Our findings suggest it would be worthwhile to personalise the stimulus parameters for each individual over several sessions.’

With their initial study complete, however, the researchers initial goals are to learn more about the underlying neural mechanisms, using the fruit fly as a model system.

They plan to identify the specific neurons in the fly brain that are involved in the vibration-aided sleep process.

The teak also want to determine if vibration-induced sleep functions like normal sleep as regards to boosting memory and longevity.

Sleeping less than six hours a night has been found to increase the risk of a premature death by 12 per cent.

Poor sleep has been linked to a host of serious medical conditions including obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Cell Reports. 


Pediatricians warn sleep is the ignored culprit driving childhood obesity, as a new study shows a direct link between shut-eye and weight gain.

Experts also warn just a few nights of poor sleep put children at an increased risk of developing obesity-related cancers such as liver and ovarian cancer.

Lack of shuteye and a bad night’s sleep have been linked to food cravings and a larger waist

The rate of childhood obesity in the US has more than tripled since the 1970s, with one in five children being obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Research shows poor sleep causes children to eat more and affects their metabolism.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends nine to 11 hours of sleep for children aged six to 13 years old, eight to 10 hours of sleep for teenagers, and seven to nine hours of sleep for people aged 18 and older. 

For the study, researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University’s Massey Cancer Center tracked the sleep-wake cycle of 120 children between the ages of 6 and 19 years old for at least five days.

‘Childhood obesity very often leads to adult obesity,’ said lead study author Dr Bernard Fuemmeler. ‘This puts them at greater risk of developing obesity-related cancers in adulthood.’


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