No, this is not an infomercial for the latest and greatest way to lose weight and put on lean muscle (sorry to disappoint!). However, there IS a way for you to improve your balance, your ability to process, and many other cognitive functions while you sleep.
Obviously, sleep is VERY important, not only for your body, it is even more important for your brain. We take in a ton of information every day. Vision is our most dominant sense, taking up half of our brain's resources. Everything taken in is processed in our brains, although most of it is discarded because it is irrelevant to us. When we sleep, our brain has a chance to organize what it has absorbed and reboot, without taking in new information.
What does that have to do with working out when we sleep? Well, our vestibular system, those tiny muscles in the middle ear, can continue to work and strengthen while you are sleeping.
Here is a true illustration:
Growing up, we did not have central air in our house. Turns out, that was one of the best things for me! I slept with my windows open. While my body was resting, the sounds from living in the country kept the muscles in my middle ear active. I’d listen to hunting dogs barking across the road. The creek flowing over rocks. Thunderstorms. Cars driving by. Chirping from the crickets and cicadas nearby. Not to mention the fact that I woke up most mornings to my mom practicing the piano...she was truly amazing on that Steinway! The workout those muscles got every night was invaluable to me, and I didn’t even realize it!
You might be thinking, “I have the best of both worlds! I can keep my windows closed and the air conditioning on because I have an amazing sound machine where I can listen to summer rain, a babbling brook, the waves crashing against the beach, or white noise.” NOOOOOO!!!
Please get rid of those machines. They are not helping your child, nor you. Those machines only provide your ears with a limited frequency range. Your ears need high-pitched sounds to contract those muscles, and low pitch sounds to expand them...and all the frequencies in between are important too. The change in frequencies will allow your muscles to do “push-ups,” giving those muscles a great workout. Thinking back to the range of sounds I heard with my windows open- those sounds provided a much greater range in frequency than those of a sound machine.
My final thoughts as I reflect on how the vestibular system continues to affect my life, and the lives of my family members today: we built a new house in 2013, and our builder did an amazing job! They had an energy audit completed on our house, and when the results came back, they told us it was the most energy-efficient home they had ever built. We were thrilled until he told us we couldn’t open the windows because it would “throw off the balance of the HVAC, and the system wouldn’t be as efficient as it could be”. That made me sad for two reasons. One, I know the importance of fresh air and the sounds of nature. Two, I had to pay for screens for all of my windows that open, even though I am not supposed to open them?! Live and learn, I suppose, huh?!
¹ MMedina, John. “Brain Rule #9: Vision Trumps All Other Senses.” Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School, Pear Press, Seattle, 2014.