What Is Earthing—and Can It Improve Your Sleep?
Earth Day isn't just about recognizing our role as the planet's stewards or taking strides to reduce waste and pollution, though those are two great ways to celebrate the holiday. For many people, Earth Day, which takes place annually on April 22, is also about reconnecting—literally—with the earth.
The practice of "earthing," also known as grounding, can not only renew your appreciation for the home we share and your sense of connection to it, but could also lead to better sleep, health, and well-being.
Here's everything you need to know about earthing and how to put it into practice this Earth Day and beyond.
What is earthing—and can it improve your sleep?
Earthing simply means connecting your body directly to the earth's surface, typically by walking barefoot on grass or soil.
Even though the term "earthing" has only come about in the last few decades, the practice is as old as time itself. In recent years, grounding oneself to the earth has spiked in popularity, with proponents claiming it has some serious health benefits. According to grounding experts, the earth possesses healing energy that can't be experienced through the barrier of such modern inventions as rubber-soled shoes and insulated flooring.
According to the Earthing Institute, the earth is teeming with free electrons that give its land and waters a natural negative electric charge. Without a physical connection to these electrons, grounding experts say, your body's essential functions—which are governed by electric impulses—are destined to remain out of balance. That can result in the creation of free radicals, molecules that cause damage to your cells, leading to inflammation and disease. Inflammation, in turn, causes poor sleep.
“When you ground the body," says Clint Ober, grounding expert and director of the documentary Earthing, “the blood becomes negatively charged, just like the earth." Ober explains that grounded blood cells acquire surface electrons that “repel blood cells from each other and keep cells from sticking together." This, according to Ober, enhances the blood flow, tissue oxygenation, and nutrient exchange that helps your body recover during sleep.
Emerging research from within the earthing community shows grounding has some potentially positive effects on sleep and health:
- In a preliminary study from the Earthing Institute, for example, participants experienced deeper and more effective meditation while grounding—and meditation is a proven mood- and sleep-booster.
- According to a study published in the journal Explore, participants (all of whom were massage therapists) noted better physical function and energy and less fatigue, depression, and pain while grounded versus not being grounded.
- In a study published in the Journal of Inflammation Research, grounding was shown to decrease inflammation and the pain associated with it. (Pain is often a major sleep disruptor.)
- Research published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that grounding the body to the earth during sleep reduces cortisol (the stress hormone).
Still, medical professionals say more research needs to be done on the subject. "We'll need additional studies of better design and with more participants before we can know whether it is really possible to derive health benefits from earthing," writes Andrew Weil, MD, in an article on his website. "While the studies done so far are intriguing, some of the hype for earthing is over-the-top."
How to practice earthing for better sleep and health
Stepping barefoot on the earth, though befitting as an Earth Day ritual, is neither the most convenient nor effective way to practice earthing—especially now, when health experts recommend we spend most of our time indoors to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The solution: a grounding mat you can put over your mattress while you sleep. Earthing sleep mats fit under your bed sheets and are meant to be plugged into a grounded outlet (i.e. one with three prongs). Generally, they're made from a 100% conductive carbon tech material, as carbon is the chemical element that conducts the earth's energy.
"Grounding or earthing mats create an electrical connection between your body and the earth," Debra Sullivan, PhD, tells Healthline. "The idea is to replicate the physical connectivity one would make by walking barefoot on the ground." You can also place these mats on the floor or in your office and use them during the day to ground yourself, says Sullivan.
In the earthing research that Ober has worked on since the '90s, the biggest challenge was making sure that people were actually earthing, which is where grounding mats come into play. “We recognized pretty quickly that giving participants something they could put over their mattress was the solution," he says. “There's nothing that's easier and that can produce more benefit than grounded sleeping."
Don't get Ober wrong: He's all for kicking off your shoes, lying down on the beach or grass, and swimming in the ocean. (He recommends earthing for 20 minutes per session or more so that the entire blood supply can become negatively charged.)
But “sleep is when the body heals, restores, and recovers—so it's the most important time to ground," Ober says. Earthing while sleeping also gives you the maximum amount of free electrons possible, due to the seven to nine hours of earthing you receive per session.
The bottom line: Weil says that while we need to wait and see if future research confirms whether or not earthing has any legitimate benefits, going barefoot—outdoors or in—can be relaxing regardless. Plus, studies show that spending time in nature in general decreases stress. So this Earth Day, take the time to reconnect with the natural environment around you. You just might experience better sleep in the process.
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