When is the last time you ran barefoot through the grass? When is the last time you grabbed a handful of dirt and rubbed it between your hands?
For most of us, it’s probably been a while. Some of us might recall doing these things when we were kids, or maybe not at all. But a surprising new line of research suggests that the practice of “Earthing”, that is, creating direct physical contact with the surface of the Earth, can help us stay healthy.
The Earth has a limitless supply of what are known as “free electrons”. When we make direct contact with the Earth, these electrons are transferred to us through our skin, where they exhibit antioxidant properties in the body. Research has shown that regular grounding can reduce inflammation and prevent disease, improve immune function, reduce pain, and provide better sleep (2).
Scientists have shown that these effects happen because of a shift in our autonomic nervous system. Our autonomic nervous system is comprised of two parts, the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. The latter is connected with our “fight or flight” response. It puts us on alert to potential threats and keeps us alive in dangerous situations. But prolonging the sympathetic state means we are unable to rest and repair, which are essential functions for long-term health and longevity. Conversely, grounding activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is conducive to things like sleep, healing, digestion, and cell repair.
The best part is that we can receive these benefits without walking barefoot outside all the time. In one study, half of the participants were given conductive mattresses connected to a metal rod in the Earth, the other half also slept on conductive mattresses, but with no grounding connection. The grounded participants reported less time to fall asleep, better quality sleep, less muscle stiffness and pain, less chronic and joint pain, and higher feelings of overall well-being. Other studies have shown that grounding can reduce cortisol (stress hormone) variability, effectively stabilizing our moods (1)
But how much Earthing is enough? Most researchers recommend taking 20 minutes each day to ground yourself in order to receive the full benefits of the practice, but as little as 5-10 minutes will still help. Alternatively, you could rig your sleeping situation so that you’re grounded every night through your bed. This requires more work and resources up front, but could save you time on the back end, and significantly improve your quality of sleep and overall health.
It’s interesting that people today feel more disconnected from their natural environment than ever before. Instances of chronic and mental illnesses are on the rise, and life expectancy in the U.S. has taken a hit from things like suicide and drug abuse. It’s only natural to wonder if, with all of our glamorous innovations, we might be missing something fundamental. We often view ourselves as separate from nature, instead of an integral part of it. We look at the Earth as something to be tamed or outwitted. Of course, the natural environment can be uncomfortable, even dangerous at times. But it’s becoming clear that in an age of anxiety and depression, what we really crave is connection. Connection to nature, connection to one another, and connection to ourselves.
(1) Chevalier, Gaétan et al. “Earthing: health implications of reconnecting the human body to the Earth's surface electrons.” Journal of environmental and public health vol. 2012 (2012): 291541. doi:10.1155/2012/291541
(2) Oschman, James L et al. “The effects of grounding (earthing) on inflammation, the immune response, wound healing, and prevention and treatment of chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.” Journal of inflammation research vol. 8 83-96. 24 Mar. 2015, doi:10.2147/JIR.S69656