It’s no secret that exploring the great outdoors offers a myriad of health benefits, from increasing serotonin and vitamin D levels to decreasing stress and anxiety.
There are some who even believe that getting back to nature — specifically while barefoot — can help neutralize the electric charge that runs through our bodies. The theory is that when our skin touches the earth, the earth’s charge can help reduce a number of ailments.
This practice is known as “earthing.” While it’s not always possible to sink your toes into the sand or take a stroll around your backyard, sans footwear, grounding mats are another option for supposedly replicating this same result.
Whether grounding mats are legitimate, however, is still up for debate.
To get a better idea of the science, or lack thereof, behind these mats, we asked two medical professionals — Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT, professor and holistic healthcare practitioner, and Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COI, a nurse educator who specializes in complementary and alternative medicine, pediatrics, dermatology, and cardiology — to weigh in on the matter.
Here’s what they had to say.
Debra Rose Wilson: A grounding mat is meant to replace the direct contact with the earth that we would get if we walked barefoot. In current Western culture, we seldom walk barefoot outside.
The earth’s surface has a negative electric charge, and when it comes in contact with human tissue, there is an equalization. The body can take on extra electrons and build up a static electric charge. This is called the Earthing hypothesis.
A grounding mat mimics the electric current of the earth and allows a person to bring the experience into a home or office. Most of the biochemical reactions in the body involve electron transfer.
That said, this isn’t for everyone. There is the potential danger of drawing current from other sources, so be aware of unground electrical sources near you. This could cause a potentially dangerous electrical shock.
Debra Sullivan: Grounding or earthing mats create an electrical connection between your body and the earth. The idea is to replicate the physical connectivity one would make by walking barefoot on the ground. This connection allows electrons to flow from the earth and into your body to create a neutral electrical charge.
Since humans spend the majority of time either indoors or wearing rubber-soled shoes outdoors, we barely spend time having physical contact with the earth. These mats allow for this connection when indoors and re-create that equilibrium of electron charge.
The mats usually connect via a wire to the ground port of an electrical outlet. The mats may be placed on the floor, on a desk, or on a bed so the user can put their bare feet, hands, or body on the mat and conduct the earth’s energy.
DRW: Being out in nature has multiple health benefits in itself. People report a great sense of well-being when they walk barefoot. There have been reports on improvement in blood glucose, osteoporosis, immune function, blood flow, and stress reduction.
Reduction in inflammation has been measured as have the benefits to muscle recovery from
DS: As research continues to show that grounding has positive impacts on the human body, it is understandable that walking on natural surfaces while barefoot would be beneficial. However, there is a reason we created shoes to protect our feet, so use caution when walking barefoot.
It is possible to walk on grass and dirt and create an electrical connection while wearing shoes. It will, however, require finding leather soled shoes or specially designed grounding shoes.
DRW: There is mounting evidence of the benefits of grounding mats. There are implications for sleep, biological clocks and rhythms, and hormone secretion.
It is well understood how electrons from antioxidants deactivate free radicals. We know these free radicals play a role in immune function, inflammation, and chronic disease.
A 2011 publication reported four different experiments examining grounding and its effect on human physiology. Electrolytes, thyroid hormone levels, glucose levels, and even immune response to immunizations improved with grounding.
Walking barefoot outside — weather and ground surface permitting — does have benefits, and those benefits transfer to grounding mats. Grounding mats are often used in these studies.
I am looking forward to seeing more research, and in the meantime, I encourage you to walk barefoot and mindfully set aside your stress.
DS: Research on grounding or earthing does show solid evidence of increasing your overall health through better sleep or lower inflammation or even better blood flow.
This research is typically done while a subject is sleeping, but some effects were even measured while subjects were awake. It took as little as an hour to make an impact.
DRW: From a holistic perspective, everything affects everything. When we are stressed, we enter a state of unbalance. Changes occur at a cellular level.
DS: While I was unable to find evidence of electric currents corresponding to elevated stress levels, this review shows that when a grounding mat was used during sleep, it lowered stress levels.
That said, more research will need to be conducted to show whether those are correlated.
DRW: There has not been enough research to speak to autism and Alzheimer’s, but theoretically, anyone would benefit from connecting with the earth. The stress reduction of walking barefoot, interacting with nature, and mindfully walking will benefit your health.
For those with anxiety and depression, actively interacting with nature, exercising, and being mindful of the moment are all well studied approaches to moving through these conditions. A
More studies are needed before we can understand the impact, but in the meantime, it can’t hurt.
DS: Anxiety can manifest itself in many ways, but one of these is due to lack of sleep caused by insomnia. Grounding while sleeping has been shown to help regulate sleep and provide a subjectively better night’s rest.
Since insomnia is also shown to relate to depression and dementia, grounding therapy has potential to help with those issues as well.
DRW: There have been measured positive effects of using grounding to enhance the depth and length of sleep, reduce pain, and reduce stress.
One of the first studies on this came out in 2004 and found that grounding improved sleep and reduced cortisol levels, a stress hormone.
Grounding has been shown to help with every aspect of the sleeping process: improved morning fatigue, less nighttime pain, higher daytime energy, decreased cortisol levels, and falling asleep faster.
DRW: From the perspective of an electrician, “earthing” means that the electric circuit is physically connected to the dirt or the earth to protect those around from an electrical shock.
When we’re talking about humans as electrical beings who are grounded to the earth electrically or when using a grounding mat, either word would work, though I see grounding used more often. I kind of like earthing better.
DS: These two terms are used interchangeably and have no discernible difference. I tend to use ‘earthing’ as the practice and grounding the action. For instance: The practice of earthing is done by grounding your body’s electrical current to the earth.
DRW: To get a sense of change and progress in healing, look for subtle changes. Sitting quietly meditating can be a good time to observe for subtle changes in your health, well-being, challenges, and thinking.
Journal your experience to look back on things that are changing. If you are healing through pain, for example, write down your pain levels (on a scale of 1 to 10) each day as well your experience.
DS: In order to gain a good understanding of how much grounding is having an impact on your life, I agree with Dr. Wilson, journaling is going to be your biggest resource.
Start out by journaling daily before your grounding practice. Note things like:
- your mood
- the weather
- any pain
- sleeping issues
- the amount of exercise you’ve gotten
Then begin your grounding regime and again journal your daily experiences. After a few weeks, read through your journals to see if it’s having a positive impact on your daily life.
DRW: Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines, which is usually 10 to 40 minutes a day starting slowly and building up to a longer time period. Some people use them during meditations, others while they nap. The length of time used will be different for everyone.
DS: You will want to start with no more than 40 minutes a day and work your way to longer periods. After building up to longer periods, some people like to sleep on the mat, getting 8 hours a day. It is really up to you and the results you see, but do give it some time.
DRW: Don’t expect dramatic changes overnight. These types of complementary therapies work at a very subtle level and can take a while before they’re noticed. Some people do report benefits in the first 24 hours. Others report noticeable changes after a few weeks.
DS: Everyone is different, and keep in mind that grounding does not cure disease. It restores your natural electrical balance, which can be a benefit to reducing stress and inflammation. Some people report immediate results after 1 day, some after a few days of practice, and some report only gradual, subtle changes.
According to the experts and available research, grounding mats do have positive effects on human physiology.
They work by creating an electrical connection between your body and the Earth, simulating the effect of walking barefoot directly on the ground.
They’ve been shown to help with sleep, stress, mood, pain, and brain-related issues, but results are highly individual and the use of grounding mats should not replace medical care.
Dr. Debra Rose Wilson is a professor and holistic healthcare practitioner. She graduated from Walden University with a PhD. She teaches graduate-level psychology and nursing courses. Her expertise also includes complementary therapies, obstetrics, and breastfeeding. Dr. Wilson is the managing editor of a peer-reviewed international journal. She enjoys being with her Goldendoodle, Katie.
Dr. Debra Sullivan is senior faculty at a college of nursing. She graduated from the University of Nevada with a PhD. Dr. Sullivan’s expertise includes cardiology, psoriasis/dermatology, pediatrics, and alternative medicine. Her recent research involves nurse burnout during COVID-19 pandemic. She enjoys daily walks, reading, and spending time with her family and two Australian shepherd mix dogs, Stella and Luna.