Why are American children sleeping so poorly? It’s hard to sleep when you’re anxious, and studies show that children in this generation are more anxious than ever before. Is it any wonder? From the very beginning, they are bombarded with overstimulating toys and technology, overscheduled activities, early school start times, plus peer pressure and bullying which now includes 24/7 social media access. They struggle to unwind at night so that they can get the sleep they need, but there is one solution that offers real hope - meditation.
A Stanford study has found that children who learned techniques such as deep breathing and yoga slept better and longer, gaining more than an extra hour of sleep per night after participating in a mindfulness curriculum. The curriculum did not instruct them on how to get more sleep; it only taught them how to relax and manage stress. The sleep improvement came naturally once they were less anxious.
THE FIVE TYPES OF BRAIN WAVES
- Alpha waves. This is the state we want to be in often, particularly at bedtime, and meditation helps us achieve it. Alpha is characterized by being present and clear-headed with a sense of peace and well-being. It’s a state of wakeful rest.
- Beta waves. This occurs when you are wide awake, alert, and focused.
- Gamma waves. These are the speediest waves, and they occur when you are actively learning, processing information, or problem-solving.
- Delta waves. The slowest type of brain wave; occurs in a state of dreamless sleep.
- Theta waves. When you’re sleeping lightly or extremely relaxed.
Because alpha waves are linked with relaxed mental states, many experts believe that increasing alpha activity may help reduce stress and anxiety and could help with depression. Meditation can help boost alpha activity in the brain, leading your child to be more relaxed, creative, and calm, which will lead to a better night’s sleep as well.
TYPES OF MEDITATION AND MINDFULNESS
Because meditation doesn’t just have to be at bedtime to be beneficial to sleep, as the Stanford study pointed out, it’s good to teach children some basic mindfulness and meditation practices.
- Breath-focused; mantra repetition. Many meditation practices use breathing techniques to promote relaxation and to calm the mind. This usually involves closing eyes and bringing attention to the breath. Try adding an affirmation such as breathing in: I am calm; breathing out: I am enough. This is an exercise for children of all ages.
- Mindfulness. Practices such as body-scanning and cloud-gazing help children bring their awareness to the present moment, which lets all worries and stress melt away for the time being. Another way to bring mindfulness into your home is through a Time-In where children can pause to notice their feeling states and choose a calming strategy to help manage big emotions.
- Movement-based practices such as yoga, tai-chi, or MoveMindfully’s Breathe-Move-Restdeck are great options for young children who seek kinesthetic input.
- Guided meditations such as the PeaceMaker’s Path Meditations help children calm their body, heart, and mind while they learn emotional regulation skills. Guided meditations offer kids a much-needed brain break which has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and frustration and helps kids focus and be more productive.
Meditation does not have a set of rules, but pediatricians do recommend the following time frames: (source)
- Preschool children - a few minutes per day
- Grade school-age children - 3-10 minutes twice a day
- Teens and adults - 5-45 minutes or more based on preference
While practicing mindfulness and meditation techniques throughout the day helps children sleep better at night, adding bedtime meditations into your child’s sleep routine will help them unwind and relax so they drift into deeper and more restorative sleep.
Here are five tips for creating a meditative bedtime routine:
- Enroll your children to choose their bedtime companions, environment, and routines. If they have had a hand in designing their space, and have chosen their stuffed animals, blankets, and pillows, they will feel more comfortable and relaxed in that space.
- Create and stick to a consistent, predictable, and relaxing bedtime routine.
- Listen to a guided meditation. Join each PeaceMakers Pal (bear, fox, lion, hummingbird, dolphin, owl, and elephant) on a meditative journey to help your child reach their alpha brain state for a restful sleep in this guided meditation.
- Be persistent. Your child may reject meditations in the beginning but keep at it. Turn guided meditations on in the background so that it becomes a soundtrack for comfort and sleep.
- Fill your child’s cup of love before bed with cuddles and positive words. Tell them how very much they are loved, valued, adored, and safe.
There isn’t one right way to do mindfulness and meditation, and it is never too early to start. When made to be a connection activity, it can lead you anywhere, and, according to the research, it can take you to sweet dreams and a peaceful night’s rest. What parent and child couldn't use a little more of that?