Mindfulness training helps children sleep better, according to the study

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A study by Stanford University School of Medicine found that children at risk gained more than an hour of sleep a night after participating in a curriculum in their elementary schools.

The research will be published online on July 6 at Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. The study is the first to use polysomnography techniques, which measure brain activity, to assess how school mindfulness training changes. dorm. He he taught children to relax and control stress by focusing their attention on the present, but he did not give them instructions on how to sleep more.

“Children who received the resume slept, on average, 74 minutes more per night than they had before the intervention,” said study lead author Ruth O’Hara, Ph.D., expert in sleep and professor of psychiatry and behavior. sciences at Stanford. “That’s a huge change.”

Rapid eye movement sleep, which includes dreaming and helps consolidate memories, also extends into children who learned the techniques.

“They gained almost half an hour of REM sleep,” said O’Hara, Professor Lowell W. and Josephine Q. Berry. “It’s really quite amazing. There’s theoretical, animal and human evidence that suggests it’s a very important phase of sleep for neuronal development and for the development of cognitive and emotional function.”

Helping children at risk to sleep better

The children in the study lived in two low-income communities, mostly Hispanic, in the San Francisco Bay Area. One community received the intervention; the other served as a control. Both had high rates of crime and violence, and families faced stressors such as food insecurity and unstable, overcrowded housing. These conditions are a recipe for poor sleep, said the study’s lead researcher, Victor Carrion, MD, John A. Turner, MD, a gifted professor of child and adolescent psychiatry. Carrion, who runs Stanford’s early life stress and endurance program, launched the study to help young people manage the effects of life in a stressful environment.

However, allowing children at risk to sleep better is not just a matter of telling them to sleep more or to stay in bed regularly.

“To fall asleep you have to relax, but it’s hard for them to let go of their experiences,” Carrion said. “They don’t feel safe and may have nightmares and fears at night.”

The curriculum consisted of training to draw attention to the present; slow and deep breathing exercises; and yoga-based movement. Yoga instructors and kindergarten teachers taught the curriculum twice a week, for two years, to all elementary and middle schools in the community that received the intervention. Instructors taught children what stress was and encouraged them to use techniques to help them rest and relax, but did not give any instructions on sleep-enhancing techniques, such as keeping hours of sleep constant. .

Instructors used the Pure Power curriculum, developed by a non-profit organization called PureEdge; is available for schools free of charge in Spanish and English.

Of the more than 1,000 third- and fifth-graders who participated in the study, the researchers recruited 58 children who received the curriculum and 57 children from the for three sleep assessments at home, conducted before the curriculum began, after one year, and after two years. These assessments measure brain activity during sleep, using an electrode cap placed on the child’s head, as well as breathing and heart rate, and oxygen levels in the blood.

More sleep instead of less

At the beginning of the study, the researchers found that children in the control group slept 54 minutes more, on average, and had 15 minutes more REM sleep per night than children in the group who later received the training: children in the control group. control group slept about 7.5 hours per night and those in the curricular group about 6.6 hours per night. Researchers do not know why children in the two communities, despite similarities in income level and other demographics, had different mean sleep times.

But the sleep patterns of the two groups evolved differently. During the two-year study period, among children in the control group, total sleep decreased by 63 minutes per night, while REM sleep minutes remained constant, in line with the reductions in sleep that occurred. usually observed in childhood and early adolescence. In contrast, children who participated in the curriculum gained 74 minutes of total sleep and 24 minutes of REM sleep.

“It makes intuitive sense that children who didn’t participate in the curriculum decreased sleep, based on what we know about what it’s like to be a child of that age,” said study author Christina Chick, Ph.D. D., postdoctoral fellow in psychiatry and behavioral sciences. “Older children may stay awake to do homework or talk or text with friends. I interpret our findings as if the curriculum was protective, as it taught skills that helped protect against sleep loss.” Hormonal changes and brain development also contribute to changes in sleep at this age, Chick noted.

However, the average amount of sleep received by study participants in both groups was low, Chick said, noting that at least nine hours of sleep per night is recommended for healthy children.

The researchers hypothesized that children could experience improvements in sleep by reducing stress. However, children who slept more during the study also reported increased stress, perhaps because the curriculum helped them understand what stress was. Still, they slept better.

Researchers plan to disseminate the findings more widely, such as helping teachers offer a similar curriculum. They also plan additional studies to understand how various elements of the curriculum, such as exercises that promote deep, slow breathing, can change the way the body works to allow for better sleep.

“We believe that breathing work changes the physiological environment, maybe it increases the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, and that actually results in better sleep,” Chick said.


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Citation: Mindfulness training helps children sleep better, according to a study (2021, July 6), retrieved July 6, 2021 at https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-07-mindfulness-kids. html

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