By Elizabeth Dawson: Accredited Exercise Physiologist, Pilates Instructor- Kids Heart Pilates
This week 3-9th July is the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep Awareness week with this year’s focus on better sleep resulting in “smarter, better workplaces”. So, given children are just miniature versions of us larger beings, would the same theory not apply to children?
All the research would suggest so with better sleep leading to happier, healthier and more productive children that are ready to absorb, learn and develop. But most parent would know that like adults, some children are better sleepers than others and getting them to go to sleep and stay asleep can be no easy feat!
From the moment we enter the world, sleep is what is needed to grow and develop. According to the experts at National Sleep Foundation, by age 2, most children have spent more time asleep than awake as this is what they need to develop both mentally and physically. That said, 35-40% of children and adolescents will experience some form of sleep problem during their development, according to the Australia Centre for Education in Sleep.
Perhaps this is because being a little person is much more stressful than it used to be. The world has changed, with technology at our finger tips, stimulation overload and more pressure to perform and achieve from a young age. Although it’s normal for children (and adults) to experience anxiety towards certain situations, Beyond Blue research (2015) suggests 6.9% of Australian aged 4-17 have a diagnosed anxiety disorder and rising.
Sleep is the pillar of health and not getting enough can lead to illness both mentally and physically. For parents who are faced with this stressful situation, any path that leads to better sleep for their child is worth trying. Regular exercise and a healthy diet are evidenced-based remedies for better sleep in children and adults alike but more recently mindfulness meditation has been shown to be highly effective for improving sleep and cognitive brain function in children.
But if you can’t see yourself and your child taking Zen yoga positions whilst quietly humming, don’t fret, mindfulness meditation comes in many forms, as long as the mind is quiet and still. The challenge is ensuring the outside environment is also quiet and still.
As far as sleep is concerned, what you do during the day, is just as important as what you do during the evening and therefore meditation need not be confined to the bedtime routine. Meditation can come in the form of simple day time activities like lying on the grass and cloud gazing, having quiet, screen free time or doing some stretching and breathing exercises together. As part of the bedtime routine, meditation can come in the form of visualization by helping your child go on a journey to ‘fairy land’ or wherever their happy place might be. Singing a peaceful song, also known as a mantra, can be a tranquil and relaxing practice before bed. Last of all, leading the way as a parent by practicing mindfulness can have powerful effects on your children’s ability to relax and be present.