Mindfulness training to help at-risk children sleep better

Thursday 22nd July 2021 04:55 EDT

A study has found that at-risk children gained more than an hour of sleep per night after participating in a mindfulness curriculum at their elementary schools. The study, led by the Stanford University School of Medicine, was published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. This is the first time polysomnography techniques were used to measure brain activity to assess how school-based mindfulness training changes children's sleep. The curriculum taught children how to relax and manage stress by focusing their attention on the present, but it did not instruct them on how to get more sleep.

Senior author, Ruth O'Hara, Ph.D., a sleep expert and professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Stanford, said, “The children who received the curriculum slept, on average, 74 minutes per night more than they had before the intervention. That's a huge change.”

Children who learned the techniques also saw a lengthening in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. “They gained almost a half an hour of REM sleep. That's really quite striking. There is theoretical, animal and human evidence to suggest it's a very important phase of sleep for neuronal development and for the development of cognitive and emotional function.”

The curriculum consisted of training in bringing one's attention to the present. Exercises included slow, deep breathing, and yoga-based movement. Yoga instructors and the children's class teachers taught the curriculum twice a week, for two years, in all elementary and middle schools in the community that received the intervention. The children were taught about stress, and encouraged to use techniques to help them rest and relax.

The curriculum in question was the Pure Power Curriculum, developed by a nonprofit called PureEdge. It is available to schools for free in both Spanish and English.

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