STANFORD, Calif. — Children who learn meditation and mindfulness techniques may not only have better mental health, but sleep better too. Researchers at Stanford Medicine say kids who engage in mindfulness training sleep over an hour longer than their peers.
Scientists add this could help them in their learning and to become more emotionally stable as well. According to the study, telling kids to go to bed earlier does not work, but teaching them how to relax does.
Researchers recruited low-income families to test how lessons in relaxing and managing stress may be a sleep aid. The team adds children from Hispanic families living in high crime areas of San Francisco were not told how to get more sleep, but instead were instructed on mindfulness techniques at school.
Study authors then used polysomnography, which measures brain activity, to assess how school-based mindfulness training changes children’s sleep. Yoga instructors and the children’s classroom teachers taught the curriculum twice a week for two years.
Sleep starts to decrease as children approach their teens
Over that period, children in the control group saw their total sleep decline by 63 minutes each night while their minutes in REM sleep remained steady. The team finds this is in line with sleep reductions typically seen in later childhood and early adolescence.
In contrast, children participating in the mindfulness lessons 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 their sleep, based on what we know about what it’s like to be a kid this age,” says lead author Dr. Christina Chick, a postdoctoral scholar in psychiatry, in a university release.
“Older children are possibly staying up to do homework or talk or text with friends. I interpret our findings to mean that the curriculum was protective, in that it taught skills that helped protect against those sleep losses.”
Dr. Chick adds hormonal changes and brain development also contribute to changes in sleep during adolescence.
As rapid eye movement sleep, which includes dreaming and helps consolidate memories, also lengthened in children who learned the techniques, it is suggested those kids may also be able to do better in education.
“The children who received the curriculum slept, on average, 74 minutes more per night than they had before the intervention,” reports Dr. Ruth O’Hara. “That’s a huge change. 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,” O’Hara concludes.
The research appears in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
SWNS writer Joe Morgan contributed to this report.