In order for people—children and adults—to be the best version of themselves, they must get enough sleep. However, many adults and children do not get enough sleep and, as a result, are overtired. Being overtired makes everything, including paying attention and regulating our emotional responses, much more difficult. It also makes kids (and adults) more irritable, impulsive, and less compassionate. Many tired children show an increase in hyperactive behavior and are quick to become overstimulated. Lack of sleep is correlated with an increase in ADHD symptoms and, in some cases, can even lead to behavior that gets misdiagnosed as ADHD.
Most adults and children we work with are sleeping far fewer hours than what’s recommended. In addition, most students and teachers describe having a hard time falling asleep and staying asleep. And because children’s brains are still developing, children who are exhausted suffer even more than adults do. According to a recent NPR article, “lack of sleep—defined as six hours or fewer—can have serious consequences. Sleep deficiency is associated with problems in concentration, memory and the immune system, and may even shorten life span.” In the corresponding podcast, Matthew Walker, director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley, explains how lack of sleep “is one of the most significant lifestyle factors determining whether or not you will develop Alzheimer’s disease.” In his new book, Why We Sleep, he describes the importance of sleep and makes suggestions on ways to support healthy and restful sleep.
In addition, many of us are overstimulated because of technology, work, family demands, and the pace of our lives. This is especially true in the context of a school or classroom. Educators and students (and parents) often have too much on their plate and not enough time to do it all—resulting in a sacrifice of sleep. The school environment can also be an assault on the nervous system. During normal school hours, there are loud noises and lots of activity, and it usually feels like everyone is rushing to be somewhere or do something. This has a tremendous impact on our stress level, which impacts how we perform or act toward one another. In addition, some children find stopping and becoming still without any stimulation incredibly difficult.
It is becoming harder and harder to “just be,” as the norm of daily life becomes one of continuous stimulation. With kids looking at screens—from tablets to computers to mobile phones and even street advertisements—their development is threatened by constant overstimulation. At school, screens are even present in many classrooms. At home, it’s more of the same—screens for doing homework, screens for catching up with friends, screens for favorite TV shows. This continues until bedtime, only to begin again in the morning.
Little Flower Yoga includes Relax activities to support children to get rest, transition to sleep, and help them just be without having to be stimulated or having to perform. Regular relaxation helps release muscular tension, calms the nervous system, boosts the immune system, and improves sleep. Relaxation also supports children’s minds by sharpening concentration, promoting positive thinking and memory, and improving their learning and schoolwork.
Children who have relaxation as part of their daily routine are often calmer, more in control, and better able to cope with life’s ups and downs. A relaxed child is able to think more constructively and positively, and is ready to learn in the classroom. With the increase of ADHD, behavioral disorders, childhood stress and anxiety, and demands on our children’s time, planned relaxation is becoming more and more important for children of all ages. With so much going on in their lives, children need to find time to simply unwind, put their feet up, and have some quiet reflective time.
In addition, stress is one of the leading causes of sleep deprivation and the inability to relax in adults and children. Mindfulness supports stress reduction because it helps us—through equanimity and skill—face the challenges that stress us. Data from this randomized, control trial “suggest that compared with a no-treatment control, brief training in mindfulness meditation or somatic relaxation reduces distress and improves positive mood states. However, mindfulness meditation may be specific in its ability to reduce distractive and ruminative thoughts and behaviors, and this ability may provide a unique mechanism by which mindfulness meditation reduces distress.” In other words, mindfulness is linked to helping us be in a better mood and quiet our minds so that our worries don’t get the best of us when we’re trying to fall asleep.
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ABOUT ARGOS GONZALEZ:
Argos Gonzalez is a teacher, lecturer, and mindfulness and yoga instructor. He has 13 years of experience teaching high school in the Bronx and teaches pre-service and in-service teachers at Hunter College School of Education in NY. Argos is certified through both Mindful Schools and Little Flower Yoga (LFY), and currently serves as the director of professional development for The School Yoga Project, a program of LFY. For more information about Little Flower Yoga and The School Yoga Project, visit www.littlefloweryoga.com. Contact Argos by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Click to read about why the Peace Corner is a powerful space in the classroom to support rest and self regulation.
Life comes with a lot of challenges. Sometimes these challenges can lead to frustration. I find one of my most effective ways to empower the children I work with is to give them tools that help them navigate big emotional experiences, like frustration. What triggers frustration can be different for each individual. Some examples of triggers are: chores, homework, a fight with a friend, learning to play an instrument, and feeling misunderstood. My hope is for students to recognize the onset of frustration and know they have the resources to care for their feelings.
Here are a few activities to help students recognize the onset of frustration and learn how to care for themselves, along with a short video practice that you can do any time or place.
Activity #1: Create a Frustration List
Challenging situations arise daily. It is useful for children to know what situations cause them frustration. We have more control over our emotions when we can label what is happening during an experience.
With older students, have a discussion about the frustrating moments in their lives. After the discussion, have students make a list of what causes them feelings of frustration. It will help them feel more in control when they talk and reflect on situations that trigger frustration. Encourage them to observe over the next few days what happens in their bodies during those moments of frustration.
A visual aid can be helpful for younger students when making a list. Create an outline of a flower and cut out petals. On each petal write something that causes frustration. Keep the flower visible and encourage children to add petals when new frustrating tasks arise.
Activity #2: Make a Body Map
Body mapping can help children make connections between their bodies and their emotions. Use a body outline template or outline a body on a big roll of paper.
Ask the child to think about a time they felt frustrated and notice what happens to their body. Some observations might be fists clenching, face feels hot, shoulders and jaw tense up, or breath changes. Explain that these sensations are their body’s way of communicating with them. Have the child color, draw, or write in the areas on the body map where they feel sensation when they feel frustrated.
Activity #3: Tense and Release
When students can recognize sensations of their body, they can begin to care for their emotions.
Tense and release, also known as progressive muscle relaxation, is a technique to promote relaxation in the body and relieve stress. This practice can be taught before a frustrating task. Take a slow deep breath and squeeze the muscle groups in your body that feel tight during frustration, such as fists and shoulders. Hold for 3-5 seconds, then release the tension and notice how your muscles feel when you relax them. Tense and release those areas a few times and check in with how they are feeling.
This exercise will help to lower tension in the body, and help relax in moments of frustration.
Activity #4: Practice the Pause with Challenging Yoga Poses
Explore frustration in a playful way with balance poses.
Tell your students you are going to practice challenging poses and they may feel frustration. When they start to feel frustration they can pause, take a breath and try the pose again. This video will show you how to prepare a child to pause and care for themselves during feelings of frustration.
Check out the 4 minute video below for a great example of how we can safely explore frustration while caring for ourselves. I had the honor to be a part of a series of videos created by Little Flower Yoga’s in collaboration with GoNoodle. GoNoodle helps teachers and parents get kids moving with short interactive activities. You can find the full series of videos by searching for the Empower tools series on GoNoodle's website.