• Mindful Mondays: How Can Mindfulness Support Healthy Sleep Habits?

    In order for people—children and adults—to be the best version of themselves, they must get enough sleep. When we are well rested, we wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on whatever the day may bring. We are happier, more energetic, and much more productive. Unfortunately, many adults and children do not get enough sleep. Even one night of poor sleep can throw our systems out of balance and make us overtired. Being overtired makes everything, including paying attention and regulating our emotional responses, much more difficult. 


    Parents and teachers are familiar with the symptoms sleepy children exhibit when they don’t get enough rest: They are prone to emotional outbursts, have a hard time focusing and settling, fall asleep during class, and can become wired and tired, exhibiting uncontrollable spikes of energy that often end in an emotional and physical crash. In fact, 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.   


    Being chronically sleep deprived results in moodiness, higher rates of depression (it is difficult to enjoy much of anything when we barely have the energy to make it through the day), lower productivity, and much lower rates of life satisfaction. One night of poor sleep may not seem like such a big deal, but chronic insomnia can take a serious toll on life and happiness. According to the National Sleep Foundation, “insomnia is the most common sleep complaint in the United States, affecting as many as 30 million Americans…. one third (30–40 percent) of the general U.S. population suffers from insomnia.” This means that many of us are consistently lacking sleep! This makes kids (and adults) more irritable, impulsive, and less compassionate. 


    The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get 7 to 9 hours of sleep, teens get 8 to 10 hours of sleep, and school-age children get 9 to 11 hours of sleep. 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, Walker describes the importance of sleep and makes suggestions on ways to support healthy and restful sleep.   


    In addition, stress is one of the leading causes of sleep deprivation and the inability to relax in adults and children. And we all know that our students are stressed. In fact, the American Psychological Association surveyed students and found student stress rivals that of adults. Children are just as susceptible as adults to feeling pressured and overwhelmed, and yet many donʼt have the language to communicate their anxiety, the tools to help alleviate it, or the life experience to know that it will pass. Stress and anxiety distract children from the task of learning, decrease their overall health and wellness, and often disrupt their sleep.

    Mindfulness can support rest and relaxation in adults and students by first bringing awareness to the fact that we are tired and are in need of rest.

    It can also offer a respite from constant input and stimulation. 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. Mindfulness also 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. Mindfulness practices can support students in managing their emotions, maintaining focus, feeling better, and getting more sleep. In this way, mindfulness can support both their wellness and their capacity for academic achievement.

    This article is part of our Mindful Mondays initiative. Receive weekly emails with instructions for the practices of the week, links to guided practices, and suggestions for implementation by registering. The program is free for all. Sign up now to access this week's recorded practices for you and your students!


    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 argos@littlefloweryoga.com

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