My son has never been a great sleeper. Even when he was a baby, it would take him a million years to unwind and fall asleep. We tried everything under the sun to try to help him fall asleep on his own and with ease, but eventually we just gave up.
So, for many years, bedtime has consisted of one of us laying with him as he falls asleep. We let him talk about whatever is on his mind for as long as he wants, then we lie there with him as he tosses and turns, talks some more, and eventually falls asleep. That’s what he needs. And it works for our family, which is the important thing.
The only problem is that sometimes it takes forever for him to finally get to sleep. And I mean forever. We make sure to speak quietly, turn on the white noise machine, let him empty his mind, and keep things quiet and soft. But he has a buzzing mind, and it just takes him longer than most to release his thoughts, calm his body, and float off to dreamland.
As he’s gotten older, he’s become aware that falling asleep is an issue for him sometimes, and he is naturally frustrated (which certainly doesn’t help with the falling asleep thing). So I recently suggested that we try meditating before bed. I told him that maybe “spilling out his day” to his parents wasn’t enough to fully relax him, and that trying a formal relaxation exercise might help.
Luckily, he was into it. He’d tried meditation at school a few times, and thought it was cool (thanks to his lovely teacher for introducing it!). And we’ve tried meditation at home a few times, which was somewhat successful. But it had been hard to find a meditation that he liked. As a tween, babyish meditations are a no-go, and anything too cartoony or upbeat is potentially embarrassing.
So I asked him if he wanted to use the app I use to meditate, called Simple Habit. There are many meditation apps out there (and this is certainly not an ad for the one I use!) but Simple Habit happens to have both meditations for kids and adults, and none of them sound too hokey or contrived to my son. So that was a win, at least for us.
We’ve been doing a 5-10 minute meditation every night for the past month after light’s out. And maybe it’s a fluke and will change next month, but my son has been falling asleep much more easily than he ever has. As in, 5-10 minutes after the mediation ends, rather than 20-30 minutes (or more) after lights out like it used to take.
The meditations are really basic: Pay attention to your breathing, progressively relax each part of your body, release your thoughts, etc. But somehow, my son is latching onto the whole concept.
I have some theories about why this is, but I recently asked him to sum it up for me. Here’s what he said:
“They help me stop thinking about random things that keep me up,” he said. “They also make me feel drowsy because I’m lying down without much movement. Some of the mediations tell me to focus on my breathing, which makes me more relaxed.”
It’s funny: I’ve been suggesting that he try these sorts of things for years, but maybe it took having someone else besides me guide him through this that’s really helped. And just the formal aspect of it all, along with the soothing voices and music.
But there’s no use overanalyzing it. IT WORKS. That’s what matters.
Of course, there’s plenty of research out there confirming that meditation and mindfulness practices help with sleep. There’s even research that looked specifically at mediation and kids, with positive findings showing that meditation can help with anxiety, stress, and even behavioral issues.
But theory is one thing — seeing it work before your very eyes is something else. At least for us, the proof is there. I’m even hoping that someday soon, I will be able to leave the room, and let him meditate and fall asleep all on his own. Imagine that.
So if your kid is having sleep issues, give meditation a try. Younger kids might like some of the more animated apps or downloads out there. A quick Google search will show you that there are a zillion guided meditation programs to choose from. And especially if you are finding that meditation isn’t working, I would encourage you to try a bunch of different ones before giving up on it altogether.
The fact is, some kids are just going to need some extra help falling asleep. Some are going to need quite a bit. That’s not a bad thing; it’s just who they are. Meditation is definitely something that you should keep in your parenting toolkit to help these kids who are struggling with sleep. It might just be the ticket to a dreamy night of zzzzz’s.