Sleep problems in children, interview with Prof Michael Gradisar

Sleep problems in children, interview with Prof Michael Gradisar

Sleep is important for a child’s physical growth and cognitive development. However, around 25-50% of young children suffer from some kind of sleep problem [1]. Bad sleep has an impact on the child’s development and daily life, but can also influence the sleep and stress levels of the parents.

Michael Gradisar is a clinical psychologist, sleep researcher, and Head of Sleep Science at Sleep Cycle AB. He specializes in sleep problems in children and young adults.

“I fell in love with the whole concept of sleep, because it’s something that we all do and can relate to.”

 

How did you become a sleep researcher?

“My goal was to become a clinical psychologist, and I had the opportunity to work at an insomnia clinic for children. I realized that there was not much research on sleep in children yet, so that fascinated me. I could build treatments, and test it in clinical practice. It’s great to do research that’s interesting, but also helps people at the same time.”

 

What sleep problems occur in children?

“Children can get really anxious at night which prevents them from falling asleep. They believe that once they go to sleep, they can be attacked or taken away. Worrying about a threat of someone breaking in, makes them very alert to their surroundings at night.”

“Children can get really anxious at night which prevents them from falling asleep”

 

How does this impact their parents?

“Children can experience separation anxiety from their parents at night. Some children sleep in their parents’ bed or next to them on a mattress and others need their parents to be with them until they fall asleep. Parents are likely to think: “How can I get my bedroom back? My child is way too old to sleep next to us.” 

 

“Children can experience separation anxiety from their parents at night”

 

How do you treat insomnia in children?

“The treatment of insomnia in children is similar to the treatment in adults, but we focus more on treating separation anxiety and building up sleepiness during the day. If a child feels more sleepy at night, after a while we see that children don’t care about burglars anymore, and just want to go to sleep. We also do relaxation training, which is part of cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia.”

 

How can breathing with Somnox help?

“Children can follow the breathing rhythm which helps them calm down and prepare for bed. Instead of worrying about a burglar coming in that’s going to harm them, they just focus on their breath. Somnox can also provide children with a sense of security, similar to sleeping with a pet in bed. Children refocus their attention away from potential fears to the Somnox Breathe and Sleep Robot.”

“Somnox can provide children a sense of security, similar to sleeping with a pet”

“Children refocus their attention away from potential fears to the Somnox Breathe and Sleep Robot”

 

What’s the advantage of Somnox over a teddy bear?

“There is a difference between a teddy bear and a Somox Breathe and Sleep Robot. If a child doesn’t have his or her teddy, he or she cannot fall asleep. Somnox can teach a child how to deal with a bad night by breathing exercises. So even if a child doesn’t have Somnox, they can use slow breathing to calm down.”

“Somnox can teach a child how to deal with a bad night by breathing exercises”

How can parents help their children with their sleep?

“It’s important for parents to understand that their child is anxious. Rather than telling them that no one is coming into their bedroom, it’s better to use questions and logic. With practice, the child can come to the conclusion himself or herself that nothing is going to happen.”

 

How much sleep do children need?

Michael: “Children need just enough sleep to function and feel okay the next day. Parents should realize that all kids are different, so they need to experiment and see what bedtime works best for their child.”

 

Overall, what’s your best sleep tip?

Sleep loves structure. Having structure in your life, for example, having regularity in your bed times, what you do leading up to bedtime and what you do when you wake up in the morning, is the best thing for good sleep.

“Having structure in your life is the best thing for good sleep”

 

For anyone looking to improve their sleep, Somnox 2 is your science-backed sleep companion that guides you towards slow-paced breathing that helps you fall asleep faster, worry less and wake up rested. 70% of our users improved their sleep quality within 4 weeks. Interested? See how it works.

How Breathing Exercises Help with Stress, Anxiety, and Insomnia

How Breathing Exercises Help with Stress, Anxiety, and Insomnia

Let’s face it: life can be taxing, especially these days. As a result, more people than ever are struggling with stress, anxiety, and insomnia. 

When you’re feeling overwhelmed or restless, your breath is probably one of the last things on your mind. What most people don’t realize is that your breath is one of the most powerful tools you have to soothe your tense mind and body. 

By performing simple breathing exercises, you can reduce stress, quell anxiety, and encourage restful sleep. We’ll be sharing five effective breathing exercises in this article, but first, let’s review some basics about stress, anxiety, and insomnia.

 

What are stress, anxiety, and insomnia and how are they related? 

Stress is a normal part of the human experience. In fact, the human body is evolutionarily designed to react to stressful situations. When you experience challenges (stressors), your body produces short-term changes, such as increased heart rate, rapid breathing, extra oxygen to the brain (which increases alertness), sharper senses (like sight and hearing), and blood sugar release to supply energy to important parts of the body. Collectively, these symptoms are what we call “stress.”

Stress helps keep you alert, motivated, and ready to avoid danger, but it can become a problem when stressors continue without relief or relaxation.

 Anxiety is similar to stress, but there is a distinct difference. Stress is usually caused by an external trigger, such as an argument with your spouse or a work deadline, while anxiety is defined by persistent, excessive worries that don’t go away even in the absence of a stressor. Anxiety, however, is often initially triggered by short-term or long-term stress. 

 Insomnia is a sleep disorder that can make it difficult to fall asleep, difficult to stay asleep, or cause a person to wake up too early and not be able to get back to sleep. A person is said to have insomnia if sleep problems occur at least three times a week for three months or longer. Insomnia has many potential causes, but is often the result of stress and anxiety. Conversely, ongoing insomnia can cause stress and anxiety.

As you can see, these three conditions are connected and ultimately stem from the same cause: an unbalanced autonomic nervous system.

Diaphragmatic breathing is an effective remedy to this unbalance. It increases the activity of your parasympathetic nervous system, which controls your rest-and-digest response. At the same time, it reduces the activity of your sympathetic nervous system, which controls your fight-or-flight response. As a result, you’ll experience reduced feelings of stress and anxiety and, consequently, an improved ability to fall and stay asleep.[*][*]

 

Easy Breathing Exercises for Stress, Anxiety, and Insomnia 

Breathing is a mostly unconscious process, however, you can consciously change your breathing rate to calm your mind and body. We’ve rounded up five simple breathing exercises that you can use to weather stormy seas and harness your zen. 

 

1.    Box Breathing

 Also known as square breathing, box breathing is very simple to learn, remember, and practice. Don’t underestimate the simplicity of this exercise—it’s a powerful way to induce relaxation. It’s even used by United States Navy SEALs to reduce stress and anxiety.

 To practice box breathing, simply follow these steps:

  1. Exhale slowly, releasing all the air from your lungs.
  2. Breathe in through your nose as you slowly count to four in your head.
  3. Hold your breath for a count of four.
  4. Exhale for a count of four.
  5. Hold your breath for a count of four.
  6. Repeat steps 2-5 for four rounds, or until you feel relaxed.

 

2.    Mantra Breathing 

Synchronizing your breath with a mantra—a repeated sound or word—can help you sharpen your focus and relax an overactive mind. For this exercise, choose a word that makes you feel at ease, such as “peace,” “relax,” “or “calm.” 

To practice mantra breathing, simply follow these steps:

  1. Establish a slow, diaphragmatic breathing pattern for about a minute.
  2. As you exhale, say your chosen mantra out loud.  
  3. As you inhale, say your mantra quietly in your mind.   
  4. Continue until you embody your chosen word. 

 

3.    4-7-8 Breathing 

Developed by Harvard-trained integrative medicine expert, Dr. Andrew Weil, the 4-7-8 method is a breathing technique adopted from the yogic practice of pranayama, meaning “regulation of breath.” Dr. Weil refers to this exercise as a “natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.”

To practice 4-7-8 breathing, simply follow these steps:

  1. Making a “whoosh” sound, exhale completely through your mouth.
  2. Keeping your mouth closed, inhale deeply through your nose for a count of four, allowing your stomach to expand.
  3. Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  4. Exhale through your mouth for a count of eight with a “whoosh” sound. 
  5. Repeat this cycle about four times or until you feel relaxed. 

 

4.    Lion’s Breath Breathing 

You might feel a bit silly while practicing lion’s breath, but this breathing exercise is very effective for relaxing the muscles in your face and jaw and alleviating stress. 

This exercise is best performed in a seated position, leaning forward slightly with your hands on your knees or the floor.

To practice lion’s breath breathing, simply follow these steps:

  1. Spread your fingers as wide as possible. 
  2. Inhale deeply through your nose.
  3. During the exhale, open your mouth as wide as you can, stick out your tongue, and stretch it down toward your chin as far as it will go. On the exhale, make a “ha” sound.
  4. Relax your face and breathe normally for a few seconds.
  5. Repeat lion’s breath up to six times.  

 

5.    Diaphragmatic Breathing with Somnox 

Somnox is a jelly-bean-shaped companion that uses robotic technology to help calm your nervous system, thereby reducing stress and anxiety and helping you fall asleep faster, sleep deeper, and wake up refreshed. This science-backed robot expands and deflates as if it’s taking relaxing, diaphragmatic belly breaths. 

Simply holding the robot, unconsciously encourages you to adopt the same slower-paced breathing rhythm. This stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which relaxes your nerves and puts you in a more conducive state for sleep.

To use Somnox for anxiety reduction or improved sleep, follow these steps:

  1. Hold Somnox 2 and turn it on. Within minutes, you’ll subconsciously adopt its calm breathing pattern.
  2. Smart sensors respond to your breathing in real-time, matching your rhythm and gradually adjusting it to the ideal rate.
  3. Let relaxation wash over you.
  4. If you’re using it for sleep, continue deeply breathing until you fall asleep. With the help of Somnox 2, you’re sure to fall asleep quickly, stay asleep, and wake up feeling rested.

Seventy percent of Somnox users report improved sleep quality within four weeks. Wondering if Somnox is right for you? Take our online sleep test to find out.

 

Break the Cycle of Stress, Anxiety, and Insomnia

Feelings of stress and anxiety and occasional sleeplessness are a part of our everyday lives. However, instead of allowing them to worsen, become chronic, or consume you, reach for effective tools like diaphragmatic breathing to soothe your mind and body

The next time you find yourself in choppy waters, remember these breathing exercises. They may seem simple, but they’re incredibly powerful and effective. 

 

How breathing calms the mind and body, explained by expert Patrick McKeown

How breathing calms the mind and body, explained by expert Patrick McKeown

Many Americans experience considerable stress, according to the Stress in America 2020 Survey. In a stressed state, you may experience difficulty relaxing during the day and falling asleep at night. After a bad night’s sleep, you wake up tired, experience low energy and may have a bad mood. This can in turn contribute to trouble sleeping. A vicious cycle exists of stress and bad sleep, which can lead to chronic sleep problems. Patrick McKeown explains how breathing calms the mind and body, and how you can break this vicious cycle.

 

How can we break the vicious cycle of stress and bad sleep?

To break this vicious cycle, you will need to lower overall stress levels and experience more moments of relaxation during the day. According to Patrick McKeown, breathing is a tool to establish a more relaxed state. Patrick: “Breathing can bring calmness into the body and mind. To launch your body’s relaxation response, you will need to change your breathing pattern.” 

“Breathing can bring calmness into the body and mind”

 

How should we breathe to launch the body’s relaxation response?

Patrick: “If you are stressed and have an agitated mind, you can experience faster and shallow breathing. For relaxation, you need to breathe slowly, low and through the nose.”

  • Slow down the exhalation. During exhalation, the Vagus Nerve kicks in. This nerve is responsible for your relaxation response. A breathing rate of 4.5 – 6.5 breaths per minute is optimal to stimulate the Vagus Nerve. So take a soft breath in and slowly breathe out for relaxation.
  • Breathe low in your belly, using the diaphragm. Simply put your hands on either side of your lower ribs. As you breathe in, you will feel the ribs gently moving out, as you breathe out, you will feel them moving in. If you place Somnox 2 Breathe & Sleep Companion on your belly, it can help you breathe slowly and bring your awareness to abdominal breathing to encourage low breathing.
  • Always breathe through your nose. If you breathe through your nose, the air is prepared to be easily transferred from the lungs to the bloodstream. The mouth does not have any added value to your breath.

“For relaxation, you need to breathe slow, low and through the nose”

In the table below you find the differences between stressed and relaxed breathing.

Stressed breathing pattern Relaxed controlled breathing pattern
Fast breathing Slow breathing (4.5 – 6.5 breaths per minute)
Upper chest breathing Diaphragmatic breathing
Mouth breathing with sighs Nose breathing

 

What breathing exercise can relieve stress?

Patrick: “Slow exhalation helps combat stress by shifting your attention from the stressful situation to your breathing. With this breathing exercise, you help the brain interpret the stressful situation as a safe situation.” 

  1. Put your hands on either side of your lower ribs
  2. Breathe in through your nose for four seconds
  3. Breathe out through your nose for six seconds
  4. Continue until you feel more calm

 

How can we use breathing to fall asleep more easily?

Patrick McKeown recommends practicing slow breathing before going to bed: “Before bed, practice slow breathing for 10 to 15 minutes. Take a very soft gentle breath in through your nose, and allow a relaxed and slow breath out. You should not hear yourself breathing, so take very light and slow breaths. The volume of air you breathe should be less than what you normally breathe. This will create a feeling of air hunger. The goal of the exercise is to feel that you would like to take in a deeper breath. This type of breathing activates the body’s relaxation response plus your mind is less likely to wander while focusing on your breath.”

“Before bed, practice slow breathing for 10 to 15 minutes” 

 

Do you have any other breathing tips to improve sleep?

Patrick: “For healthy breathing, your bedroom should be airy, cool and dust-free. Also, train to rest your tongue on the roof of your mouth. This may help prevent sleep apnea, which can disturb your sleep. If you wake up with a moist mouth, you are breathing well for sleep.”

 

How does Somnox contribute to relaxation and better sleep? 

Patrick: “Many people experience over stimulation of the mind during the day and struggle to down regulate the mind before sleep. With Somnox, an individual can shift attention from the mind onto the Breathe & Sleep Robot and do guided breathing exercises to calm the mind. Somnox can be part of an evening routine that helps individuals to fall asleep more readily.”

“With Somnox, an individual can shift attention from the mind onto the Breathe & Sleep Robot and do guided breathing exercises to calm the mind”

Patrick: “Another benefit of Somnox is that you can tailor the breathing to your own breathing. Someone who experiences anxiety and has fast upper chest breathing might find it too difficult to slow down to six breaths per minute. Whereas, if you told this person to slow down the breathing just a little more, this is easier.”

“Another benefit of Somnox is that you can tailor the breathing to your own breathing”

Patrick: “Further, if you hug something, the Vagus Nerve is stimulated, which helps you relax. Somnox can be your companion through the night as it breathes with you.”

“Somnox can be your companion through the night as it breathes with you”

For anyone looking to improve their sleep, Somnox 2 is your science-backed sleep companion that guides you towards slow-paced breathing that helps you fall asleep faster, worry less and wake up rested. 70% of our users improved their sleep quality within 4 weeks. Interested? Sign up for early access.

How Deep Breathing Affects the Nervous System

How Deep Breathing Affects the Nervous System

Most of us have never regretted pausing for a moment to take a deep breath. Breathing deeply relaxes your body and mind, helping you to feel calmer and more in control. 

You tend to feel better after a deep breath because your breathing affects your nervous system. The nervous system is like your body’s computer programming. It controls how you think, feel, and move your body. It also controls organs you don’t have to think about, like your beating heart. 

Deep breathing has been found to help you feel more relaxed, think more clearly, and lift your mood.[*] Let’s break down how deep breathing leads to changes in the nervous system and why it’s so important. 

 

Deep Breathing 101

Deep breathing refers to focusing your attention on taking slow, deep breaths. It’s common to spend much of your day using only shallow breathing. Shallow breaths tend to be rapid and only use a small percentage of your lung capacity. You know you are breathing shallowly when only your chest moves with each breath. 

When you breathe deeply, you use a muscle under your lungs known as the diaphragm.[*] During a deep breath, the diaphragm contracts and moves down to make room for the lungs to fill. When you breathe out, the diaphragm relaxes and moves back up. You know you are breathing deeply when both your chest and belly expand and contract with your breathing. 

 

Deep Breathing and Your Nervous System

Deep breathing promotes relaxation in the body because it helps to regulate the nervous system.[*] Each time you take a deep breath, your diaphragm contracts, and this contraction stimulates a part of the nervous system known as the vagus nerve.[*

The vagus nerve is a system of nerves that run from the brain down to the large intestine. These nerves control involuntary actions in the body. Involuntary actions refer to bodily functions that happen without thinking about them, such as your heart pumping blood to the body or your digestive tract digesting your last meal.[*]

The vagus nerve is an important part of the nervous system because it helps to regulate the sympathetic nervous system. This system is known for its “fight or flight” response. When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, it causes an increased heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure. It can also lead to feelings of irritability and anxiety.[*] You likely felt your sympathetic nervous system activated the last time you had to do something stressful, such as giving an important presentation at work. 

The vagus nerve downregulates this “fight or flight” response by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system tends to slow down our bodies, bringing down the heart rate and breathing rate. It directs more oxygen back to your brain, helping you to think more clearly and feel less stressed.[*] This is why you usually feel better after taking a few deep breaths. 

 

Breathing and HRV

Another way that deep breathing impacts the nervous system is by improving our HRV (heart rate variability). HRV measures the time in between your heartbeats. When the time between beats fluctuates or changes slightly, those fluctuations are known as HRV. 

It is normal for our heart rates to change throughout the day based on what we’re doing. Your heart rate needs to increase when you go from sitting at your desk to jogging around the block. A high HRV indicates that your body can adapt to changes as needed. 

A 2014 study found that people with insomnia were able to increase their HRV with regular deep breathing exercises. After breathing deeply for 20 minutes each night, the study participants also reported that they fell asleep faster and stayed asleep longer.[*]

 

Deep Breathing and Mood

Perhaps one of the most noticeable benefits of deep breathing is an improved mood. Breathing deeply affects our emotions and leads to decreased feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression.[*]

Each time you take a deep breath, a complex set of changes takes place in your brain. A 2016 study found that deep breathing reduces emotional responses in the amygdala, the part of the brain that is responsible for processing any stimuli that feel threatening or scary.[*] This means that deep breathing can help you to think more clearly without your emotions taking over. 

Most of us have experienced the regret of acting or speaking in the heat of the moment without thinking it through. Deep breathing allows our brains a chance to calm down and think through our next actions. 

 

How Breathing Exercises Work

Starting a deep breathing exercise program does not have to be complicated or overwhelming. No one needs one more task on their to-do list. All you need is a quiet place to rest and a few minutes to focus on your breath. 

It may be helpful to lie down and rest one hand on your chest and one hand on your abdomen. As you start to breathe in, notice if your belly rises. Try to fill your lungs completely. Then breathe out and notice your chest and belly relaxing like a deflating balloon. 

When you’re first implementing a deep breathing routine, it can be helpful to have some extra support. If you would like a little guidance during your deep breathing sessions, consider using the Somnox 2 sleep robot. It breathes with you to help you breathe more deeply and evenly.

 

Should You Try Deep Breathing?

Deep breathing is a healthy choice for just about everyone. Most of us could use more activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. Modern life can often feel busy and chaotic. 

Taking a few moments each day to counteract life’s stressors with a deep breath may quickly become one of your favorite daily rituals. 

Effects of Deep Breathing on HRV

Effects of Deep Breathing on HRV

If you’re interested in getting better sleep, you may be familiar with the benefits of deep breathing. You may know, for instance, that it can relax your mind and body while improving your quality of sleep. 

What you may not be familiar with is how deep breathing affects your heart rate variability (HRV). HRV is an important health indicator and can be improved over time with lifestyle changes. One of the quickest ways to a healthier HRV is to take a deep breath. 

What Is Deep Breathing?

Deep breathing is the act of consciously taking slow, diaphragmatic breaths. When you breathe deeply, your body starts to slow down and relax. 

Coherent breathing is similar to deep breathing and involves taking long, slow breaths at a rate of about 5 breaths per minute. This is much slower than the way we usually breathe. For most of us, the spontaneous breathing rate at rest varies from 9 to 20 breaths per minute in healthy adults.[*]

What Is HRV?

Your heart rate measures the number of times your heart beats each minute. Your heart rate variability measures the fluctuations in time between each heartbeat. 

It is normal for our heart rates and the time between beats to change throughout the day. Heart rate variations change by fractions of a second to adjust for changes in the body and environment. 

For example, your heart rate changes depending on what you’re doing. Our hearts beat slower when we’re at rest and faster when we’re active, stressed, or sense danger. 

Your HRV is a measurement that reflects how adaptable your body is to change. High HRV is associated with better cardiovascular health, less stress, and more feelings of happiness. When your heart can quickly react to stimuli, your body is more resilient to stress and illness.[*

Low HRV is considered a warning sign of current or future health problems. Low HRV tends to be more common in people who have high resting heart rates. When the heart has to beat faster, there is naturally less time between beats. This leads to less variability, which is linked to an increased risk of diabetes, hypertension, arrhythmia, asthma, anxiety, and depression.[*

It’s important to note that high HRV is not always a good thing. An unusually high HRV could indicate a health problem like heart disease or anxiety. HRV can only be measured with specialized devices like an electrocardiogram (EKG) or heart rate monitor from your healthcare provider. 

How Deep Breathing Affects HRV

Deep breathing is a simple way to improve HRV because taking slow, deep breaths helps to downregulate the sympathetic nervous system. This is the system that triggers the “fight or flight” response in the body. It activates any time we feel stressed or threatened. When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, HRV tends to be lower.[*]

Fortunately, a few deep breaths can activate the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the system that causes a “rest and digest” response in the body. It is responsible for calming us down after a stressful situation. When the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, HRV naturally increases.[*

Sleep and HRV

HRV tends to be lower when we’re stressed and higher when we’re at rest. Getting quality sleep is one way to improve your HRV and your health. 

A 2014 study found that people with insomnia were able to increase their HRV with regular deep breathing exercises. The study participants also reported that they fell asleep faster and stayed asleep longer once they started incorporating deep breathing into their nightly routines.[*]

Other Ways to Improve HRV

HRV is a reflection of how adaptable your body is to stress and changes in the environment. Fortunately, HRV is flexible and can be improved over time. Other ways to improve HRV include:[*]

  • Physical activity
  • Healthy diet
  • Mindfulness
  • Meditation
  • Sleep
  • Stress reduction
  • Biofeedback training 

HRV may also be affected by pacemakers, certain medications, and age. As we age, HRV naturally decreases. 

Deep Breathing Exercises to Increase HRV

Now that you’re ready to jump on the HRV train, let’s get specific. One of the simplest ways to improve your HRV is to practice deep breathing each day. 

A 2014 study found that a breathing pattern of 6 or 5.5 breaths per minute is associated with greater HRV than spontaneous breathing.[*] In other words, when you focus on taking deep, slow breaths (about 5 to 6 per minute), your HRV improves right away.

In the study, participants were asked to breathe in for 5 seconds and then breathe out for 5 seconds. This 5:5 ratio was found to significantly increase feelings of relaxation and improve HRV. The study participants also experienced better cardiovascular function, increased oxygen saturation, and decreased blood pressure. 

To get started, find a comfortable place where you can relax and close your eyes. Place one hand on your belly and one on your chest. Breathe in deeply for 5 seconds. Make sure you feel your belly rise as you inhale.

Once you have filled your lungs, slowly breathe out for 5 seconds. You’ll notice that your belly deflates like a balloon. Continue this ratio of 5:5 breathing for 10 minutes each day. Need a little support sticking to the ratio? Set your Somnox 2 sleep robot to 6 breaths per minute and relax into your deep breathing practice. No counting or keeping track required.