By: Santina Bambaci MS, OTR/L
Before we talk about the importance of “Eat, Sleep, Breathe,” let’s talk about our central nervous system.
Our central nervous system controls most of our body and mind’s functions. It has two very important parts: the brain and the spinal cord. It is the center of any and all thoughts, the interpreter of our external environment and the main control center of our body’s movement.
In other words, our central nervous system collects the sensory information we encounter every day from our body and external environment, processes, and interprets the sensory input, and responds appropriately. Our central nervous system collects this sensory input and information through the use of our eight senses.
In school we are taught that we have five senses: sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell; however, in reality, we actually have eight. The three hidden senses are proprioception (body awareness), vestibular (body movement) and interoception (our organs). Through the seamless integration of all eight of our senses, we function as individuals with the ability to self-regulate throughout the day.
Self-regulation is the foundation for development and skill acquisition. Self-regulation is the ability to obtain and sustain an organized state to meet the demands of the environment. It refers to the central nervous system’s ability to use information obtained through the senses (e.g., auditory, visual, touch, and movement) in an efficient and effective manner.
When a child displays difficulty with self-regulation, occupational therapy can save the day! The role of occupational therapy is to investigate sensory processing and self-regulation to determine if this is interfering with the child’s ability to function. This is where eat, sleep, and breathe come into play!
Eat, Sleep, Breathe
These three regulators are known to be our primary physiologic regulators. Looking at what a child eats, how they sleep, and how they breathe tells us a lot about the internal workings of their central nervous system. If any of the three are interrupted, it can make for a dysregulated child.
Think about it: how do you feel or act when you are hungry or have not slept in days? If I were to guess, not too well. Any disruption to any of these three regulators can send a child into fight, fright, or flight mode. This often presents as anxiety, avoiding age-appropriate activities, and an inability to sustain attention or focus during home or school activities.
When looking at eating we want to focus on nutrition, nutrients, and digestion. Our diet is closely connected to our behavior and mood. A simple change in the food a child eats or vitamins they take can have an immense impact on that child’s mood, behavior, and self-regulation.
Monitoring your child’s sleep patterns can equip any parent or caregiver with clues about self-regulation. When we look at sleep, we want to focus on when they are going to bed, for how long they are sleeping, and whether or not they wake up during the night. Having a set bedtime routine combined with a sensory diet provided by your occupational therapist will assist a child in improving his/her self regulation.
The power of a deep breath is strong and a great tool to use when noticing signs of dysregulation in a child. When looking at how a child is breathing it is important to note if they are breathing through their nose or mouth or are getting enough air to fill their lungs. Shortness of breath can be a very stressful experience that can be treated with simple breathing exercises to calm their bodies.
For more information on the importance of “eat, sleep and breathe,” please feel free to contact CommuniKids!