Forum: Let’s talk about mindfulness

Sweet Dreams are Made of… Mindfulness?

By Katie Morales, Mindfulness and Health Institute

Are you getting enough sleep? As many as 1 in 3 people may not be getting the sleep they need. Click here to explore how mindfulness can help.

Click here to read the full blog post.

Sleep is a universal experience of the human condition; however, according to the CDC, more than one-third of Americans don’t get the sleep they need (1). 

Whether it’s getting too few hours of sleep, sleeping at the wrong time of day, or an ability to fall or stay asleep, lack of sleep can impact:

  • Cognitive functions such as trouble focusing, making decisions, and solving problems,
  • Emotional regulation, including irritability, frustration, and difficulties coping with change,
  • And the ability to stop harmful thinking patterns, such as worrying and intrusive thoughts.

It’s not always possible, though, to get enough sleep when trying to balance typical work, relational, and societal obligations. Does that mean one third of society is doomed to live turbulent, lonely, and unhealthy lives? We don’t think so.

A growing body of scientific evidence is showing that mindfulness can help improve sleep quality, including improvement of sleep-interfering cognitive processes.

One study followed novice meditators through an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course. The participants showed improved sleep after the training and this was correlated with a reduction in morning cortisol, which is one way to assess the reactivity of the HPA-axis, an important brain area responsible for regulating the stress response (2). These findings suggest that MBSR helped to improve sleep quality by lowering participants’ stress response. 

Another study followed college undergraduates in weekly Pilates, Taiji quan, or gyrokinesis classes for 15 weeks. These movement-based classes were associated with increased mindfulness and improved sleep at the end of the period (3), indicating that the benefits of mindfulness are not limited to practicing with sitting meditations. 

Mindfulness practices aim to develop awareness of the present moment with kindness and non-judgment. This technique helps foster non-reactivity, promoting acceptance of both pleasant and unpleasant states. How can this help with sleep? I’m glad you asked.

Physiologically speaking, it’s difficult for your body to fall asleep if it’s activated. Therefore, allowing the present moment to be as it is can lower the body’s base level of arousal (2), promoting sleep. 

Additionally, mindfulness can help you become aware of and accept sleep-interfering processes. For example, meditating before bed could help you be with those pesky overactive thoughts that keep you up at night. 

Instead of reacting to those thoughts, such as getting angry or worried you won’t get enough sleep, you can notice them and gently bring your attention to other areas of your body that are less distracting, like the weight of your body on the bed, your hands, feet, or even breath.

Ready for a better night’s rest? Here are a few suggestions for when you find yourself having one of those “I need more sleep” type of days:

  1. Try a Mindful Movement meditation if you’re having trouble concentrating.
Click here to listen to a guided meditation led by one of our teachers.
  1. Try a Cultivating Compassion meditation if you’re having trouble regulating your emotions and judgements.
Click here to listen to a guided meditation led by one of our teachers.
  1. Try an informal RAIN practice when you notice harmful thinking patterns.
[Link to RAIN info]
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep, 2016. CDC Newsroom and Releases.
  2. Brand, S. et al. (2012). Influence of Mindfulness Practice on Cortisol and Sleep in Long-Term and Short-Term Meditators. Neuropsychobiology; 65(3): p109–118. 
  3. Caldwell, K., et al. (2010). Developing Mindfulness in College Students Through Movement-Based Courses: Effects on Self-Regulatory Self-Efficacy, Mood, Stress, and Sleep Quality. Journal of American College Health, 58(5). 

Behavior characteristics can predict mindfulness training treatment outcomes

By Katie Morales, Mindfulness and Health Institute

A new article in Scientific Reports was published last month showing behavior phenotypes can predict mindfulness training treatment outcomes in persons with anxiety. This study was led by Dr. Veronique Taylor in the lab of Dr. Judson Brewer at Brown University. 

Click here to learn more about what they found. 

A new article in Scientific Reports was published last month showing behavior phenotypes can predict mindfulness training treatment outcomes in persons with anxiety. This study was led by Dr. Veronique Taylor in the lab of Dr. Judson Brewer at Brown University. 

Mindfulness has gained popularity over the last few decades as a tool to reduce emotional reactivity in mental health disorders. Taylor, et al. recruited 63 people who were seeking treatment for anxiety. Based on self-reported questionnaires that measured anxiety, worry, emotional reactivity, and awareness of bodily sensations, they found three main psychological phenotypes:

Cluster 1: Severely anxious with body and emotional awareness

Cluster 2: Body and emotionally unaware 

Cluster 3: Non-reactive with body and emotional awareness

People grouped in cluster 1 or cluster 2 had a high likelihood of having generalized anxiety disorder, with up to 77% of people having this diagnosis in these clusters. Whereas less than 25% of people in cluster 3 received this diagnosis. Additionally, people in cluster 1 and cluster 3 showed improvement in their anxiety levels after treatment while those in cluster 2 did not. 

It seems that mindfulness may be a useful tool in the treatment of anxiety for persons who demonstrate an ability to be aware of both physical and emotional experiences.  

Expanding on these results, Taylor et al. conducted a similar study to include 14,260 participants, but not limited to those seeking anxiety treatment. The researchers found the same three psychological phenotypes they identified previously.  

Individuals reporting some form of mental illness (anxiety, depression, bipolar, schizophrenia/schizoaffective disorder) were highest in cluster 1. For example, almost 66% received an anxiety diagnosis in cluster 1, whereas only 21% of people in cluster 2 and cluster 3 were diagnosed.  

Interestingly, persons in cluster 1 also had distinct phenotypes compared to clusters 2 and 3. They tended to be younger, live in rural areas, earn less than $25,000 per year, and have less education. 

To summarize, people who tend to have higher worry with bodily and emotional awareness seem to have higher rates of psychopathology in both the general population and those specifically seeking treatment for anxiety. 

Mindfulness seems to be a promising tool to alleviate anxiety symptoms for people who are (1) severely anxious with bodily and emotional awareness or (2) non-reactive with bodily and emotional awareness.

Taylor, V. A., Roy, A., & Brewer, J. A. (2023). Cluster-based psychological phenotyping and differences in anxiety treatment outcomes. Scientific Reports, 13(1):3055.

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