As people move through life, they can unknowingly operate on autopilot. Many of us spend our days worrying about the future or ruminating on the past, with little thought to the here and now.
Mindfulness — being aware and paying attention to experiences occurring in the present moment without forming an opinion — can be an effective antidote to mindless living. Evidence suggests being more mindful can also improve well-being and lower stress on a daily basis. In turn, this behavioral shift can alleviate chronic stress and in turn, stave off diseases like heart disease, high blood pressure, and some cancers.
According to a recent study, published in the journal Sleep Health, adding just 29 minutes of sleep per night can improve mindfulness the next day.
"We all need mindfulness for better work performance and daily well-being," study co-author Soomi Lee, a researcher at the University of South Florida School of Aging Studies, tells Inverse.
"Findings from this study show that, if you sleep shorter or poorer than usual, it degrades next-day mindful attention."
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HOW THIS AFFECTS LONGEVITY — In the study, researchers followed a group of 61 nurses for two weeks, tracking their sleep, health, and self-rated measurements of mindfulness. This group is particularly vulnerable to suboptimal sleep, anxiety, and stress; many work fixed 12-hour shifts and treat people with life-threatening illnesses on a daily basis.
In the study, researchers describe mindfulness as receptive attention and awareness of what is taking place in the present moment, without evaluating that moment as good or bad.
To capture this factor, nurses responded to mindfulness surveys three times per day including prompts like:
“I was finding it difficult to stay focused on what was happening,” “I was doing something without paying attention,” and “I was doing something automatically, without being aware of what I was doing.”
The group also described their previous night’s sleep every day upon waking, as well as their levels of daytime sleepiness three times a day.
Scientists found that nurses' mindful attention was greater than their usual after nights with greater sleep sufficiency, better sleep quality, lower efficiency, and an extra half-hour longer sleep duration.
"Although this study was based on healthcare workers who have a higher risk for poor sleep, the findings have broad implications for other populations who may experience sleep issues and/or may want to improve mindfulness for better daily functioning," Lee says.
This study focused on the links between sleep quality and mindfulness, but adds to a long list of risks of bad sleep.
"My previous collaborative work shows that insufficient or poor sleep predicts weight gain in adolescents, higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease among IT workers, higher risk of inflammation in those with arthritis, and incidence of falls and pain in older adults," Lee says.
"This study adds one more link: poor sleep health across multiple dimensions is associated with lower daily mindful attention in healthcare workers. The findings were expected and not surprising to me and my colleagues."
WHY IT'S A HACK — Daily mindfulness also contributed to less sleepiness during the day. Those with greater mindful attention were also 66 percent less likely to experience symptoms of insomnia during the two-week study period.
“If nightly sleep is not optimal, then daily mindful attention may be degraded, and over time, this may result in a cascading effect between poor sleep and lower mindful attention,” Lee and their research team write.
Based on this research, extra sleep appears to create a healthy cycle whereby people can better engage with the present moment, and ultimately, get more sleep the next time they hit the hay. This is hugely impactful because it's well-established that better sleep is also associated with human longevity.
SCIENCE IN ACTION — In this study, adding just 29 minutes of sleep per night improved mindfulness the next day.
While more research is needed to confirm that number, researchers say getting good quality sleep every night will help you be more mindful and better take on all the stress life will throw at you during waking hours.
To get good sleep, leave electronics out of the bedroom, keep your room cool and dark, stay away from alcohol or nicotine in the four hours before bed, and establish a regular bedtime and waking routine.
HACK SCORE OUT OF 10 — 💤💤💤 (3/10 extra morning snoozes.)
Objectives: Previous studies have focused on the role of mindfulness in improving sleep health. Sleep health may also increase daily mindfulness; however, this potential directionality is understudied, with a lack of research on healthcare workers who need high-quality sleep and mindful attention for patient care. This study examined whether sleep health predicts next-day mindful attention, and vice versa, in nurses.
Design: Smartphone-based ecological momentary assessment. Setting: U.S. hospitals. Participants: Sixty-one full-time nurses. Measurements: For 2 consecutive weeks, participants provided actigraphy-measured and self-reported daily sleep characteristics. We examined 8 sleep variables across 5 key dimensions: satisfaction (self-report of sleep sufficiency, quality, and insomnia symptoms), alertness (self-report of daytime sleepiness), timing (actigraphy bed- and wake- times), efficiency (actigraphy percentage of time spent asleep during time in bed), and duration (actigraphy sleep duration). Participants reported state mindfulness specific to attention and awareness. Covariates included previous night’s sleep, sociodemographics, work shift, workday (vs. non- workday), and weekend (vs. weekday).
Results: Multilevel modeling revealed that, at the within-person level, after nights with greater sleep sufficiency, better sleep quality, lower efficiency, and longer sleep duration, daily mindful attention was greater than usual. Daily mindful attention was inversely associated with sleepiness, but not predictive of other sleep characteristics. At the between-person level, participants with greater sleep sufficiency, higher sleep quality, and fewer insomnia symptoms reported greater mindful attention overall.
Conclusion: Findings show that optimal sleep health is an antecedent of daily mindful attention in nurses. Improving sleep may provide important benefits to their well-being and to the quality of patient care.