Mindfulness is when you purposefully bring your awareness and attention to what is occurring in the moment, without forming an opinion. What’s more: it can have daily well-being and work performance benefits. It is the stuff that wellness experts tout and thrive on, but for anyone who is just trying to get through 12-hour shifts and 16-hour days, achieving such awareness can be difficult.
However, improving mindfulness could be as simple as sleeping an extra 29 minutes each night, according to research published in Sleep Health.
“One can be awake and alert, but not necessarily mindful. Similarly, one can be tired or in low arousal but still can be mindful,” said lead author Soomi Lee, assistant professor of aging studies at University of South Florida (USF) in a prepared statement. “Mindful attention is beyond being just being awake. It indicates attentional control and self-regulation that facilitates sensitivity and adaptive adjustment to environmental and internal cues, which are essential when providing mindful care to patients and effectively dealing with stressful situations.”
The sleep-wellness study
Lee and her colleagues followed 61 nurses for two weeks and examined multiple characteristics of sleep health. Participants were prompted to answer daily mindfulness and sleepiness questions three times a day for two weeks using the smartphone application, RealLife Exp. Daily mindfulness was measured by the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale, which asked questions such as, I was doing something automatically, without being aware of what I was doing, and I was finding it difficult to stay focused on what was happening. Participants also wore an Actiwatch Spectrum device for the same two weeks that measured wrist movement activity to quantify sleep and wake patterns.
They found that nurses’ mindful attention was greater than usual after nights with greater sleep sufficiency, better sleep quality, lower efficiency and longer sleep duration (an extra half-hour longer). Daily mindful attention contributed to less same-day sleepiness. Those with greater mindful attention were also 66% less likely to experience symptoms of insomnia during the two-week study period.
How to get more sleep
Given the association between mindful attention and better patient care, improving sleep may provide important benefits to patient health outcomes as well. So how can you get an additional 29 minutes a night? Having a sleep schedule helps where you can fall asleep and awake at the same times each day, but that isn’t always feasible or available to healthcare providers. However, you can help your body prepare for sleep by doing the same activities before bed—reading or light exercises. You can also use non-pharmacological sleep aids, such as a weighted blanket.