William Bergquist, Ph.D. and Gay Teurman, Psy.D.
Mindfulness is one of the most widely promoted pathways to sleep being touted over the past five years. Mindfulness is clearly the “new wave” among sleep pathways. It seems that mindfulness cures every health and mental health problem. Advocates suggest that this practice can be an incredibly powerful tool in the treatment of mental health disorders, and cancer, as well as cardiovascular conditions. It might also be an important strategy, as we shall note shortly, in our efforts to reduce negative stress. Advocates for mindfulness suggest that this practice plays a vital role in helping us prepare for an evening of sleep (even if practiced in the morning) by creating directed and focused attention on the present experience—which, in turn, yields many of the direct and indirect health and sleep benefits that we identified in the previous essay regarding physical activity.
While research findings regarding the impact of mindfulness on sleep are mixed, it is clear that mindfulness does enhance (at least temporarily) our capacity to be attentive to our internal psychological and physical state. This attentiveness might, in turn, help us better prepare for sleep and adjust our behavior when in bed to maximize physiological conditions for sleep. Some research suggests that mindfulness practices influence neuro- functioning in certain areas of the brain (such as the anterior cingulate cortex, insula and frontal-limbic network that, in turn, influence our capacity to fall asleep and remain asleep – however there is at best a very indirect impact of mindfulness on the neurobiological aspects of sleep). So, what are we left with? Is mindfulness just a contemporary craze that will soon fade away, like Geritol or the XYZ Fast-Action Diet?