New Research Reveals How Mindfulness Improves Your Sleep

Young Woman Good Sleep

Recent research led by the University of South Florida shows that mindfulness improves nurses’ sleep and stress management by enhancing emotion regulation, suggesting benefits for broader workplace health strategies.

The results offer a better understanding of how employees and employers can collaborate to mitigate job-related stress.

Mindfulness, the practice of focusing on the present moment, can enhance sleep, reduce stress, and boost overall health. A new study led by the University of South Florida provides insights into why this is the case.

Researchers studied 144 nurses over two weeks to see how well they could stay focused on the present and how often they fixated on negative thoughts. The nurses completed surveys three times a day and reported their sleep quality the following morning.

The findings shed light on how mindfulness relates to emotion regulation, the way people handle stressful situations, such as a setback at work.

And they provide a clearer picture of how employees and employers can reduce work-related stress, said Claire Smith, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor of psychology in the USF College of Arts and Sciences.

Impact on Sleep and Workplace Health

“Mindfulness is often seen as a magical cure-all for employee stress,” Smith said. “The way it’s often spoken about makes it seem as if staying grounded in and accepting of the present moment means you will never be stressed. To me, it’s crucial to add more nuance.”

That’s where the study comes in by providing insight into how the connection between mindfulness and emotion regulation affects sleep quality.

“We know that good sleep restores us physically and psychologically, and it keeps us happier, safer, and even more ethical at work,” Smith said. “We wanted to explore which aspects of sleep are influenced by mindfulness and why.”

Claire Smith

Claire Smith, University of South Florida. Credit: USF

Smith’s team included three USF colleagues and two Penn State researchers. It was published recently in the journal Health Psychology.

The researchers focused on nurses due to their long, irregular hours and high-stress work environment, which often leads to sleep problems that can affect not only their health, but patient safety.

The study found that mindfulness helped the nurses experience fewer negative emotions and less rumination — repetitive negative thinking.

“For instance, if you got a negative performance review at work, you might choose to shift your focus from negative thoughts of how you have failed and are incompetent to positive thoughts of what you did right and how you can grow,” Smith said.

Implications for Employers

Smith and her co-authors believe the findings could help employers make better decisions about implementing strategies to boost their workers’ health. Popular employer interventions include mindfulness-based stress reduction programs, along with yoga, meditation, tai chi and therapy. These programs have been shown to help employees manage stress and improve their overall well-being.

“Mindfulness is a hot topic, but we need to understand why it works,” Smith said. “Our research is about going back to the drawing board to understand the reasons behind the benefits of mindfulness at work.”

The authors acknowledge the need for further studies to explore the best methods for reducing work-related stress and how they apply across different occupations, including more traditional office settings outside of health care.

“We hope future research on mindfulness looks at not just big-picture results like better sleep or productivity but also how it affects things like handling emotions,” Smith said. “When an intervention doesn’t work, it helps us understand where the problem is stemming from. When it does work, it tells us why.”

Reference: “Be present now, sleep well later: Mindfulness promotes sleep health via emotion regulation” by Claire E. Smith, Christina X. Mu, Angelina Venetto, Arooj Khan, Soomi Lee and Brent J. Small, 2024, Health Psychology.
DOI: 10.1037/hea0001373

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