Pathways to Sleep ID. From Health to Sleep The Mindfulness Pathways
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.
Mindfulness for Higher Purposes
We would suggest that mindfulness is not just a fade. Even if it is a practice that has no direct impact on sleep, mindfulness should be considered as part of a healthy lifestyle because it is often intended for an even higher purpose. While there are a rather large suite of tools and techniques engaged in achieving mindfulness, the mindfulness process is considered not just a technique and tool to promote high quality sleep and overall improved health. Mindfulness is often engaged for a higher-order purpose: clarity of thought, management of emotional states or even greater enlightenment and wisdom. Compared to mindfulness, our previous pathways to sleep (including stress-reduction) seem to be rather mundane. The other component one pathways are almost exclusively about health. The stress-reduction pathway is primarily in the business of treatment and amelioration. It would be nice if I could get enlightened when exercising or attempting to reduce stress, but I will be satisfied short-term if I can just feel a little bit better and can quite biting my nails or jugging down one more can of beer.