In college students, poor sleep quality has been associated with difficulties with mental and physical health. 1-3
Reported rates of sleep difficulties in college students have ranged from 31.6% to 64% depending on the measures used.3-6
Sleep disturbances can be caused by many different factors including biological, cognitive, and/or behavioral factors. While pharmaceuticals can provide some relief, behavioral interventions have no side effects and target the cognitive and behavioral aspects of sleep disorders.
One behavioral intervention often recommended as an important sleep aid is exercise. Epidemiologic studies have consistently shown an association between self-reports of exercise and better sleep.7
However, experimental studies have found none or only modest effects of exercise on sleep.8
An explanation for this lack of association is that the experimental studies assessed good sleepers who have little room for improvement. Individuals with sleep problems who then begin to exercise might be expected to see greater improvement in their sleep.9
Additional promising behavioral interventions for treating insomnia are those focusing on alleviating stress and reducing worry.9, 10
One such intervention is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), a formalized psychoeducational group intervention in which participants receive training in formal meditation techniques such as body-scan meditation, sitting meditation, walking meditation, and Hatha yoga with simple stretches and postures. Several research studies support the effectiveness of MBSR in reducing stress and anxiety in college students. 11-13
A recent review of the effects of MBSR on sleep disturbance found some evidence associating improved sleep with increased practice of mindfulness techniques.14
Mindfulness has been defined as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”15(p4)
Although mindfulness is often taught through meditation, very little research focuses on increasing mindfulness through participation solely in somatic modalities. One recent study of MBSR reported that the amount of time spent engaging in home practice of formal meditation exercises was related to the extent of improvement in mindfulness and measures of health. Of the types of formal meditation practice used in MBSR, yoga practice appeared to be associated with more changes in measures of mindfulness than the practice of body scanning or sitting meditation.16
In our study, we hypothesized that practice of Pilates, Taiji quan, or GYROKINESIS® would increase mindfulness. While very different in origin, these three somatic practices have much in common with meditative practices. The Pilates method is founded on principles of centering, concentration, control, precision, flow and breath in order to attain the ideal of a complete coordination of body, mind, and spirit.17-20
Taiji quan (also transliterated as tai chi chuan) is an ancient Chinese martial art characterized by slow circular movements, breath regulation, and focused attention.21
GYROKINESIS®, as developed by Juliu Horvath, embraces key principles of dance, yoga, gymnastics and taiji quan. The method works the entire body using spinal articulations and undulating rhythms integrated with specific breathing patterns. It is often described as a type of moving yoga.22
Although each of the approaches involved in the study promote mind-body awareness, the mindfulness aspects in the disciplines are often implied rather than explicitly stated as stress reduction goals. The purpose of this study was to investigate several questions: Does mindfulness increase over time through participation in Pilates, Taiji quan, and GYROKINESIS®? If so, does each particular training method increase mindfulness? Does increased mindfulness relate to improvements in sleep quality, self-regulatory self-efficacy, mood, and perceived stress? If observed increases in mindfulness are associated with improved sleep quality, do changes in self-regulatory self-efficacy, mood, and perceived stress mediate this relationship?