Trait Mindfulness: Pre-Sleep Arousal & Emotional Stability

 “Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.” – Mother Teresa

Mindfulness involves nonjudgmental, open-minded, and alert attention to the present moment accompanied by an accepting, gentle, and curious attitude. Research continues to mount in support of numerous physical, mental, and emotional benefits of mindfulness. You may find yourself wondering why it is that some people seem naturally adept at adopting a mindful attitude, while others may struggle to maintain mindfulness on a regular basis. Through mindfulness exercises such as meditation or yoga, it is possible to enter into a “state” of mindfulness. By its very nature, a state of being is considered temporary. People who experience mindfulness as a general way of being throughout the day are considered to have high levels of “trait” mindfulness. In contrast to state-like qualities, traits are thought of as characterological enduring patterns of relating to oneself, others, and the world.

Trait Mindfulness Benefits Sleep Quality & Emotional Stability

Trait mindfulness has been defined as a dispositional proclivity toward “paying attention to present-moment experiences, labeling them with words, acting with awareness, avoiding automatic pilot, and bringing an attitude of openness, acceptance, willingness, allowing, nonjudging, kindness, friendliness, and curiosity to all observed experiences” (Baer, 2010, p. 28).

So what are the benefits of mindfulness? A recent study from the University of Utah indicated that processes inherent to trait mindfulness have the capacity to regulate emotions and decrease psychological and physiological arousal at bedtime. In this context, psychological arousal refers to anxiety-provoking, ruminative, or stressful thoughts/emotions; physiological arousal involves symptoms such as a racing heartbeat or muscular tension.

Researcher Holly May described the study’s findings by stating, “People who reported higher levels of mindfulness described better control over their emotions and behaviors during the day. In addition, higher mindfulness was associated with lower activation at bedtime, which could have benefits for sleep quality and future ability to manage stress.”

Pre-Sleep Arousal Scale

Psychological and physiological states of tension can have a deleterious impact on sleep quality. Take a moment to read through the following items, adapted from the Pre-Sleep Arousal Scale (PSAS; Nicassio et al., 1985). How strongly do you identify with the following symptoms of somatic and cognitive arousal prior to bedtime?

  1. It feels like my heart is pounding, racing, or beating irregularly.
  2. I have a nervous, jittery feeling in my body.
  3. I feel a shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
  4. I have a tense feeling in my muscles.
  5. My hands, feet, or other parts of my body feel cold.
  6. My stomach feels upset.
  7. The palms of my hands or other parts of my body feel sweaty.
  8. I have a dry feeling in my throat or mouth.
  9. I worry about falling asleep.
  10. I tend to go over or worry about or ponder events from the day.
  11. I have depressing or anxious thoughts before bedtime.
  12. I tend to worry about non-sleep-related problems before bedtime.
  13. I feel active and mentally alert.
  14. It feels like I can’t shut off my thoughts.
  15. My thoughts keep running through my mind.
  16. I’m distracted by sounds/noises around me (e.g., traffic, clock ticking)

How many of these items associated with heightened levels of pre-sleep arousal did you endorse? Studies have indicated that high levels of cognitive and somatic arousal prior to bedtime maintain insomnia. The detrimental effects of insomnia can be quite serious. A few examples of adverse consequences associated with insomnia include missing work/school, impaired concentration/memory, and an elevated risk for developing a psychiatric disorder (Jansson-Fröjmark & Norell-Clarke, 2012).

If you believe you are struggling with a sleep disorder, you’re not alone. The National Institutes of Health have stated that around 20% of U.S. adults report a sleep disorder such as insomnia, narcolepsy, or sleep apnea. Mindfulness practices have demonstrated usefulness in getting a good night’s sleep. Consider ways you can create a more relaxing bedtime routine that utilizes both mindfulness and sleep hygiene principles. Notice what minor or major changes to your typical bedtime routine serve to increase your overall sleep quality.

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Baer, R. A. (2010). Assessing mindfulness and acceptance processes in clients: Illuminating the theory and practice of change. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Jansson-Fröjmark, M., & Norell-Clarke, A. (2012). Psychometric properties of the Pre-Sleep Arousal Scale in a large community sample. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 72, 103-110.

Nauert, R. (2013). Mindfulness Improves Emotional Stability, Sleep. Psych Central. Retrieved from

Nicassio P. M., Mendlowitz D. R., Fussell J.J., Petras L. (1985). The phenomenology of the pre-sleep state: The development of the pre-sleep arousal scale. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 23, 263-271.

University of Utah (2013, March 7). Better living through mindfulness. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from­ /releases/2013/03/130307124645.htm

Featured image: Meditation by h.koppdelaney / CC BY-ND 2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.

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