August 5, 2009
Science Daily/Ohio State University
Twenty minutes per day of guided workplace meditation and yoga combined with six weekly group sessions can lower feelings of stress by more than 10 percent and improve sleep quality in sedentary office employees, a pilot study suggests.
The study offered participants a modified version of what is known as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), a program established in 1979 to help hospital patients in Massachusetts assist in their own healing that is now in wide use around the world.
In this context, mindfulness refers in part to one’s heightened awareness of an external stressor as the first step toward relaxing in a way that can minimize the effects of that stress on the body.
While the traditional MBSR program practice takes up an hour per day for eight weeks supplemented by lengthy weekly sessions and a full-day retreat, the modified version developed at Ohio State University for this study was designed for office-based workers wearing professional attire.
Mindful attention awareness increased significantly and perceived stress decreased significantly among the intervention group when compared to the control group’s responses. Overall sleep quality increased in both groups, but three of seven components of sleep were more affected in the intervention group.
On average, mindfulness increased by about 9.7 percent and perceived stress decreased by about 11 percent among the group that experienced the intervention. These participants also reported that it took them less time to fall asleep, they had fewer sleep disturbances and they experienced less daytime dysfunction than did members of the non-intervention group.
The researchers also took saliva samples to test for the presence of cortisol, a stress hormone, but found no significant changes in average daily levels of the hormone over time for participants in both groups. Klatt said the design of this part of the pilot study could have affected the result, and the sample collection technique will be changed in subsequent studies.
Klatt said mindfulness-based stress reduction, developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, has been studied widely and determined to be useful in lowering symptoms ranging from depression and anxiety to chronic pain. But the time commitment required in the program makes it impractical for busy working professionals, and adding a stress-reduction class outside of work could add stress to these people, she said.
So Klatt set out to develop what she calls a “low dose” of the program that is suitable for the workplace and still offers stress-reduction benefits. She specifically scheduled weekly sessions during lunch to avoid interfering with work time or home time, and combined movement with verbal prompts and music that are cues for participants to relax.
“As I’ve been working on the program, I heard so many of the participants say they wish they had learned this earlier,” Klatt said.