Sustain Attention, Vigilance, and Energy in Nurses with Mindfulness

Sustain Attention, Vigilance, and Energy in Nurses with Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“As attention is rooted more firmly in the present and less on the past and/or future, depression, rumination, and anxiety decrease,” the article explains. “The resulting effect is energy that was once spent clinging to the past or worrying about the future can now be spent in the present.” Mindful nurse leaders are likewise aware of the employees and organizations behind their day-to-day work. They’re authentic. They connect with others. They stay in touch with their values.”


Medical professionals have to pay close and sustained attention to their jobs. The consequences of lapses and error can be catastrophic. Yet often their jobs are repetitive which can tax attention and reduce needed vigilance. Contemplative practices have been shown to improve attention and vigilance and to maintain high levels of performance on the job. In today’s Research News article “Positive Effects of Mindfulness-Based Training on Energy Maintenance and the EEG Correlates of Sustained Attention in a Cohort of Nurses.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: ), Wong and colleagues investigate the effectiveness of mindfulness training to improve attention and vigilance in nurses tested in a laboratory environment.


They recruited nurses and trained them in mindfulness with an 8-week, once a week for 90 minutes, program based upon the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, containing meditation, body scan, and yoga practices. Training attendance was monitored and recorded. They were measured before and after training with a 20-minute psychomotor task requiring sustained attention and vigilance. In addition, the nurses were measured for sleep duration for two nights. They also completed scales of energy and mood and had their brain activity monitored during rest and during meditation, and with an electroencephalogram (EEG). They also recorded the event related potentials (ERP) in the EEG evoked by stimulus presentation during the attention and vigilance task.


They found that following mindfulness training the nurses had significantly smaller reduction in energy during performance of the attention and vigilance task and the greater the attendance at the mindfulness training sessions, the greater the energy sustainment. This was also true for their attention and vigilance, with nurses with high training attendance having significantly smaller reductions in response speed and significantly smaller increases in attentional lapses over the 20-minute task duration. Hence, those nurses with high mindfulness training attendance sustained their energy and attention better over the task period.


With the electroencephalogram (EEG), they found that after mindfulness training there were significantly smaller reductions in alpha rhythm power during meditation, suggesting improved attention. These improvements were higher in nurses who attended training more regularly. Similar findings were present with the EEG event related potentials (ERP), such that P3 amplitude reductions were lower over the attention and vigilance task, indicating greater sustainment of arousal and attention. Hence, brain electrical activity also suggested greater sustainment of attention following mindfulness training.


The results are interesting and potentially important. They suggest that mindfulness training can improve nurses’ abilities to sustain attention and vigilance over a prolonged period. This was evidenced by both behavioral and EEG indicators of sustained attention and vigilance. This is potentially important as it may suggest that mindfulness training may improve performance on the job, reducing lapses and errors. Future research is needed to verify if, indeed, mindfulness training has similar effects on the job that it has in the laboratory.


So, sustain attention, vigilance, and energy in nurses with mindfulness.


“Burnout continues to be a significant occupational hazard in the nursing profession. Mindfulness may be the necessary approach to help combat nursing burnout, affording considerable promise for the future of the nursing profession.” – Pamela Heard


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Wong, K. F., Teng, J., Chee, M. W. L., Doshi, K., & Lim, J. (2018). Positive Effects of Mindfulness-Based Training on Energy Maintenance and the EEG Correlates of Sustained Attention in a Cohort of Nurses. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 12, 80.



Mindfulness based training (MBT) is becoming increasingly popular as a means to improve general wellbeing through developing enhanced control over metacognitive processes. In this preliminary study, we tested a cohort of 36 nurses (mean age = 30.3, SD = 8.52; 2 male) who participated in an 8-week MBT intervention to examine the improvements in sustained attention and its energetic costs that may result from MBT. Changes in sustained attention were measured using the psychomotor vigilance task (PVT) and electroencephalography (EEG) was collected both during PVT performance, and during a brief period of meditation. As there was substantial variability in training attendance, this variable was used a covariate in all analyses. Following the MBT program, we observed changes in alpha power across all scalp regions during meditation that were correlated with attendance. Similarly, PVT performance worsened over the 8-week period, but that this decline was mitigated by good attendance on the MBT program. The subjective energy depletion due to PVT performance (measured using self-report on Likert-type scales) was also less in regular attendees. Finally, changes in known EEG markers of attention during PVT performance (P300 and alpha-band event-related desynchronization) paralleled these behavioral shifts. Taken together, our data suggest that sustained attention and its associated costs may be negatively affected over time in the nursing profession, but that regular attendance of MBT may help to attenuate these effects. However, as this study contained no control condition, we cannot rule out that other factors (e.g., motivation, placebo effects) may also account for our findings.


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