A randomized clinical trial has found that mindfulness meditation is significantly more effective  than sleep hygiene education (e.g. how to identify & change bad sleeping habits) in reducing insomnia symptoms, fatigue, and depression symptoms in older adults with sleep disturbances.

Image via Zazen Life.

Generally speaking, sleep disorders are disturbances of sleep patterns. Some sleep disorders are serious enough to interfere with normal physical, mental, social and emotional functioning. Interestingly enough, one of the most common sleep disorders is Bruxism: involuntarily grinding or clenching of the teeth while sleeping. Other, more well known disturbances are delayed sleep phase disorder (inability to awaken and fall asleep at socially acceptable times but no problem with sleep maintenance, a disorder of circadian rhythms), Hypopnea syndrome (abnormally shallow breathing or slow respiratory rate while sleeping) and nocturia (the need to wake up and urinate at night). All in all, the International Classification of Sleep Disorders distinguishes more than 80 different disorders, which can be effectively treated. Problems with falling asleep or daytime sleepiness affect approximately 35 to 40% of the U.S. adult population annually and are a significant cause of major health disorders and morbidity.

Researchers wanted to see how effective mindful meditation can be at treating sleep disorders. It’s not the first time meditation has been suggested in treating serious disorders, with previous research showing that medication is effective in stress and anxiety, pain management and can even slow the progress of Alzheimer’s.

“[Our objective is] to determine the efficacy of a mind-body medicine intervention, called mindfulness meditation, to promote sleep quality in older adults with moderate sleep disturbances.”

Mindfulness meditation is an adaptation of Buddhist meditation, by which one learns to be mindful, “the intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment.” Mindfulness meditation can become “a mental position for being able to separate a given experience from an associated emotion, and can facilitate a skillful or mindful response to a given situation.” Thus Jeff Wilson describes it in his book, Mindful America: Meditation and the Mutual Transformation of Buddhism and American Culture.

The results were pretty clear – mindful awareness practices (MAPs) were significantly more effective at dealing with sleep disorders than traditional techniques (sleep hygiene education – SHE).

Image via Pureela.

“The use of a community-accessible MAPs intervention resulted in improvements in sleep quality at immediate postintervention, which was superior to a highly structured SHE intervention. Formalized mindfulness-based interventions have clinical importance by possibly serving to remediate sleep problems among older adults in the short term, and this effect appears to carry over into reducing sleep-related daytime impairment that has implications for quality of life”, the study writes.

The conclusion is simple – meditation has significant health benefits, and we should focus more on it in future studies.

“Pending future replication of these findings, structured mindfulness mediation training appears to have at least some clinical usefulness to remediate moderate sleep problems and sleep-related daytime impairment in older adults,” the study concluded.

Journal Reference: David S. Black et al, Mindfulness Meditation and Improvement in Sleep Quality and Daytime Impairment Among Older Adults With Sleep Disturbances. A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Intern Med. Published online February 16, 2015. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8081.

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