Sleep, Sleep, Perchance to Dream – Can Meditation really Help?
Updated: May 31
When was the last time you felt you had a great night’s sleep? If it’s been a while, you aren’t alone! In recent years research has shown that lack of sleep is associated with changes in cognition, mood, health, and quality of life. And for the group of people 55 years or older, the research shows that over 50% struggle with sleep disturbances sadly with little relief.
Sleep hygiene, a behavioral modification technique, is often recommended. People are taught to avoid napping, maintain consistent bed times and wake times, avoid watching TV or reading in bed, modify diet, maintain a dark room, etc, etc. Many of these techniques can help but now we have a research paper demonstrating that mindfulness meditation, without all the behavior modifications, can make a significant and meaningful difference in sleep quality, insomnia, depression, fatigue, and blood markers for inflammation.
In a 2015 article published in JAMA, Dr. David Black, et al showed that mindfulness meditation may be superior to sleep hygiene in helping mitigate the life impact of sleep issues. Black and his colleagues had 49 subjects randomized into 2 groups; one group spent 6 weeks in a sleep hygiene program while the other group spent the same 6 weeks in a mindfulness meditation program. Both groups were taught by experts in their field, had similar contact with the instructor, daily homework, and similar group interaction. Prior to the training program each participant was assessed looking at measures of sleep disturbance (the Pittsburgh sleep quality index), insomnia (Athens insomnia scale), depression (Beck depression index), fatigue (Fatigue symptom inventory), stress (perceived stress scale), and markers in the blood (NF-KB) that indicate ongoing inflammation in the body. Prior to the training, all 49 subjects tested as having moderate to great sleep disturbance. After 6 weeks, subjects were again assessed.
The results demonstrated a statistically significant improvement in all but the perceived stress scale for the participants who meditated for only 20 minutes per day over the 6 week study. The sleep hygiene group showed some positive trends but only the blood marker for inflammation revealed a significant change. This is the first study to date looking at the effects of mindfulness meditation on sleep disturbances in older adults. As always, the authors suggest ways to strengthen the study and further research in this area.
Interestingly, there is 2011 study that looked at Mindfulness meditation in sleep issues as compared to Lunesta, a common pharmaceutical sleep aid. In that study, mindfulness meditation compared very favorably to Lunesta in measures of sleep quality, time it takes to fall asleep, sleep efficiency, and total sleep time. And so, can meditation really help sleep problems?? We think the answer is trending toward a strong YES!
D Black, GA O’Reilly, R Olmstead, E Breen & M Irwin. Mindfulness meditation and improvement in sleep quality and daytime impairment among older adults with sleep disturbances:
A randomized clinical trial. JAMA Inten Med 2015;174(4): 494-501.