Sleep meditation is a hot topic these days, and this is why…
We can learn how to get better sleep without the side effects of medication.
We spend about one-third of our lives sleeping, so it should come as no surprise that sleep is such an important part of our daily lives. We’ve also been seeing a huge interest in the concept of mindfulness and how being mindful throughout the day can significantly benefit your health and well-being.
Now it’s time to bring these two interconnected concepts together to put mindfulness practices to work for better sleep.
Increasingly, scientific researchers have been investigating and testing strategies to help people sleep better, and mindfulness is playing a huge role in these studies.
For years now, mindfulness has been used as a tool to prevent and treat physical and psychological disorders and to promote holistic health. And now, we are learning how to get better sleep with mindfulness practices like meditation because of its signature benefits.
Goals of Mindfulness for Sleep
Throughout many generations and cultures, mindfulness has been deeply connected to overall health and spiritual goals. In regards to their direct effect on human health, mindfulness therapies are well-known for their abilities to reduce stress and enhance well-being physically, mentally, and socially.
Sleep therapies rooted in mindfulness practices aim to clear the way for the natural processes of sleeping and waking to occur. Individuals who undergo these therapies frequently experience less stress and anxiety, and they’re less likely to try to control obstacles that stand in the way of sleep.
Many people with sleep disorders feel like they are in a constant fight to achieve sleep. This creates additional stress and emotional turmoil. However, sleep should be a natural and relaxing endeavor, not one that perpetuates the exhausting struggles of the day.
An Emerging and Promising Field of Study
Although the application of mindfulness techniques to improve sleeping is still very much in the research and development phase, the results thus far are quite promising.
It’s important to remember that scientific inquiry into the effectiveness of these techniques is relatively young; however, it is a quickly growing topic that is gaining traction within the field of sleep medicine.
Let’s take a closer look at a few recent research studies that have drawn connections between mindfulness practices and improved sleep.
Scientific Research About Mindfulness and Sleep
There have been an increasing number of research studies that suggest that mindfulness results in better self-regulation of sleep, as well as healthier emotional and social well-being. Studies have also shown that mindfulness helps people function psychologically and strengthen their coping skills.
Research has shown that mindfulness practices can also help predict sleep quality, promote a circadian preference for mornings, and improve psychological well-being.
Many of the sleep studies conducted on human test subjects have focused on the treatment of chronic insomnia, which is a serious sleep disorder that affects an estimated 10-15 percent of the adult population.
However, research studies have also focused on other issues that involve falling asleep, staying asleep, and maximizing the benefits of sleep cycles.
One clinical trial conducted in 2015 studied older adults who had moderate levels of sleep disturbance and introduced them to mindfulness practices.
These practices included meditation and movement exercises, and the individuals saw significant improvements in insomnia symptoms, daytime fatigue, tendencies toward depression, anxiety, and inflammatory signaling. This study took place over six weeks with two-hour weekly sessions and assigned homework.
Another chronic insomnia-related study involved 18 adults who completed an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program. The results were published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2014, and four themes emerged:
“… the impact of mindfulness on sleep and motivation to adopt a healthy sleep lifestyle; benefits of mindfulness on aspects of life beyond sleep; challenges and successes in adopting mindfulness-based practices; and the importance of group sharing and support.”
Therefore, it was determined that MBSR is an effective treatment for chronic insomnia.
Another study tested mindfulness strategies to reduce stress for patients with severe anxiety, which is a common cause of sleeplessness.
It involved 68 patients who volunteered for an eight-week intervention program, and those who completed treatment showed significant improvement on all outcome measures with medium-to-large effect measures.
All Ages Can Go Mindfully Asleep
Many insomnia studies have focused on older adults, because men and women in their 50s and older typically experience sleep disorders most frequently. However, there has also been an increasing scientific interest in the benefits of mindfulness in improving the sleep of young adults and adolescents.
One group of studies published in Adolescent Psychiatry, used mindfulness-based interventions to test their effectiveness on 575 individuals across 16 separate studies. The test subjects ranged in age from eight to 87, and the studies showed increased sleep efficiency and total sleep time, according to sleep logs.
However, the researchers noted that more research was needed to explore mindfulness as a promising treatment option for adolescents with insomnia.
A study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine reported that college students who participated in taijiquan (also known as Tai Chi) increased their mindfulness while also improving their sleep quality and reducing their stress levels. The students engaged in 15-week courses two times per week for 50 minutes each session.
Taking this research to an even younger level, researchers also studied 62 girls between the ages of 13 and 15 who were experiencing poor sleep and high anxiety. After six sessions, the girls experienced improved sleep efficiency, longer total sleep times, and less sleep-related daytime dysfunction.
Although the effects of the mindfulness program were significant upon the girls’ sleep habits, the researchers noted that more investigation was needed to test its impact on their anxiety.
Sleep and Other Health Conditions
Not only does poor sleep make you tired and cranky, it can also lead to serious medical conditions. Some health conditions cause insomnia, while insomnia can lead to a variety of other issues.
For example, cancer patients often have an adverse relationship to sleep. Fortunately, mindfulness practices can help people who suffer from cancer sleep better, thereby giving their bodies the best chance of fighting disease.
Research has been conducted to test the effects of mindfulness on breast cancer survivors who experience sleep issues. One 2015 study collected data on volunteers who enrolled in a six-week mindfulness program.
The results of this study were published in Psychooncology, and researchers noted that positive effects on sleep efficiency were uncovered at a 12-week follow-up.
Another study about cancer patients with sleep difficulties was conducted in 2015 using both mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapies for improved sleep.
This Explore (NY) study found that patients exhibited improvements in dysfunctional sleep beliefs. Many causes of insomnia are mental, as well as physical, so reducing negative feelings about sleep can have a significant impact on sleeping better.
Why Mindfulness Benefits Sleep
Although scientists are still working to fully understand how mindfulness positively impacts sleeping patterns, studies like these are paving the way to better treatments for sleep disorders. Studies are showing how the underlying mechanisms of mindfulness affect sleep by changing both the body and mind in beneficial ways.
For example, if you practice mindfulness during the day, you increase your chances for better sleep at night. One study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology investigated the relationship between mindfulness, sleep quality, and psychologically detaching from a day-level perspective.
The researchers found that mindfulness experienced during the workday was related to sleep quality at night, and also that sleep quality increased from Monday to Friday during the work week
On a biological level, mindfulness alters the cortisol levels that benefit our sleep-wake cycles. This hormone stimulates our brains and makes us feel alert and control stress. Mindfulness practices are linked to balanced cortisol levels that occur in our bodies and the quality of sleep.
Other Sleep Therapies and Medication
Mindfulness is frequently considered to be a complementary therapy to other sleep therapies, and one that has proven to be very effective when used alongside them.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a long-established treatment used to treat sleep disorders, and it works well with mindfulness practices. This is because both therapies raise awareness and promote positive behavioral changes, both key aspects to improving sleep habits.
Sleep Meditation Beats Sleep Medication
Many people turn to over-the-counter and prescription sleep aids as a “quick fix” to solve their sleep problems. However, this is not always the safest or most effective approach.
One study that comes to mind was conducted at a university health center to test the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation compared to a prescription sleep aid, Lunesta.
“The researchers found through a study of sleep logs and questionnaires that the effects of mindfulness meditation on sleep were comparable to the results of taking sleep medication.”
And compared to medication, meditation does not require a prescription or come with the risk of unwanted side effects in the body. Regardless of why you’re not sleeping well or the severity of your condition, meditation is supported by science as an effective treatment and a natural choice you can feel good about.