If you’ve ever lain awake till four a.m. worrying about work, family, or nebulous “what-ifs,” you know how frustrating insomnia can be.
If you’ve ever tossed and turned all night only to wake feeling like you haven’t slept at all, you know how exhausting poor quality sleep can be.
There may, however, be a solution — one that doesn’t involve dangerous sleep aids like certain sleeping pills, or long nights in a sleep clinic.
Recent research backs up what many alternative medicine practitioners have been saying for decades: meditation can help you get a good night’s sleep.
Last year saw a lot of research into sleep, and many of those studies focused on whether meditation was an effective sleep aid.
Without exception, studies showed that meditation (and in particular, mindfulness meditation) reduced insomnia and promoted better quality sleep.
A study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, for example, found that those who took a six-week mindfulness meditation class had less insomnia, better sleep quality, and less depression and fatigue than those who were just educated on better sleep practices.
If a six-week class doesn’t sound like a commitment you’re ready to tackle, even for a better night’s sleep, another study from Maastricht University in the Netherlands is good news.
Researchers there found that self-directed practice after simple instruction and audio of guided meditations achieved the same effect without the time commitment.
In this study, participants were asked to practice any combination of four different meditations for ten minutes in the morning, and ten minutes after work.
The study followed them for two weeks, during which time their sleep quality and sleep duration markedly improved.
The basic idea behind mindfulness is just that — to be mindful. At its simplest, mindfulness asks you to focus on what’s going on in the present moment rather than letting your mind wander.
For the Dutch study, participants were asked to choose from four meditations: a three-minute mindful breathing exercise, a body scan, mindfully completing an everyday task, or a “loving kindness” meditation.
Each of these are simple meditations that are easily done by anyone, whether or not they are “trained” meditators.
Mindful breathing, not surprisingly, asks you to focus your attention on your breath. You can do this in any position, from standing up to lying down, and you can do it nearly anywhere.
You simply pay attention to your breathing, and only to your breathing—without trying to change it or be distracted by your thoughts or what’s going on around you.
Mindfulness while performing an everyday task is much the same; you’re expected to give the task at hand your full and complete attention with all five of your senses.
The goal is to be fully aware of the present moment, not distracted by worries about the future, things that happened in the past, or what might be going on in another place.
A body scan starts with your feet and gives your undivided attention to each part of your body, one area at a time, and is a wonderful relaxation technique.
It seems incredible that something so simple could tame insomnia, yet the evidence is clear.
Although mainstream medicine doesn’t understand just why it has the effect that it does, meditation is known to decrease the body’s production of stress hormones and lower blood pressure, both of which can contribute to better sleep.
Meditation is also helpful for managing chronic pain, which may be another factor in its sleep-promoting ability.
A National Sleep Foundation poll last year found that 21 percent of the population reported experiencing chronic pain, and another 36 percent said they had experienced pain in the past week.
Black, D.S., O’Reilly, G.A., Olmstead, R., Breen, E.C., & Irwin, M.R. (2015, April). Mindfulness meditation and improvement in sleep quality and daytime impairment among older adults with sleep disturbances: a randomized clinical trial. Journal of the American Medical Association internal medicine,175(4), 494-501. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25686304
Hoffman, Adam. (2015, Oct) How mindfulness improves sleep. Retrieved from Greater Good, http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_mindfulness_improves_sleep
Hulsheger, U., Feinholdt, A., & Nubold, A. (2015) A low-dose mindfulness intervention and recovery from work: Effects on psychological detachment, sleep quality, and sleep duration. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 88, 464–489. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/joop.12115/abstract
2015 Sleep in America poll finds pain a significant challenge when it comes to Americans’ sleep. (2015, March). Retrieved from: https://sleepfoundation.org/media-center/press-release/2015-sleep-america-poll
Zeidan, F., Grant, J.A., Brown, C.A., McHaffie, J.G., & Coghill, R.C., (2012, June) Mindfulness meditation-related pain relief: Evidence for unique brain mechanisms in the regulation of pain.Neuroscience Letters, 520(2), 165-173. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304394012004806