Research from the United States Centers for Disease Control indicates that a third of American adults regularly fail to get the recommended seven hours of sleep per night. Some of these individuals simply could use an hour or two to catch up, but many others battle full-on insomnia, marked by tossing and turning all night and exhaustion during the day. Many rely on prescription or over-the-counter medications to get to sleep at night, while others turn to alcohol. Few realize just how simple the solution could be: meditation. Touted for its numerous physical and mental health benefits, meditation may be the key to kicking rumination and getting a restful night’s sleep.
What the Research Says
Researchers are increasingly exploring the link between meditation and sleep. Although the bulk of these studies focus on stress relief and reduced mental chatter, chronic pain relief is also believed to be an element of sleeplessness — and an element that could easily be addressed through meditation. Detailed below are a few of the most promising studies involving the relationship between meditation and sleep.
Reducing Stress and Depression Symptoms For Better Sleep
In recent years, multiple researchers have confirmed what Eastern practitioners have long believed to be true: people sleep better when they meditate. Arguably the most notable study on sleep and meditation was published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine in 2015, with 49 seniors and middle-aged adults either completing mindfulness meditation programs or taking classes that offered in-depth information on healthy sleep habits. Despite just meeting once a week for two hours, the mindfulness group experienced significant improvements in sleep quality, along with a notable decrease in insomnia. The members of the mindfulness group also reported less fatigue and minimal symptoms of depression compared to the those who took the sleep class.
The JAMA Internal Medicine study is just one of several efforts to explore the many ways mindfulness impacts sleep quality and quantity. This concept was also explored in a study published by the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology. Entitled “A low-dose mindfulness intervention and recovery from work: Effects on psychological detachment, sleep quality, and sleep duration,” the study examined the effects that brief periods of mindfulness could have on sleep. Among participants, sufficient sleep is deemed key to resolving existing health issues. Ultimately, participants who meditated regularly (albeit briefly) enjoyed improved sleep quality and duration. These improvements are believed to have stemmed from significant reductions in rumination, which naturally impedes sleep.
Sleep and Chronic Pain
Meditation typically addresses the stress-related aspects of insomnia, but it can also be used to decrease chronic pain, which is a consistent problem for one in five Americans. Those with chronic pain often struggle to sleep without medication, but the same drugs that promise pain relief can cause a variety of adverse side effects.
Whether used as an alternative or a complement to typical drug therapies, meditation can help chronic pain sufferers work through discomfort and enjoy a restful night’s sleep. This is evidenced by another study published in JAMA, this time conducted at the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle. This study randomly assigned 342 adults with chronic lower back pain to various therapies, including meditation and meeting with psychologists. After 26 weeks, 55 percent of those assigned mindfulness-based stress reduction reported decreased pain, compared to 45 percent of those asked to complete cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) sessions.
How to Implement Mindfulness and Meditation For Better Sleep
Most people are well aware that meditation can lead to better sleep, which, in turn, promotes better mental, emotional, and physical health. Despite this knowledge, many struggle to regularly meditate, in part because the practice seems so intimidating to the uninitiated. Those who attempt to integrate mindfulness into their lives all by themselves often find their minds wandering. Frustrated, they give up too quickly and do not experience the numerous benefits of regular meditation.
The lead author of the aforementioned JAMA Internal Medicine study has noted that those involved in the research did not attempt to meditate on their own, but instead, attended classes led by a certified instructor. Experts believe that, when starting out, most people get the most benefit from taking classes with experienced teachers, who can provide the guidance and motivation they need to persist with meditation when the going gets tough. However, select studies have indicated that those struggling to get enough sleep can also turn to audio guides, reading materials, and other meditation resources for help.
If you’re looking to get involved with meditation in the interest of improving your sleep patterns, your best bet is to enroll in a course designed for beginners. It is also in your best interest to follow common advice for maximizing sleep. This means adopting a healthy diet, getting plenty of exercise, and avoiding caffeinated beverages and smartphones right before bed. If you’re not ready to take a meditation class, you can still benefit from the regular application of mindfulness techniques, including slow and steady breathing. Combine healthy habits with regular meditation, and you’ll enjoy more — and higher quality — sleep every evening.