This Pill-Free Therapy May Improve Sleep

Mindfulness meditation tied to improved sleep quality in older adults with sleep problems

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) A bad night of sleep once in a while is no big deal, but it can turn into a serious health issue for some. Many treatments — even some that don't require medication — may help patients with these sleep problems.

A new study found that mindfulness meditation practices improved sleep quality in older adults with sleep problems more than other treatments.

David S. Black, PhD, of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, led this small study. Dr. Black and team looked at 49 adults with moderate sleep problems. These patients were 66 years old on average. Half of them took part in a mindfulness meditation course. The other half were part of a standard sleep hygiene and education program.

Peter Strong, PhD, a psychotherapist who specializes in mindfulness therapy, told dailyRx News that mindfulness meditation is all about filtering out distracting thoughts and feelings.

"Most typically this will involve mindfulness of physical sensations such as the breath or awareness of the body," Dr. Strong said. "In this meditation, people develop mindful concentration, which is a good antidote to automatic thinking, rumination and worrying, and this is one of the central factors that make mindfulness meditation effective for insomnia."

In the current study, the standard sleep hygiene program was based on tips for better sleep from the National Institutes of Health and National Sleep Foundation. Such tips include sticking to a sleep schedule, avoiding large meals before bedtime, and reducing alcohol and caffeine intake.

Patients in the meditation program showed more gains in sleep quality than those in the sleep hygiene group. They also said they had reduced insomnia, depression and fatigue symptoms, Dr. Black and team found.

Mindfulness meditation may reduce moderate sleep problems in older patients as effectively as clinical treatment, Dr. Black and team said. These therapies could make a difference for adults over 55, half of whom have some form of sleep problem, according to Dr. Black and team.

In an editorial about this study, Adam P. Spira, PhD, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, said non-medication treatments for sleep problems need to be widely available to address the health problems tied to poor sleep.

"As the authors explain, effective [non-medication] interventions that are both 'scalable' and 'community accessible' are needed to improve disturbed sleep and prevent clinical levels of insomnia," Dr. Spira wrote. "This is imperative given links between insomnia and poor health outcomes, risks of sleep medication use, and the limited availability of health care professionals trained in effective nondrug treatments such as behavior therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia."

This study was published Feb. 16 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The University of California, Los Angeles, the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institutes of Health and other sources funded this research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.


Review Date: 
February 16, 2015
Last Updated:
March 12, 2015