Mindfulness Meditation Can Help You Fall (And Stay) Asleep

02/17/2015 04:05 pm ET | Updated Feb 17, 2015
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It seems that a new study comes out every week pointing to another physical or mental health benefit of mindfulness. Recent research reveals that meditation may help prevent age-related cognitive decline among older adults. And another study recently found that the practice could help children improve their math skills.

Now, a new University of Southern California study suggests that mindfulness meditation can improve sleep quality for older adults with sleep disturbances, including trouble falling or staying asleep, or feeling sleepy during the day.

The study was conducted on 49 older adults with an average age of 66, all of whom experienced moderate sleep disturbances. The first group of 24 participants took part in a Mindful Awareness Practices (MAPS) intervention, while the second group underwent a Sleep Hygiene Education (SHE) course. Both interventions last for six weeks, with two hours of training time, plus homework, each week.

The researchers found that the mindfulness group showed significant improvements in their ability to fall and stay asleep relative to the sleep hygiene group.

Sleep disturbances can significantly affect quality of life, and have been associated with daytime symptoms such as fatigue, mood fluctuations and depressive symptoms. The group that underwent the mindfulness intervention also experienced reductions in certain sleep-related daytime symptoms of sleep loss, including anxiety, stress, depression and inflammatory markers often associated with sleep deprivation.

"According to our findings, mindfulness meditation appears to have a role in addressing the prevalent burden of sleep problems among older adults," the study's authors wrote.

While previous studies have linked mindfulness as a personality trait to improved sleep quality among healthy populations, the link between mindfulness and sleep disturbance has been less clear.

Both the reduction of sleep disturbances and the daytime carryover observed in the research group that underwent mindfulness training suggests that mindfulness interventions may be a powerful means of improving quality of life among older adults.

Poor sleep also significantly increases the risk of a number of negative health outcomes -- suggesting that mindfulness training holds promise as a measure for improving overall health among older adults. It's also a side effect-free alternative to pharmaceutical sleep aids, which have been linked with a greater risk of Alzheimer's disease.

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