If you struggle to fall asleep — or stay asleep — you’re certainly not alone. An estimated 50 percent of people aged 55 and up suffer from some sort of sleep problem, which can lead to fatigue and irritability the next day, or perhaps even depression and an overall reduced quality of life.
Fortunately, researchers at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior have correlated mindfulness meditation with improved sleep quality in older adults for those with moderate complaints.
What is Mindfulness Meditation?
It “involves paying attention to – but not reacting to, judging or being distracted by – one’s own moment-by-moment thoughts, emotions, and physiological responses and sensations.”
The UCLA study involved 49 volunteers, each aged 55 or older. Half of them participated in a six-week program where they learned about sleep biology and problems, plus stress reduction and relaxation methods, and the importance of bedtime routines and habits. The other half trained in mindfulness meditation techniques through lectures and group discussions, and by performing practical exercises that included expressing appreciation and gratitude.
The researchers then assessed both groups’ changes in sleep quality, with the mindfulness group experiencing greater improvement, including fewer episodes of insomnia and less fatigue and depression.
Why Mindfulness Meditation Works
“Meditation,” says Prevention.com, “is sleep’s most natural partner. It mirrors the brain’s activity during the initial phase of rest (non-REM sleep), which appears to be critical for brain restoration. During waking life, neurons fire intermittently in different parts of the brain. In non-REM sleep, this variable pattern becomes more unison: Neurons synchronize and fire en masse.”
Mindfulness Meditation Techniques
The practice of mindfulness meditation can seem deceptively simple. It can be practiced in a sitting position, one where you are stable and erect, in a position that you can maintain for a period of time.
Once you are seated appropriately, notice your breath as it goes in and out. Your mind will naturally wander (that’s why we say mindfulness meditation seems simple) because, after all, our brains are exquisitely wired to think. When that happens, return your attention to your breath. Some people find it easier to focus on breathing in; others, on breathing out. What’s important is to avoid judging yourself or your thoughts, and breath focus helps to accomplish that goal.
To clarify, the goal is NOT to remove all thoughts from your brain. It is to let those thoughts come and go without obsessing over them or judging them. Breathe in. Breathe out. Let go.
What’s great about using mindfulness meditation to help you sleep:
- It’s a natural method that doesn’t involve medication
- You can practice it anywhere, anytime. Over time, you may even be able to meditate in noisy environments
- No equipment is needed
Although people often learn mindfulness meditation while in a sitting position, it can easily be done while lying down in bed — with a good percentage of people finding that reclining is in fact their preferred position for this type of meditation.
Interestingly enough, people who meditate regularly, Prevention.com notes, often end up needing less sleep to find mental restoration.
So, breathe in. Breathe out. Let go. Get more sleep.