Mindfulness meditation could be a promising alternative treatment for insomnia

Meditation shows promise as a treatment for chronic insomnia, according to a new study that appears in the journal Mindfulness.

“We have been studying the effects of mindfulness meditation on sleep and our previous research has found evidence that it can effectively reduce sleep disturbances,” said study author Jason C. Ong of Northwestern University.

“However, there has been little research examining the effects of mindfulness on other aspects of insomnia, such as cognitive and emotional factors, which play a key role in perpetuating the sleep disturbances in chronic insomnia. Therefore, in this study we examined changes in these variables as part of a randomized controlled trial on mindfulness meditation for insomnia.”

In the study, participants with chronic insomnia received either mindfulness-based stress reduction, mindfulness-based therapy for insomnia, or completed a sleep diary before receiving behavioral therapy.

Both mindfulness-based treatments included meditation practice. However, the mindfulness-based stress reduction program included general education on stress, while the mindfulness-based therapy for insomnia provided specific behavioral strategies for dealing with insomnia. The sleep diary served as a control condition, while the behavioral therapy program included standard behavioral treatments for insomnia without any meditation training.

“We found that mindfulness-based therapy for insomnia (MBTI), which is an 8-week meditation-based intervention, had the largest effects on reducing negative thoughts and emotions related to sleep. For example, it can reduce the effort to force sleep or the anxiety that occurs when sleep has been difficult for many nights in a row,” Ong told PsyPost.

The researchers had previously published a study showing that mindfulness-based treatments were associated with improvements in chronic insomnia symptoms, including reductions in total wake time in bed and sleep-related arousal.

But all research includes some limitations.

“This study was conducted on a relatively small sample of 54 adults and we only analyzed people who provided complete data, which might over-estimate the effects of the interventions. Although these results show that mindfulness meditation can be a promising intervention for insomnia, we still do not know how the intervention can improve sleep and reduce sleep-related thoughts,” Ong explained.

The study, “A Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation for Chronic Insomnia: Effects on Daytime Symptoms and Cognitive-Emotional Arousal“, was authored by Jason C. Ong, Yinglin Xia, Christine E. Smith-Mason, and Rachel Manber.