Mindfulness Insomnia RemedyJuly 16, 2009 Written by JP [Font too small?]
Nothing can replace the blissful feeling we get after a good nights sleep. On the other hand, tossing and turning for hours or simply being unable to relax enough to fall asleep makes the following day quite a struggle. Sleeping pills can be helpful for the occasional restless night, but shouldn’t be used on a regular basis. It turns out that the solution to this disturbingly common problem may very well reside inside our heads. A group of scientists from Duke University suggest that simply being mindful of your thoughts and quieting your mental chatter may be enough to induce some much need slumber.
One of the leading causes of insomnia is chronic stress. Many people simply can’t let go of their daily mental anxiety once they hit the sack. A recent presentation at the North American Research Conference on Complementary and Integrative Medicine examined the role of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on sleep disorders in a group of 151 men and women. The Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index was used a way of measuring the effects of an 8 week MBSR training program on various aspect of sleep hygiene. Here’s what the researchers from Duke Integrative Medicine discovered:
- Participants in the MBSR program demonstrated a 26% improvement in overall sleep quality and fewer symptoms of sleepiness in the daytime (28% reduction).
- Instances of waking up in the middle of the night were reduced by 16% and sleep medication use dropped by 25%.
- At the starting point of the trial, 70% of the volunteers met the criteria for “clinically significant sleep disturbances”. After the MBSR instruction, that number dropped to 50%.
According to Dr. Jeff Greeson, a psychologist from Duke, “When people become more mindful they learn to look at life through a new lens. They learn how to accept the presence of thoughts and feelings that may keep them up at night. They begin to understand that they don’t have to react to them. As a result, they experience greater emotional balance and less sleep disturbances.” (1)
A 2008 study in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease also found a statistically important reduction in “worry associated sleep disturbances” in 19 patients with anxiety disorder who underwent a similar 8 week MBSR course.(2) These results are in line with previous research conducted in recent years.(3) In fact, it appears that mindfulness meditation is specifically effective in managing the variety of insomnia that involves anxiety and/or worry related issues. Another promising piece of data is that the effects of MBSR seem to be long lasting. For instance, a review published at the beginning of this year found that improvements in sleep status were still present after a 12 month follow up period. (4)
There are MBSR courses being taught throughout the world. But if you’re interested in experimenting with a very simple form of mindfulness meditation, you can follow these basic steps:
- Find a reasonably quite space that is relatively free of sensory stimulation. Dimming the light in a room may be helpful. Allow yourself a few minutes to sit and become accustomed to this peaceful environment.
- Sit upright in a position that allows you to feel comfortable, but not overly relaxed. The goal is to provoke a peaceful state, but not sleep.
- Close your eyes and gently begin to focus on your breath. Direct your attention to the air that is being inhaled into your nose and exhaled through your mouth. Note the feeling in the body that accompanies the air exchange – the calming effect, the rise and fall of your abdomen.
- It’s perfectly natural for thoughts to pop into your mind. When they do, simply be aware of whatever comes to mind. Then, redirect your focus back to your breathing pattern.
- The length of the meditative session varies, but can be as short as 5 minutes. A typical allotment of time is between 15-30 minutes. After your time is up, allow yourself to sit peacefully for a few moments and slowly adjust back to your prior state.
This practice tends to be most effective if practiced on a regular basis. Many practitioners find that beginning and ending their days with a meditative moment helps to set a positive tone for the times that follow. It’s important to note that traditional MBSR training often involves a total of 26 hours of instruction and is obviously much more involved than what I’ve described. (6) I can’t promise that you’ll derive the same results without that structure. Still, I do believe that even less intensive and/or streamlined forms of mindfulness can yield a positive outcome with sleep and beyond.
Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!
Tags: Meditation, Sleep, Stress
Posted in Alternative Therapies, General Health, Mental Health