Half of adults older than 55 have trouble getting to or staying asleep. Researchers were surprised to discover the best way for them to get some much needed shut-eye.
In a randomized clinical trial of 49 older adults, seniors got more relief from a mindfulness meditation program than a sleep hygiene education program that teaches sleep improvement skills.
The findings suggest that focusing attention and awareness on the present moment without judgment or reacting to thoughts—as taught through mindfulness meditation—has positive effects not just on sleep but on daytime fatigue and depression, two conditions that often result from poor sleep.
“We were surprised to find that the effect of mindfulness meditation on sleep quality was large and above and beyond the effect of the sleep hygiene education program,” says David S. Black, assistant professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at University of Southern California.
“Mindfulness meditation appears to have clinical importance by serving to reduce sleep problems among the growing population of older adults, and this effect on sleep appears to carry over into reducing daytime fatigue and depression symptoms.”
Fifty percent of adults over the age of 55 will experience sleep disturbances, which include trouble falling asleep and waking in the middle of the night.
Sleep needs of older adults don’t diminish with age, according to the National Sleep Foundation, and many older adults report dissatisfaction with their sleep and tiredness during the day.
For the study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers compared two structured conditions: the Mindful Awareness Practice (MAPs) program at University of California, Los Angeles, a six-week, two-hour-a week program introducing mindfulness meditation to participants, and a sleep hygiene program providing improvement strategies such as relaxation before bedtime, monitoring sleep behavior, and not eating before sleeping.
The research was conducted via self-reported surveys.
Future research will focus on combining mindfulness meditation with a sleep hygiene program to determine the usefulness of meshing aspects of both programs.
The National Institutes of Health, the National Institutes of Mental Health, the UCLA Older Americans Independence Center, the Cousins Center for Psychimmunotherapy at UCLA, the Pettit Family Foundation and the Furlotti Family Foundation funded the study. Researchers from UCLA contributed to the work.