What helps sleep deficient older adults combat insomnia?

Older adults may sleep better after mindfulness meditation training, study suggests.

Difficulty falling and staying asleep are common complaints affecting millions of people. Lack of sleep is bad for health and significantly impacts our quality of life, influencing mood, energy and sapping concentration.

In recent years interest in the effectiveness of mindfulness training for sleep disorders has grown. Mindfulness – a practice that calms the mind – briefly means focusing on present moment experiences, thoughts and emotions in a kind and non-judgemental way.

A study designed by a team from the University of California, Los Angeles, compared the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation training with a sleep education course in older adults with sleep disturbances.

The forty-nine middle-aged people in the study were divided into two groups. One group were taught mindful meditation and given exercises to practice, starting with five minutes each day, increasing to twenty minutes over six weeks.

The other group attended a sleep education course where they were given ideas to aid sleep, change poor sleep habits and establish a bedtime routine. Both courses consisted of weekly two-hour group sessions for six weeks.

At the beginning and end of the course, the participants completed questionnaires to assess levels of sleep disturbance, depression, anxiety, mindfulness, stress and fatigue. In addition, blood samples measured inflammatory markers.

The results published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine found sleep quality in the mindfulness group improved significantly compared to the sleep education group. Furthermore, the mindfulness group also reported fewer depressive symptoms and less daytime fatigue. The researchers found no changes to inflammatory markers between the groups.

“The use of a community-accessible MAPs intervention resulted in improvements in sleep quality at immediate postintervention, which was superior to a highly structured SHE intervention. Formalized mindfulness-based interventions have clinical importance by possibly serving to remediate sleep problems among older adults in the short term, and this effect appears to carry over into reducing sleep-related daytime impairment that has implications for quality of life”, wrote the authors.


Black DS, O’Reilly GA, Olmstead R, Breen EC, Irwin MR. Mindfulness meditation and improvement in sleep quality and daytime impairment among older adults with sleep disturbances: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Intern Med. 2015 Apr;175(4):494-501. DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8081. PMID: 25686304; PMCID: PMC4407465.

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