Study Shows Meditation Boosts Sleep Quality in Older Adults

new study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine Journal shows that you'll sleep better if you practice a simple technique known as mindful meditation. Researchers found that old adults have higher sleep quality if they spend time simply sitting quietly, focusing on their breathing, and keeping themselves "present."

People who have trouble sleeping often can't let go of stress left over from the day, according to study coauthor Michael Irwin, the Cousins Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. "Their overall arousal is high, and mindfulness short-circuits that,” Irwin explained. “(The meditation) allows them to pull back from the stress."

Study Proves Meditation's Benefits

Study participants included two groups of adults aged 55 and over with moderate sleep issues. One group got training on sleep habit improvement, while the others learned to use mindfulness meditation. According to Irwin, the latter group was "first taught to sit quietly and focus on their breathing and then to be present in the moment."

The meditation group had a greater improvement in sleep quality compared to their peers, who had learned other ways to improve sleep. Findings from a previous study shows that meditation also seems to improve sleep better than using medications.

Dr. Herbert Benson, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute of Mind Body Medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital, says that practices like meditation work because they "evoke the relaxation response. All of these techniques, including mindful meditation, yoga, tai chi, and even repetitive prayer break the train of everyday thinking."

Older Adults Face Higher Risks

While meditation may work for everyone, the study focused on a particularly high risk group: older adults. Brant Hasler, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, says older adults more likely to have problems with insomnia, which puts them at risk for other health issues. "Insomnia is a risk factor for a host of other issues, such as cardiovascular problems, depression and substance abuse. But also, it is a risk factor for all-cause mortality," he explained.

Meditation is a simple and effective way to help yourself if you have trouble sleeping. Other strategies like stress reduction, therapy, acupuncture, avoiding caffeine, and establishing a regular bedtime routine can also help.