Older adults experiencing sleep disturbances found more relief using a mindfulness meditation program than by using a sleep hygiene education program teaching sleep improvement skills, Keck Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC) researchers have found.

In a randomized clinical trial of 49 older adults, scientists from USC and the University of California, Los Angeles discovered that participants in the group-based mindfulness meditation program reported better outcomes than those enrolled in a group-based sleep hygiene program. The research indicates 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,” said David S. Black, PhD, MPH, corresponding author of the study and assistant professor of preventive medicine, Keck School of Medicine of USC and Director of the American Mindfulness Research Association (goAMRA.org). Black concludes that “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. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the sleep needs of older adults do not diminish with age, and many older adults report dissatisfaction with their sleep and tiredness during the day.

Black’s team compared two structured conditions: the Mindful Awareness Practice (MAPs) program at UCLA, 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.

Black’s future research will focus on combining mindfulness meditation with a sleep hygiene program to determine the usefulness of meshing aspects of both programs.

The research team includes Gillian O’Reilly, BS, doctoral student, Department of Preventive Medicine, Keck School of Medicine of USC, and Richard Olmstead, PhD, Elizabeth Breen, PhD and Michael R. Irwin, MD, UCLA.

The research, “Mindfulness Meditation and Improvement in Sleep Quality and Daytime Impairment Among Older Adults With Sleep Disturbances” was published online Feb. 16, 2015 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Funding was provided by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), the UCLA Older Americans Independence Center, the Cousins Center for Psychimmunotherapy at UCLA, the Pettit Family Foundation and the Furlotti Family Foundation.

by Leslie Ridgeway

Black, D.S., O’Reilly, G., Olmstead, R., Breen, E. and Irwin, M.E. (2015). “Mindfulness Meditation and Improvement in Sleep Quality and Daytime Impairment Among Older Adults With Sleep Disturbances” JAMA Internal Medicine Published online Feb. 16, 2015 jamanetwork/2015/imd/02_16_2015/ioi40149pap