How Meditation Can Help You Sleep Better

Mindful meditation is more effective that traditional sleep hygiene methods.
Mindful meditation is more effective that traditional sleep hygiene methods. Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

Not being able to fall and stay asleep at night is frustrating, and there's no shortage of remedies promising to score you the rest you crave, from sleep meds to eye masks and smartphone apps. But the real key to beating insomnia might be as simple as taking up a new trend in meditation. A recent study from JAMA Internal Medicine found that mindful meditation — the practice of being nonjudgmentally aware of the various thoughts streaming into your brain at any given time — successfully helped adult insomniacs drift off to dreamland.

Sleep issues affect as many as 70 million Americans and bring a host of health problems such as weight gain, heart disease, and depression. Researchers wanted to know if mindful meditation could make a difference. So they divided 49 study participants into two groups. One group took a six-week mindful meditation class, while the second group was taught sleep hygiene habits, such as the importance of having a regular pre-sleep routine or avoiding booze before bed. At the end of the one-year study, the mindful meditation group reported better sleep with fewer disturbances than did the sleep hygiene cohort, according to the study.

So what makes mindful meditation more effective? Teaching yourself to be aware in the moment without judgment about your thoughts helps relax the brain's arousal system, says lead study author David S. Black, PhD, assistant professor of preventive medicine at USC's Keck School of Medicine. It help you feel more positive, and that blocks out the negative thinking that can keep you tossing and turning.

And though the study looked at adults over age 55, the takeaway holds true for younger guys, especially if you're kept up at night by anxiety from a high-stress job or a Type A drive, says Michael Breus, PhD, sleep specialist an author of The Sleep Doctor's Diet Plan (Breus was not involved in the study). "Mindful meditation helps lower anxiety levels, so if anxiety is behind your sleep issues, it's something to consider taking on," says Breus, especially in those pre-sleep moments when the lights are out, your head has hit the pillow, but your brain is too wired to shut down.