Not sleeping well? Waking at night? Consider adding mindfulness to your sleep strategies. Other non-drug treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) should be considered first-line treatment, but not everyone responds to CBT-I. Mindfulness can be a helpful addition to CBT-I and has been shown to be an effective treatment for insomnia.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of present focussed awareness with an open and non-judging attitude. Whilst meditation is an important part of mindfulness, equally important is incorporating mindfulness principles in to your day-to-day life. These include, non-judgement, non-striving, acceptance, letting go, trust, patience and bringing an open mind to things. Using the combination of meditation practice and the principles of mindfulness, you can learn to become more present focussed and less easily distracted or distressed. Being more present focussed can reduce stress, which in turn can help to switch off more readily and sleep better.
Although the origins of mindfulness are associated with Buddhism, there are examples and a culture of practicing mindfulness found in all religions. Mindfulness has been used in Western Medicine for over 30 years and when used in healthcare is taught and used as a secular treatment.
Does mindfulness work?
Mindfulness has been shown to be effective as a treatment for stress, anxiety, depression and pain. Based on this and the overlap of symptoms with sleep disturbance such as insomnia, mindfulness-based treatments have been tested in insomnia. A study conducted at Rush University, showed that people undertaking an eight week mindfulness-based therapy program slept 43 minutes more at the end of treatment. Those effects were maintained over the six month follow-up period. As well as sleeping more, participants had a significant reduction in symptoms of insomnia and were more comfortable with their sleep. That study, and the mindfulness treatment consisted of an 8 week training program during which people developed their skills in mindfulness and practiced mindfulness regularly.
How can I learn mindfulness?
Mindfulness isn’t something that comes naturally to people living in a modern, Western world. As such, it’s a skill that needs to be developed over time, and taught in a structured way. Often, in my practice, I have people tell me they’ve tried mindfulness but it didn’t work for them. But, they had only tried a couple of exercises themselves, then concluded it didn’t work. Learning mindfulness takes commitment to develop the skill and guidance from an experienced teacher.
There are many ways of accessing training in mindfulness. You could attend a course or group in your local area, or if you can’t access an experienced mindfulness teacher locally, you could consider online training. There are a number of excellent online programs for training in mindfulness, such as A Mindful Way, which is specifically tailored to using mindfulness for insomnia.
Where can I find more information on mindfulness?
The Center for Mindfulness at UMass has a number of good resources including how to find mindfulness providers in your local area. If you’re interested in hearing experts in mindfulness discussing how they use it for sleep, check out this episode of the Sleep Talk podcast which focusses on mindfulness and its use in sleep.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, give mindfulness a try. You may just find it’s the piece you've been missing.
This post originally appeared in a modified form in the online sleep resource, SleepHub.