Around 50% of the adults aged 55 and over in the US are estimated to experience some form of problem with sleeping.
A study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, compared the practice with sleep hygiene education (SHE) - a program designed to change poor sleeping habits and set up a bedtime routine. Mindfulness meditation led to a greater improvement in sleep quality.
"Addressing moderate sleep disturbances and sleep-related daytime dysfunction using community-accessible programs is a promising public health approach," write the study authors.
However, they add, despite the medical consequences of sleep problems, they often go untreated in older adults.
Sleeping problems are widespread in the US among older adults, with half of the population aged 55 and older estimated to have some form of sleeping problem, including problems with initiating and maintaining sleep.
Thankfully, several options for treating sleep disturbances exist. As well as treatment involving drugs and medication, a number of behavioral solutions are available. Sleep hygiene education and mindfulness-based interventions (MBI) have advantages over pharmacotherapy as they are effective both in the short and long term and have no serious contraindications.
In particular, MBIs involve the training of an individual to attend to moment-by-moment experiences and emotions from a non-judgmental perspective. Until now, no studies have focused on the effects of MBIs on sleep disturbances among older adults. The study authors conducted a randomized clinical trial to investigate.
Mindfulness awareness practices found to be of benefit to improving sleep quality
The small clinical trial was conducted in 2012 and analyzed the sleep quality of 49 individuals with an average age of 66. Of these, 24 participated in low-cost community-accessible MBIs known as mindfulness awareness practices (MAPs) and 25 took part in an SHE intervention.
Sleep quality was assessed by the study authors with a commonly-used self-reported questionnaire called the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI). Both groups reported an average PSQI score of 10.2 at the start of the study.
Overall, the group participating in MAPs reported a greater improvement in PSQI scores than the SHE group, with an average of 7.4 after intervention compared with 9.1. Greater improvements were also reported for depressive symptoms, insomnia symptoms and fatigue.
Future studies will need to expand the scope of the study and replicate the findings for a more diverse range of social groups. The authors state that the majority of their participants were female (67%) and typically had a high level of education, potentially constraining the external validity of their findings.
"Pending future replication of these findings, structured mindfulness meditation training appears to have at least some clinical usefulness to remediate moderate sleep problems and sleep-related daytime impairment in older adults," conclude the authors.
In an invited commentary, Adam P. Spira of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, MD, applauds the study and calls for more in a similar vein:
"Other community-based non-pharmacological interventions are needed that improve sleep and perhaps prevent insomnia among older adults. Such interventions may have a key role in safely reducing the morbidity associated with disturbed sleep in later life."
Recently, Medical News Today reported on a study that found issues with some pharmacological interventions for improving sleep. High use of certain non-prescription sleep aids was linked with an increased risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer's disease for older people.