I remember when chronic pain and obsessive worry kept me awake night after night. Typically, around 2 am, my mind was scanning the horizon like a lighthouse, searching for something to worry about. When it locked on it wouldn’t let go, mentally approaching the “problem” from every conceivable angle – until the alarm clock went off. Does this sound like you? Are you exhausted day after day due to the inability to sleep? What would life be like if a good nights sleep was something you could count on? How about a life with more energy, better moods, improved concentration, and enhanced health? Sound good?
Restful sleep is a foundation of good physical and emotional health. But many people lie awake nightly, or have difficulty returning to sleep once awakened. Sleep medications can produce unwanted side effects, including dependency. Medications can also lose effectiveness over time. Are there natural alternatives that are actually good for you, without side effects, the effectiveness of which increase over time? There are!
Medical researchers are looking closely at mindfulness training and therapeutic yoga due to the substantial benefits they offer for insomnia as well as a host of other health, quality of life, and productivity concerns. Stress is a major cause of insomnia, but pain, anxiety, and depression – all magnified by stress – are also associated with sleeplessness. Researchers are studying why mindfulness training and therapeutic yoga offer such valuable relief for insomnia.
Jeff Greeson, PhD, MS, clinical health psychologist at Duke University explains, “When we don’t know what to do with intrusive and persistent thoughts, the mind and body feel threatened. That signals the ‘fight or flight’ response which starts a cascade of sleep-robbing emotions like agitation and anxiety.” Greeson’s study of 151 sleep deprived adults, mostly women, who received 8 weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training in mindfulness techniques and gentle yoga, showed significant improvements in sleep quality, sleep disturbances, and less daytime sleepiness. “When people become more mindful they learn to look at life through a new lens. They learn how to accept the presence of thoughts and feelings that may keep them up at night. They begin to understand that they don’t have to react to them. As a result, they experience greater emotional balance and less sleep disturbance.”
Stress is so pervasive today. People worry about the economy, their jobs, bills. “All that worrying, obsessing, and ruminating can increase the risk of illness and disease,” explains Greeson. “When the mind worries, the body responds.” The key, he says, is not to push those thoughts away, but to acknowledge them “That helps people manage their reaction to stress and anxiety and helps them remain calm.”
Researchers at the University of California at San Diego compared mindfulness training with sleep medication in two groups. One received the 8-week MBSR program. The other was prescribed the sleep medication Lunesta™. The MBSR participants significantly reduced the time it took them to fall asleep, increased their total sleep time, reported no adverse events, and scored their satisfaction with treatment as high. Although the patients who received sleep medication obtained similar benefits, their treatment satisfaction scores were not high, most continued using sleeping pills, and several reported adverse events. Because MBSR produces no side effects, and the positive potential benefits of mindfulness extend far beyond sleep, the researchers encouraged people with insomnia, especially those unable or unwilling to use sleep medications, to consider mindfulness training with MBSR.
This year a study by Duke University and Aetna compared mindfulness training with therapeutic yoga and found both to significantly improve sleep, stress, pain, and blood pressure. Researchers said mindfulness training reduces stress by teaching people how to significantly shift their attention to the present moment, with a curious and non-judgmental perspective. Viniyoga, the therapeutic form of yoga examined in this study, utilizes tools for managing stress, including “asanas” (physical postures of yoga), adaptation of asanas to suit the individual’s body, breathing techniques, guided relaxation, mental techniques, and education about starting a home practice.
Mindfulness and therapeutic Viniyoga have dramatically improved the quality of my sleep, as well as virtually every aspect of my life. I would love to speak with you about incorporating these wonderful practices into your life!
Mindfulness Training Improves Sleep Quality; Lessens Need for Sleep Medicines. Duke Medicine News and Communications. June 25, 2009.
Gross CR, et. al. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction v. Pharmacotherapy for Primary Chronic Insomnia: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing 7(2): 76-87, 2011.
Wolever, RQ, et. al. Effective and Viable Mind-Body Stress Reduction in the Workplace: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. February 20, 2012.