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Meditation for Insomnia: How Well Does It Work?

by Dale Cudmore | Updated: Jul 15, 2021

Stress and anxiety are the leading causes of insomnia.

For most people with sleep issues, improving stress and anxiety results in better sleep.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is typically the first line of insomnia treatment, but other relaxation therapies can potentially help, including meditation.

Let’s take a look at some of the latest research on meditation and its impact on sleep quality.

The Effect of Mindfulness Meditation For Insomnia

A 2017 meta-study looked at the cumulative results of 6 randomized controlled trials on mindfulness meditation and insomnia (1).

It found that this type of meditation significantly improved total wake time and sleep quality, but did not have a statistically positive effect on several variables like sleep onset latency, total sleep time, and sleep efficiency.

In addition, the effect size was relatively small compared to other treatment options.

A 2018 study also looked at the effects of mindfulness meditation on subjects with chronic insomnia, and saw significantly better results (2).

Subjects were assigned to one of three groups:

  • Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)
  • Mindfulness-based therapy for insomnia (MBTI)
  • Sleep diary self-monitoring (SM) followed by behavior therapy (BT)

MBTI had the most positive results, with:

...large effect sizes on sleep effort, maladaptive sleep-related cognitions, and hyperarousal

MBTI combines both mindfulness meditation with behavioral sleep components.

SummaryMeditation does seem to have some positive effect on insomnia symptoms. However, there are many types of meditation, which can also be combined with other treatments, and it is currently unclear which type of meditation is most effective.

Heartfulness Meditation and Insomnia

One other form of meditation that has been studied is heartfulness meditation.

In 2019, researchers had subjects perform heartfulness meditation for 8 weeks and saw large improvements in insomnia severity (3):

There was a significant decrease in the mean ISI scores from 20.9 to 10.4... Twenty four of 32 patients were initially on sedative or hypnotic medications. At week eight, 21 of 24 patients (87.5%) were off these medications or the dosage was reduced

Not only did the meditation practice improve sleep quality, but it did so to the extent that patients could take less sleep medication, which often has negative side effects.

Note that people respond differently to meditation. Some subjects experienced a large benefit, while others saw little to no benefit.

SummaryHeartfulness meditation may produce large improvements in insomnia symptoms for people suffering from chronic insomnia, but more research is needed to confirm these effects.

Can Meditation Be Used As a Supplement to CBT?

CBT alone works for most people, but not everyone.

In those cases, doctors either additionally prescribe a sleep medication or another type of therapy. Meditation could be one of those alternatives according to some research.

One research team studied the effects of taking CBT alone compared to CBT plus meditation (4).

The group that did mindfulness meditation on top of the CBT experienced further benefits:

The data shows that each treatment yielded significant improvements over time in sleep variables from the diary, PSQI, ISI, anxiety, DBAS 16, sleeping pill use and vitality

In other words, mindfulness meditation could be done in tandem with CBT to potentially improve results.

Summary: Does Meditation Help Insomnia?

Meditation alone seems to improve insomnia symptoms, but some types may be more effective than others, and certain people respond better than others.

Further research is still required to determine the best type of meditation practice to improve sleep quality the most.

However, for now it appears that adding meditation on top of other types of treatment like CBT is a safe and simple way to improve sleep quality even more.

References

  1. Mindfulness meditation for insomnia: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials
  2. A Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation for Chronic Insomnia
  3. Heartfulness meditation improves sleep in chronic insomnia
  4. Contribution of mindfulness meditation in cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia

Medical Disclaimer: The information on SnoozeUniversity.com is not intended to be a substitute for physician or other qualified care. We simply aim to inform people struggling with sleep issues about the nature of their condition and/or prescribed treatment.


About the authorDale is the founder of Snooze University and a sleep researcher. I overcame my sleep issues and now I'd like to help you do the same by summarizing the latest sleep studies for you.