Trouble sleeping? UCLA researchers say meditation might help

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A new study suggests that if you’re having trouble sleeping, meditation may be the way to go.

UCLA researchers, working with colleagues from USC, recruited 49 adults aged 55 and older who had moderate sleep problems.

Half of them enrolled in a six-week sleep education course that included lessons on sleep habits, relaxation methods and establishing bedtime routines.

The other half enrolled in a mindful meditation course. Mindful meditation trains people to be aware of their thoughts and emotions but avoid reacting to or becoming distracted by them -- a common problem that can keep people up at night.

The study found that those enrolled in the meditation course reported better quality sleep and fewer bouts of insomnia than those who got the sleep education classes. And according to the researchers, the improvements were on a par with those conferred by clinical sleep therapy or sleeping pills, though without the side effects.

Researchers say the results suggest that meditation could be a good alternative treatment for sleep problems, at least in the short term. They have yet to study whether the practice confers long-term sleep benefits.

The authors noted that previous research has shown that "a movement-based meditation, Tai Chi, can improve sleep quality in older adults," adding that, "to our knowledge," this is the first attempt to explore the use of a "non-movement form of meditation for sleep problems in older adults."

The research was conducted by scientists from UCLA's Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, in collaboration with USC's Keck School of Medicine.

The study was published Monday in the online edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center offers free guided meditations online, as well as online courses.

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