What does the science say?

A few months ago, during one of my clinics, in which I work with NHS staff suffering from insomnia, I had a fascinating conversation with Peter, a cardiologist.

Peter insisted that meditation was an effective treatment for chronic/long-term insomnia—a sentiment echoed by a large majority of people.

The irony here is that Peter has been suffering from insomnia for nearly 10 years and has been meditating for the same amount of time.

His argument was that it hadn’t worked for him, but it was scientifically proven to work.

You can imagine this wasn’t the first time I had heard that. Normally, it would be people around an insomnia sufferer telling them they should try it. But rarely someone who is an insomniac AND a regular meditator.

So, I decided to look at the science and evidence he was referring to.


Looking at the science

We looked at studies from famous meditation apps as well as other independent studies. And guess what the science says? Yes, meditation can improve sleep.

But… let’s take a closer look at those studies.

Who were the subjects of those studies?

And, as Peter discovered, the subjects of those studies were not long-term insomnia sufferers but just normal sleepers.

So… yes, there is plenty of evidence to show meditation can improve sleep. But not for long-term insomnia sufferers!

Unfortunately, this is a challenge I face every day.

If you’re a long-term insomnia sufferer and want to know what can help you overcome your sleep problem, then you must look at studies where the subjects are long-term insomnia sufferers.

This does not mean meditation and mindfulness are useless.

They can be great to help with short-term insomnia.

Or indeed they can be fantastic tools to help manage some of the symptoms of long-term insomnia such as sleep anxiety, or fear…

… But these approaches will not help fix a long-term sleep problem!


Insomnia can be beaten, but it will take time

All the approaches that are backed by numerous clinical studies and are specific to long-term insomnia will take time.

Our sleep retraining program combines techniques from several different approaches, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, sleep compression therapy, and others.

It’s not a quick fix; it will require commitment and consistency… but the rewards are worth every second.

If there is one takeaway message from this article, it is that if you’re determined to tackle your sleep problem once and for all, look at what the science says. And when reviewing the studies, make sure the approaches have worked for people who are also experiencing the long-term sleep problem you have.

6 Responses

  1. I have a long term sleep issue… waking at 3 am having stored up all the anxieties of the day. I go to sleep having resolved many/ perhaps in a reasonably calm state of mind but 3am they are back with avengence .
    I try to turn to a book (which is calming to a degree) Usually I turn to my phone , choosing all manner of subjects including the rainfall/soothing voices/ positive affirmations . I can say that they all have helped to a degree at times but I’m essentially left with a reset button where I’m back to my 3am waking / sleep is fitful until I get up at say 5 or 6am …
    I work shifts and have an active outdoor life and most days I do yoga/ exercise sessions .
    But I do feel I’m lacking in that wonderful extra couple of hours … the odd time I have been able to sleep I feel so much more rejuvenated … a wonderful feeling

    1. Yes, once broken sleep becomes a habit to your brain, it learns it and starts to deliver it more often. It is likely that your wired mind is a consequence of this now, rather than the cause. You need to re train your brain to sleep in order to get through the wake gaps your brain has got used to delivering at night. This can’t be done in a few days, but if you ever want to get rid of this problem for good, we can help teach and support you in a matter of weeks.

  2. My insomnia has been going on for four years.
    I have tried several different things but didn’t help.
    What exactly do you have to do to meditate?
    I have broken sleep and I’m worried because my mum suffered from dementia.
    If you can help me I’ll be really grateful.
    Thank you.

    1. Hi there, thanks for reaching out. Meditation alone is not going to fix your sleep problem. What we do on our program is based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia (or CBTI for short!). It is the only evidence based way of fixing insomnia that we know of in science today. It is a program of highly evidence based strategies for fixing broken sleep. It targets different components of insomnia such as sleep anxiety, hypersensitivity (where you become more sensitive to triggers), dysregulated sleep patterns (wake gaps in the night) and weakened sleep drive (your ability to actually feel like you can go to sleep). We do this over several weeks, building up certain influential habits, and then personalising your program to make sure it’s targeting the right areas for you, as well as supporting you along the way. We absolutely understand how worrying this condition can be, but rest assured in a matter of weeks you can be sleeping very differently.

  3. I have used Headspace app. to guide me in 15 mins daily meditation for about 7 years. I also detected no improvement to my insomnia as a result, despite other benefits.

    1. Yes, Headspace is a wonderful tool for distraction and relaxation. Unfortunately, it does not target any other components of insomnia, so it does not get rid of it. More of a companion or a coping mechanism.

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