Background: Chronic insomnia is a major public health problem affecting approximately 10% of adults. Use of meditation and yoga to develop mindful awareness ('mindfulness training') may be an effective approach to treat chronic insomnia, with sleep outcomes comparable to nightly use of prescription sedatives, but more durable and with minimal or no side effects. The purpose of this study was to understand mindfulness training as experienced by patients with chronic insomnia, and suggest procedures that may be useful in optimizing sleep benefits.
Methods: Adults (N = 18) who completed an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program as part of a randomized, controlled clinical trial to evaluate MBSR as a treatment for chronic insomnia were invited to participate in post-trial focus groups. Two groups were held. Participants (n = 9) described how their sleep routine, thoughts and emotions were affected by MBSR and about utility (or not) of various mindfulness techniques. Groups were audio-recorded, transcribed and analyzed using content analysis.
Results: Four themes were identified: the impact of mindfulness on sleep and motivation to adopt a healthy sleep lifestyle; benefits of mindfulness on aspects of life beyond sleep; challenges and successes in adopting mindfulness-based practices; and the importance of group sharing and support. Participants said they were not sleeping more, but sleeping better, waking more refreshed, feeling less distressed about insomnia, and better able to cope when it occurred. Some participants experienced the course as a call to action, and for them, practicing meditation and following sleep hygiene guidelines became priorities. Motivation to sustain behavioral changes was reinforced by feeling physically better and more emotionally stable, and seeing others in the MBSR class improve. The body scan was identified as an effective tool to enable falling asleep faster. Participants described needing to continue practicing mindfulness to maintain benefits.
Conclusions: First-person accounts are consistent with published trial results of positive impacts of MBSR on sleep measured by sleep diary, actigraphy, and self-report sleep scales. Findings indicate that mindfulness training in a group format, combined with sleep hygiene education, is important for effective application of MBSR as a treatment for chronic insomnia.