Mindfulness or Medication: Who will beat Insomnia?

Imagine a country where we no longer have to depend on medication to help manage depression, chronic pain, or insomnia.

Lately, I’ve been seeing a trend of studies that are showing how mindfulness is just as effective as side-effect loaded medications. medications or mindfulness, which is better for insomnia? This latest study, conducted by Cynthia Gross, PhD and her colleagues from the College of Pharmacy at the University of Minnesota, has found some inspiring evidence that mindfulness may be just as powerful as the insomnia prescription medication, Lunesta.

This randomized, controlled trial was conducted at the University of Minnesota’s health center where 30 adults, diagnosed with insomnia, were split into two groups. 20 participants took an 8 week MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) training course, and 10 participants were put on a daily regimen of 3mg of eszopiclone (Lunesta).

The folks in the mindfulness course had one 2.5 hour session a week for eight weeks, one full day retreat, and were provided with homework assignments designed to help them stay focused on their mindfulness practices.

Participants’ quality of sleep was measured using the Insomnia Severity Index, the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, and sleep diaries. These tests were performed before and after the initial 8 weeks and then again 3 months after the study.

Results show that mindfulness and the sleeping medication had comparable results on several measures − total sleep time, how long it took for participants to fall asleep, and sleep efficiency (percent of time spent asleep compared to total time in bed).

In fact, after 8 weeks of training, the MBSR group fell asleep more quickly than the medication group and this was still true at the 3 month follow-up. What’s more, some of the improvements in quality of sleep continued to rise as time passed.

The more we show the value of mindfulness, the more willing people may be to try an alternative that comes without overwhelming healthcare costs and the burdens of medications.

(Please note: this DOES NOT mean that anyone currently taking medication should stop doing so. Healthcare providers should always be consulted before changing medication regimens).

What are your views on using alternative therapies over medication? Do you favor one over the other? Is there room for both? We’d like to hear your thoughts.


Please Leave A Comment



  1. Hello! I simply would like to give you a massive thumbs up for the wonderful information you’ve got here about this post. I will be returning to your site for more soon.

  2. Rachel says:

    Please don’t make claims about chronic pain unless you are trained in it. There is plenty of recent science showing opiates are neseccessay because they are centrally acting and pain is a disorder of the CNS. In the UK The body had 5 different pain receptors and all have to be treated with a different medication in pain management. Most CP patients suffer because they are not on enough medication. we do not yet have opiate hysteria as in the USA.Yes, changing to an aware life ( mindfulness is awareness, that is all) helps manage pain because it stops one multitasking but there are other ways apart from
    meditation to learn that: locus of control management which is already taught in pain rehab and has been for over a decade in the U.K. You do not have to meditate mindfully to do that. 7% of people who try mindfulness meditation have severe psychiatric reactions. It is irresponsible to promote something which so seriously risks the health of its practitioners. Like most zeitgeist crazes for ‘ the answer to everything’ the mindfulness one will be e put to bed in
    time and take a more proportionate place in the culture as more people are damaged by it.
    The website below is not mine but has a huge amount of reliable, medically and alternative therapy referenced pain science collated by Paul Ingraham

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  6. Carol,Ca.USA says:

    I love all the information you give us. Is there any way I could be in any studies like these? Thanks.

  7. Donna Bunce says:

    Mindfulness psychotherapy and meditation allowed me to get off 16 years of psych meds for bipolar and major depression and on and on with the misdiagnoses. The real problem is more like PTSD/childhood trauma and dysfunctional family of origin. I was a professional looking for answers, mindfulness is a miracle. Thank You.

    • Rachel says:

      I am sure the psychotherapy did more than the mindfulness. It is not the cure all its claimed to be with a 7% incidence of severe psychiatric side effects. Mindfulness is awareness that is all. In the modern world people are multitasking too much we are not designed for it, and mindfulness is a cure for that.

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    • Kamberley says:

      The voice of raaytntlioi! Good to hear from you.

      • Swapnali says:

        I’ve not visited your blog for a while beacsue my own daughter was born 6 weeks early and we had a 2 week stay in the NICU. Reading your updates makes me so happy! Congratulations on the birth of your daughter! I hope that she can come home next Tuesday!!

  8. Michael says:

    I have experienced both medication/psychotherapy working with some individual and so believe that this dual approach can sometimes speed up the healing process. I am always interested in people being empowered to take charge of their health and so any alternative approach to medication is especially is useful.

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  10. Jean Johnson says:

    Interesting. Yes, I am sure mindfulness has its’ place in healing. I most concerned about getting into the religious side of this pracice, though. What’s the difference between both pathways?

  11. Mary Destri says:

    The UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine in San Francisco has excellent mindfulness programs, including Mindfulness Based Childbirth and Parenting.

  12. Anita Demants says:

    My personal preference is to use energy medicine, traditional healing and alternative methods first, and medication only as a second alternative for sleep problems.

    Thanks, Ruth for the informative study right here in MN!

    • Rachel says:

      They won’t work unless people stop their exposure to blue light from electronic devices and TVs for 3 hours before bed AND practice basic sleep hygiene. Apple devices now have a ‘remove blue light wavelengths setting and for older devices not supporting this there is an APP called night shift which converts screens to grey scale for the evenings.

  13. Hannelie Scheffer says:

    I started mindfulness meditation 15 years ago due to insomnia. It really improved my life. The interesting thing is that the past 3 years I have been experiencing a type of insomnia again (lots of waking up, inability to fall asleep; extreme tiredness). I got used to sitting for hours in meditation during the night to keep on functioning. Just 2 weeks ago I was diagnosed with severe sleep apnea. My so called “sanity” has apparantly been preserved by doing the mindfulness. So as a clinical psychologist, mindfulness practitioner and trainer, I totally agree with the benefits of mindfulness for sleep. I just had to be reminded that its not always 100% the cure. I now sleep with a CPAP (continous positive airway pressure) machine and my mindfulness practices are also improving (not feeling so much like survival or coping, but more transformative).

  14. ZOHREH says:

    Thank you Ruth, for this brief article report. One noteworthy point here is that the study was done by the folks at a pharmacy college. Warm Regards, zz

  15. Julia Tupper, CPC says:

    It is always great to be reminded of the alternatives. Sleep is such a critical element in our lives and crucial to all aspects of mind body spirit healing.

    Mindfulness practice is one of many skills and tools, that I offer to my clients to help develop the self-empowerment muscle that leads to a more grounded and therefore authentic relationship with our selves and with those around us ~ often sleep is improved when we grant ourselves permission to lower the “mask.” Mindfulness is one powerful pathway to that permission-set.

    • Avol says:

      Im so happy that you will hopefully be able to take baby K home soon. I have been foilwolng your story for a while now and as a fellow infertility sufferer (if you even call it that) Im so happy that your dream of becoming a mother has come true – it gives us all hope that one day we will get it too. She is just gorgeous!!!

  16. Johnny Atman says:

    Yeas, but remember that you should be careful with whom you use mindfulness as it can be dangerous….

  17. I recommend mindfulness to every patient to use a a coping skill. This is great news. Could you give the citation of the article so that we can read the whole article? Thanks.

  18. Ophelia says:

    I’m proof of the benefits of the MBSR 8 week class, I did it, and continue practicing with the same group once a month, after 18 year taking pills I am free of them, I almost every night fall asleep in les than 20 minutes and wake up after 7 or 8 hours feeling new

  19. Gertrude says:

    1 hour of mindfulness equals 4 hours of sleep.

  20. Orla Nelson says:

    I have been following your series on brain-body health and treatments with interest. As a person diagnosed with major depression in 1985 I have become a seeker for better answers and am very pleased to see that research is finding them.
    I would like to suggest that the same information you’ve been covering for professionals to use, would also be extremely helpful for all those not in treatment yet trying to understand why they are feeling so lousy. May I encourage you to either make your webcasts available to patients or at least an adaptation of the same. Some kind of downloadable information to read would be good as well. It would be nonthreatening yet make us educated consumers about services available and better partners in the healing process.

    Culturally, I feel that all we’re doing is treading sand where Major Depression and its’ cousins are concerned. I give thanks for people and programs like yours that will make a real difference for all of us.

    • Tanaka says:

      Welcome to the U.S. . . . and welcome to pre-existing coontiinds. You might be able to get it covered. First thing you should do is submit your info to get an insurance quote from. From there you can find which health insurance providers will accept your issue.

  21. Sleep is essential to healing the body and the mind. This is an excellent piece of evidence of the further value of mindfulness.

    I recommend to all my patients that they begin developing a mindfulness meditation practice for whatever presenting symptom they have.

    I do believe there is a place for medication and it should not be viewed as a weakness to use when prescribed.

    Since sleep disturbance is so common, I also suggest to them that even if they don’t fall asleep, the very practice of mindfulness meditation throughout the night is positive and restorative.

    Larry Drell, MD

  22. Latha says:

    Alternative therapies do not lead to side effects or dependency and empower people and are likely to be more sustainable.

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