RLS, Insomnia, and Mindful Meditation

I try to do mindful meditation regularly for my chronic pain every morning. I decided it might be a good idea to begin to add to that routine later in the early evening for my sleep routine – typically before the onset of my restless legs syndrome (RLS) symptoms or when they are at that very mild state so that the mindfulness would help with a sort of wind-down of my mental state and prepare me for sleep.

That isn’t to say I can’t do it with more moderate symptoms, just that it isn’t possible for me once the symptoms get severe.

Why mindful meditation?

I don’t think that mindful meditation or any of my meditation practices will eliminate RLS itself. Certainly, it doesn’t eliminate the chronic pain experience. The main reason I have done the practice is to add to the treatment of my existing medical conditions.

The idea is that mindful meditation over time can help with the emotional impact and toll of RLS and other medical conditions. Just like other things I do that help with the emotional impact, such as cognitive behavioural therapy.

RLS is so insistent with its symptoms that it can prevent quality sleep. It can cause a lot of stress thinking about the lack of sleep and more stress the next day dealing with the effects of that lack of sleep. Then repeat the process every night in a vicious cycle. Mindful meditation can also help a lot with daily stress reduction.

Does mindfulness improve sleep?

There is some research showing that mindfulness helps prep the brain for better sleep and can be beneficial for insomnia. This is essentially what I use mindfulness meditation for and any meditation practice in the evening. It is a way to settle me down for the night. A 2018 review of 1,654 participants showed that mindfulness improved the quality and quantity of sleep over time.1

Mindfulness and mood regulation

Another problem with insomnia over time is the risk of it affecting our mood and mental health. We can develop anxiety and depression. We can have issues with irritation and frustration during the day as we try to cope with daytime sleepiness and cognitive issues.

A study in 2018 showed an 8-week mindfulness program to reduce stress helped improve sleep quality, benefited well-being, and helped with stress and anxiety. It suggested that these benefits were the result of improvements in cognition and emotional regulation.2

RLS and mindfulness

There isn’t exactly an abundance of research on mindfulness meditation and RLS, though. A 2015 study on mindfulness-based stress reduction and RLS did show positive results. There was an improvement in RLS severity, RLS-specific quality of life, sleep quality, and daytime sleepiness. The people involved in the study found it "highly beneficial," and there were also mental health benefits.3

Why I will keep practicing meditation

What I can say, for me, is that meditation helps with de-stressing and preparing me for sleep at night. I know if I practice meditation consistently, it really helps me over time with the perception of symptoms.

In that way, the emotional toll of symptoms and the stress of them is reduced. I hope that over time it will improve RLS severity, and less medication will be needed. Perhaps my sleep quality and quantity will be improved. I have to be consistent with my morning mediation practices to see any benefit, so likewise, I will have to do so with my evening routine.

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