Meditation's scientifically proven benefits

Meditation could help you deal with living in our plugged-in world that's seemingly non-stop, seven days a week, 24 hours a day. After all, we're tethered to our work, constantly on our phones, and always planning for the next meeting, event, or school function, all the while trying to juggle a manageable work-life balance. Sometimes it feels like there's no end in sight, which can make you feel even more overwhelmed, wondering when you're going to catch a break. And just when you think you're about to, something else pops up that needs your attention.

If all of this hit too close to home, you probably need a break, even if you don't think you have time for one. But chances are, if you clear out just a little bit of time in your jam-packed schedule for a little bit of meditation, you'll thank yourself. After all, there are a bunch of scientifically proven benefits you can reap from a meditation practice that will help you vastly improve your quality of life. Read on to find out exactly what they are.  

Meditation helps you get a better night's sleep

Fewer things are more important than getting a good night's sleep. That's because ensuring that you have a healthy sleep schedule can help you preserve your memory, keep your cardiovascular system healthy, keep your weight down, and even help you fight cancer, according to Harvard Medical School. It also keeps your memory intact and makes you less irritable, among other things. 

However, many people have a hard time sleeping, as one out of every four Americans develop insomnia every year, according to an article in Science Daily. And anyone who's laid awake in bed at night staring at the ceiling, willing themselves fruitlessly to fall back asleep can tell you, it's no fun. But there's some good news: Engaging in a mindfulness meditation practice can help you combat insomnia, according to a study in the journal Current Opinion in Pulmonary Medicine. Specifically, both mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and mindfulness-based therapy for insomnia (MBTI) can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

Meditation makes you more self-aware

In order to live your absolute best life, it's important to truly know yourself, right down to the core, and to be in touch with your feelings. Plus, if you're deeply in touch with who you are, chances are you're going to be able to better relate to the people around you — and meaningful interactions are important!

If you're looking to cultivate self-knowledge, look no further than a meditation practice. According to a study in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences, meditation can help you identify destructive behavior patterns, and turn those around into healthy habits. The same result was found in the journal Advances in Mind Body Medicine, which proved that a yoga practice can help you relax and view yourself in a more non-judgmental light.

In addition to those two studies, another in the journal Supportive Care Cancer found that women with breast cancer who practiced Tai Chi had higher self-esteem than those who received a different kind of social support. It goes to show just how much taking quiet time for your mind and body can help you be a better you.

Meditation reduces anxiety

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 40 million adults in the United States have an anxiety disorder. At over 18 percent of the population, that makes anxiety the most common mental illness in the entire country. Those are some pretty sobering statistics.

If you're one of those 40 million people, there's a good chance that a regular meditation practice will help you control and reduce your anxiety. For one, according to a study of 174 adults in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) meditation helped to not only reduce anxiety, but also decrease paranoid thoughts, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and phobia-related fears. Another study in the journal Depression & Anxiety had the same conclusion, again proving that meditation can reduce symptoms of anxiety.

Moving meditations can also help people control their anxiety, as a study in the journal American Family Physician found that yoga helped people with anxiety to calm down. So no matter how you slice it, meditation can really help you kick anxiety to the curb, where it belongs. 

Meditation can help you beat depression

Over 16 million Americans suffer from major depressive disorder, and over 3 million have persistent depressive disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. The former is also the leading cause of disability in the United States in individuals between 15 and 44.

If those statistics include you, there's hope, in that meditation has been proven to decrease depression on multiple occasions. For example, in one study of 3,515 adults in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, mindfulness meditation showed a moderate reduction of depression, as did a study of 1,173 patients in the journal Psychosomatics. Another study in the journal General Hospital Psychiatry followed 18 adults over a three-year period, and found that patients who participated in mindfulness meditation reported a long-term decrease in depression. And yet another study in the Psychosomatic Medicine concluded that people who meditate have increased activity changes in parts of the brain connected to optimism and positive thinking.

All of that is solid evidence that breathing deeply and looking inward can help you beat the blues. 

Meditation improves your attention span

One of the more obvious things that meditation can do for you is increase your attention span. And given that the average attention span of adults in the United States is eight seconds, according to Time magazine, we need all the help that we can get. That's shorter than the attention span of a goldfish!

Fortunately, you don't have to have an established meditation practice to see your attention span increase. According to a study in the journal Consciousness and Cognition, you can grow your attention span with meditation in just four days, which isn't a lot of time. Additionally, if you stick around for a full eight-week course of mindfulness meditation, you're sure to see both your ability to focus and your ability to reorient your attention improve, according to a study in the journal Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience.

To top it all off, an eight-week study of human resource workers who engaged in mindfulness meditation found that they remembered how to do their tasks better than their counterparts and could focus on them longer, according to another study. Pretty impressive!

Meditation can help you deal with pain

Dealing with pain is a part of everyone's life. From the first time that you skin your knees as a kid to the gnawing pain of a toothache, we all deal with various forms of pain at various stages in life. And while it isn't fun, it's the body's way of telling you that something's wrong and needs to be addressed.

If you're someone who struggles with pain, whether chronic or intermittent, meditation might help you deal with it better. According to a study in The Journal of Neuroscience, individuals who went through a four-day mindfulness meditation workshop both reported decreased amounts of pain and showed increased activity in the part of the brain that manages pain. Another study of 3,500 habitual meditators in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine concluded that meditation helps with pain. Plus a study in the journal Palliative & Supportive Care suggested that meditation can help people at the end of their lives feel less chronic pain before their passing.

That doesn't mean you should jettison the pain management plan given to you by your doctor. But science proves that meditation helps!

Meditation makes you nicer

Did you know that a certain kind of meditation can actually make you nicer? Perhaps make you less prone to road rage, frustration at work, or snapping at your partner? It might sound a little out there, but, according to science, Metta meditation, or "loving-kindness" meditation, really can cause you to be a kinder, gentler person.

According to an article in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, a whopping 22 studies have concluded that practicing Metta meditation causes people to be more compassionate both to themselves and to others. And the more effort and intent that you put into Metta meditation, the more positive you'll feel, according to a study in the Journal of Happiness Studies. Plus, the longer you practice Metta meditation, the more rewards you'll reap, according to a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

So if you're struggling to love yourself or find that you're a little more cranky and moody than you'd like to be, give Metta meditation a shot. It just might make you happier.

Meditation lowers your stress levels

According to the American Psychological Association, Americans are overwhelmingly stressed out. About 63 percent of people are worried about the state of the country, 62 percent are concerned about their finances, and 61 percent of people are feeling stressed about their employment situations. That's a lot of people doing a lot of worrying.

Is there anything that meditation can do for your stress levels? Absolutely, according to scientific research. One study of 3,515 people in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that meditation definitely helps to reduce stress levels. Another study of 1,295 people in the Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine came to the same conclusion, especially for people who were the most stressed out. Furthermore, in an additional study in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, individuals who completed eight weeks of mindfulness meditation reported decreased inflammation caused by stress. So next time you're feeling at the end of your rope, take some time to meditate on it. It could help you catch your breath.

Meditation may help prevent memory loss

Do you have a history of Parkinson's disease in your family? Are you at risk of age-related memory loss like dementia, and looking for ways to protect yourself against it? Consider starting a meditation practice, as doing so can safeguard your memory and protect it from the ravages of these diseases.

In a systematic review of 12 studies in the Annals of the New York Academy of Science, researchers found that meditation bolstered memory, increased mental agility, and upped attention span in older adults. On top of that, a study in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease concluded that a specific form of meditation called Kirtan Kriya helps protect against age-related memory loss.

If you or someone you love is already experiencing age-related memory loss, meditation can still be helpful. A study in the journal Aging & Mental Health found that meditation helped caregivers for people with dementia alleviate their depression, and the above study in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease found  that patients with Alzheimer's and their caregivers experienced improved memory by meditating. That's great news for both afflicted individuals and their families.

Meditation can help you ditch your addiction

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 20 million people currently have a substance abuse problem. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of people battling addiction will get help in aiding their recovery, which is a pretty dire situation.

That doesn't mean everything is doom and gloom, however, as meditation has been shown on multiple occasions to help people kick their habits and enter recovery. In one study in the journal Translational Behavioral Medicine, researchers found that a mindfulness meditation practice helped people better understand their addiction, as well as increase both their will power and impulse control. Another study in the journal Consciousness and Cognition had a similar conclusion. Also, a study in the Journal of Addiction Medicine found that recovering alcoholics were better able to control their cravings after an eight-week mindfulness meditation practice.

If food is your addiction, there's good news on that front too, according to a systematic review in the journal Eating Behaviors. Scientists found that meditation helped people decrease both binge and emotional eating. Right on!

Meditation can lower your blood pressure

Having high blood pressure can be dangerous, as it can lead to serious conditions like heart attack, stroke, heart failure, metabolic syndrome, and more, according to the Mayo Clinic. To that end, you will want to do all that you can to keep your blood pressure in a healthy range.

That's yet another thing that meditation can help with. According to a study in the journal Hormone Molecular Biology and Clinical Investigation, having a meditation practice is beneficial for your cardiovascular system, among other things. Also, a systematic review in the Journal of Human Hypertension concluded that transcendental meditation can help you lower your blood pressure, especially if you have high blood pressure already. Furthermore, a study in the International Journal of Cardiology found that several forms of meditation can lower blood pressure both acutely and in the long-term. You can't argue with science!

Meditation boosts your immune system

Are you prone to getting sick fairly often? Do you come down with every illness that your children bring home from school without fail? It might be time for you to cultivate a meditation practice then, as the science shows that meditation can help you boost your immune system.

Specifically, in one study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, researchers found that people who underwent an eight-week mindfulness meditation program had better immune responses than people in the control group. Additionally, a study in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology concluded that people who completed a six-week compassion meditation program had reduced stress immune responses in comparison with their controlled counterparts. Translation: meditation can make you physically healthier. 

That's not to say you should substitute meditation for things like vaccinations, doctor's orders, or other over-the-counter remedies. But there's nothing wrong with having one more tool in your immune system's arsenal, especially one that's free of charge.

Meditation improves your emotional health

It's not just your physical health that you can improve with a meditation practice. Rather, there's scientific evidence that meditation can also help you cultivate your emotional health, rendering you a happier and more well-adjusted person. Is there anyone who wouldn't want to experience more happiness in their lives on a daily basis? We think not.

For starters, a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology surveyed 139 working adults. Researchers divided them into two groups: one half practiced loving-kindness meditation, and the other half did not. At the end of the study, they found that those who practiced meditation were more confident in their life's purpose, more mindful of themselves and others, and more satisfied with their lives than the control group. Additionally, a second study in the journal Emotion concluded that just a few minutes of loving-kindness meditation helped people feel more socially connected to the people around them, and subsequently happier and less isolated.

Meditation expands your brain

Meditation can literally expand the size of your brain and in more ways than one. It's 100 percent true and backed up by multiple scientific studies.

For starters, according to a study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, meditation can improve brain function when it comes to responding to illness. A second study in the journal NeuroReport found that meditation can cause growth in regions of the brain associated with sensory processing, attention span, emotional processing, and interoception, which is how well your brain picks up on and processes what's going on with your body. Finally, according to a study in the journal NeuroImage, meditation can cause the gray matter in your brain to increase, which can make you happier, more mindful, and more emotionally stable.

At the end of the day, the very well-documented benefits of meditation show that it's a practice worth taking up, as it can improve your quality of life in a variety of different ways.