The Key to a Good Night's Sleep? Finding Purpose
People who feel they have a purpose in life report fewer sleep disturbances, as well as improved sleep quality, over a long period of time, according to a study in the journal Sleep Science and Practice.
“Having purpose in life is about individuals who have thought about what their purpose is — you’re thinking back what on what you’ve done with your life and what you’re going to do,” says one of the authors, Arlener D. Turner, a former postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University.
The study defined purpose in life as “one’s sense of meaning and directedness in his/her life, essentially having aspirations and goals for the future and feeling that experiences in life are meaningful.” It was measured by people rating phrases on a questionnaire, such as, “I feel good when I think of what I’ve done in the past and what I hope to do in the future,” and “Some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them.”
Previous studies have linked life purpose to positive health outcomes like longevity, and reduced risk of stroke and Alzheimer’s disease. Another cross-sectional examination of older women found that those with higher purpose in life showed less body movement during sleep—a proxy for better sleep quality.
Turner’s study, titled, “Is purpose in life associated with less sleep disturbance in older adults?” looked at 823 individuals 60 to 100 years old who did not have dementia. Half were African American and 77 percent were female.
“People who felt their lives had meaning were 63 percent less likely to have sleep apnea and 52 percent less likely to have restless leg syndrome. They also had moderately better sleep quality, a global measure of sleep disturbance,” the study found.
So if you start jumping out of bed with a renewed sense of vim and vigor – will that improve your sleep?
Not necessarily, Turner says, noting that disturbances like sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome were biological in nature and can’t be “wished away” by motivation alone.
“We think it’s more of a health correlation — people who have higher purpose in life tend to be healthier: They practice more healthy behaviors and preventative medicine helping them to preempt these factors,” she says.
In other words, if you’re the type of person who rushes out of bed with an intention to take on the day, you’re probably also the type of person who will take care of your health — eating right, going to the doctor and nipping nascent problems in the bud.
Even so, this study and others like it prove that it can help your sleep if you find more meaning in your life.
Sleep is such an important part of health, happiness and wellbeing, that its loss as we age can cause many other problems. Increasingly doctors and health practitioners are looking for non-medical ways for people to improve sleep. “Purpose in life can be cultivated and enhanced,” Turner says. She suggests using Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy. “It can be helpful with one’s sleep.”
Although this study looked at older adults, mostly retired, and at the stage where they are considering their life’s purpose, Turner said, “Still, I do think it’s applicable to younger individuals as well.”
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