From sleeping pills to warm milk, from lowering the temperature to avoiding technology before bedtime, there are dozens of things people do in an effort to improve their sleep quality and quantity. If you’re having trouble sleeping well at night and feel like you’ve tried everything, this study may be the answer you’ve been looking for.
Researchers from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, IL, have discovered a connection between having something to wake up for in the morning and better sleep quality. They asked 823 people between the ages of 60 and 100 (77% women, roughly 50% African American) to answer a 10-question survey about their sense of purpose in life, in which they rated how much they agreed with statements 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.” Their sense of purpose was rated on a scale of 1 to 5. Then the participants’ sleep habits were assessed, once at the beginning, and again at one- and two-year intervals.
The results showed that those who felt their lives had meaning also had better sleep quality. On top of that, they were 52 percent less likely to have restless leg syndrome (RLS) and 63 percent less likely to suffer from sleep apnea, both of which can cause sleep disturbances.
Most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night, but few regularly reach that level. An estimated 50 to 70 million people in the United States alone suffer from some form of sleep disorder.
Poor sleep is associated with several medical conditions, such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and even colds and flu. People who have Alzheimer’s disease or autism and those who are undergoing certain cancer treatments also tend to struggle with falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping at the right time of day. These sleep problems can exacerbate health issues and cause the affected individuals to struggle with normal daily tasks. Therefore, the findings of this study could be key in getting those individuals the sleep they need to live their best and healthiest possible lives.
“Helping people cultivate a purpose in life could be an effective drug-free strategy to improve sleep quality,” said Jason Ong, senior author and an associate professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Illinois, “particularly for a population that is facing more insomnia.” He added:
“Purpose in life is something that can be cultivated and enhanced through mindfulness therapies.”
So how do you find the purpose in your life? The research team is now focusing on mindfulness-based therapies in the hopes of improving sleep quality in study participants.
But while you wait for their results, you can define “meaning” in your life in your own way. Maybe you have children or grandchildren you want to be around for, or maybe your job or volunteer work is something you’re really passionate about. Just find something that makes you want to get up in the morning, and you’ll likely be on your way to better sleep in no time.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?