Having a Purpose in Life Linked to Better Sleep

Having a good reason to get out of bed in the morning means you are more likely to sleep better at night with less sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome, according to a new study.

“Helping people cultivate a purpose in life could be an effective drug-free strategy to improve sleep quality, particularly for a population that is facing more insomnia,” said senior author Dr. Jason Ong, an associate professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Purpose in life is something that can be cultivated and enhanced through mindfulness therapies.”

For the study, researchers recruited 823 people between the ages of 60 and 100, with an average age of 79. None suffered from dementia. More than half were African American and 77 percent were female.

The study found that 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, according to the researchers.

For the study, participants answered a 10-question survey on purpose in life and a 32-question survey on sleep.

For the purpose in life survey, they were asked to rate their responses to such statements as, “I feel good when I think of what I’ve done in the past and what I hope to do in the future.”

Individuals have more sleep disturbances and insomnia as they get older, the researchers noted. Clinicians prefer to use non-drug interventions to improve patients’ sleep, a practice now recommended by the American College of Physicians as a first line treatment for insomnia, Ong said.

Poor sleep quality is related to having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, and feeling sleepy during the day. Sleep apnea is a common disorder that increases with age in which a person has shallow breathing or pauses in breathing during sleep several times per hour. This disruption often makes a person feel unrefreshed upon waking up and excessively sleepy during the day.

Restless leg syndrome causes uncomfortable sensations in the legs and an irresistible urge to move them. Symptoms commonly occur in the late afternoon or evening hours and are often most severe at night when a person is resting, such as sitting or lying in bed.

The next step in the research should be to study the use of mindfulness-based therapies to target purpose in life and resulting sleep quality, said Dr. Arlener Turner, the study’s first author and a former postdoctoral fellow in neurology at Feinberg.

The study was published in the journal Sleep Science and Practice.

Source: Northwestern Medicine and Rush University Medical Center