How to Sleep Well: Fill Your Life With Purpose, Study Says

Though we may constantly feel tired, sleeping isn't always easy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2016 found that one in three Americans doesn't get enough sleep. This can lead to a host of health problems, and more and more Americans are resorting to sleeping pills to ensure they're able to get a good night's rest. The American College of Physicians has recommended against using prescription drugs to treat insomnia, if possible, and now there may be hope for sleeping well without popping a pill. According to a new study, the best way to get through the night in peace may be to simply have a solid sense of purpose in your life outside of bed.

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The study, conducted by Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, found that people who felt their lives had purpose experienced better sleep quality than those who didn't. They were also 63 percent less likely to suffer from sleep apnea, and 52 percent less likely to suffer from restless leg syndrome. The aim of the study, published Monday in the journal Sleep Science and Practice, was to examine the relationship between purpose in life, overall sleep quality and the presence of sleep disorders in a biracial sample of older adults: people who are more likely to have problems sleeping.

“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 Dr. Jason Ong, one of the study's authors and an associate professor of neurology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. “Purpose in life is something that can be cultivated and enhanced through mindfulness therapies.”

To conduct the study, the Feinberg School's team of researchers gathered 825 people between the ages of 60 and 100. Participants were given surveys on their purpose in life and their sleep. The average age of the participants, 79, was high because people have more trouble sleeping as they get older (almost 40 percent of older adults suffer from a sleeping disorder). Trouble sleeping is also more common among African-Americans, who made up more than half of the pool of participants. None of the study's participants suffered from dementia.

Through establishing a link between purpose in life and sleep quality, researchers found that the idea of purpose in life may be applied in a clinical setting, and they recommended further research into the connection between positive psychology and sleep health. The more this is studied, the more effectively treatments like mindfulness therapy can be used to curb issues like sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome, which means fewer people will have to rely on prescription pills to make it through the night undisturbed.

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