Religious People Tend to Sleep Better and Longer At Night

One in three Americans don't get enough sleep, The Centers for Disease Control reported in 2016. The solution may lie in a house of worship.

Researchers from the University of Texas at San Antonio and the University of Arizona examined population studies of the last 20 years and found consistent evidence that participants who regularly attend religious services reported better sleep quality than their secular counterparts.

In a study published in April in Sleep Health: Journal of the National Sleep Foundation, the team found people who rated religion as important were likely to sleep at least seven hours uninterrupted and fall asleep easily without medication, while secular respondents reported restlessness and intermittent waking periods and were likely to sleep less for than seven hours.

Religious involvement is linked to more stable mental health outcomes, like lower levels of anxiety, depression and anger, more opportunities for social engagement and support and significantly lower rates of smoking, drinking and substance abuse.

More religious people are simply less stressed, the evidence argues: those who reported higher religious attendance were more likely to believe in "God-mediated control," or the belief that all things are possible through God. More religious people typically support normative belief systems and are more likely to defer to authority and social control, researchers said, so less uncertainty leads to longer sleep.

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A Chinese shopper sleeps on a sofa in the showroom of the IKEA store on July 6, 2014, in Beijing, China. More religious people may sleep more hours than those with secular views, new research found. Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Participants' salience of religion, or the degree to which religion is important, was also positively associated with better sleep outcomes.

Strong religious ties can potentially lessen psychological trauma. Researchers cited a 2011 study of U.S. military veterans who attended religious services and were less likely to report sleep disturbances even after exposure to combat and previous difficulty sleeping.

Younger people don't reap the same benefits, evidence showed. Children and teens who reported more religious involvement actually spent less time sleeping throughout the week, with later bedtimes and earlier wake times.

But since more religious people are generally more optimistic, their self-reported health data might be skewed. A 2010 study supported the claim that people with higher rates of God-mediated control beliefs often reported better health outcomes than less religious adults.

Insufficient sleep is linked to a higher risk of diabetes, depression and cardiovascular disease, as well as changes in metabolism that increase the likelihood of excess weight gain and obesity, the CDC said.

The results were controlled for race, sex, education, income and other variables, but studies have shown that minorities are more likely to report sleep durations of less than six hours and poor sleep quality. The CDC reported only 54 percent of blacks and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders sleep at least seven hours a night, compared to 67 percent of whites and 66 percent of Hispanics.