Is the key to better sleep the ability to let things go? This scientific survey aims to find out.

By Maggie Seaver
Updated October 25, 2019

What does holding a grudge have in common with blue light exposure, caffeine, drinking alcohol, and a room that’s too warm or bright? They’re all things that could potentially impact your sleep quality. A survey published in Psychology and Health journal found an intriguing correlation between individuals’ sleep quality and their willingness to forgive (both others and themselves)—as well as how that affects overall health and quality of life.

Looking at a diverse group of more than 1,400 American adults, the survey’s researchers sought to prove the hypothesis that the ability to forgive could lead to better, easier sleep, which could ultimately lead to a healthier, higher quality of life. As the study puts it: “It was hypothesised that sleep would mediate the associations of forgiveness...with health.”

According to The Washington Post, survey-takers were tasked with rating themselves on their propensity to forgive others for their offenses, as well as forgive themselves for mistakes they’d made or wrong they thought they’d done. They were then asked to self-report on their recent sleep schedule and quality, their current health status, and their personal sense of life satisfaction.

The results show that both forgiveness of others and self-forgiveness were associated with sleep, as those who were more likely to forgive were better sleepers overall. Forgiveness was also concluded to be associated with health in general. But why? Researchers’ analysis explains that being able to let go of grievances—both large and small, about others or self-aimed—may help reduce stress-inducing emotions like “anger, regret, and rumination.” (And who hasn’t felt 10 times lighter after letting go of a grudge?)

While the limitations of these findings could potentially come from having respondents self-report their sleep patterns, rather than having them scientifically recorded in a lab, the results clearly suggest a positive correlation between relinquishing grudges and catching Zs. Excusing someone (and yourself!) for errors and affronts can act, as the survey explains, “as a buffer” and “offer a restful mental state that supports sound sleep which, in turn, is associated with better health.”

Next time you find yourself tossing and turning—even after you’ve tried everything from taking CBD to taking a warm bath—it might be worth doing some self-reflection. Are you holding on to feelings of anger or regret about something someone did? Did you make a mistake last week that’s gnawing at your brain while you’re trying to snooze? These emotional stressors might be at the heart of your restlessness (and we all know stress is a major sleep inhibitor).