Optimistic People Are the Best Sleepers, a New Study Finds
Here’s yet another perk of seeing the glass as half full.
It’s official: Optimistic people don’t just thrive during their waking hours—they’re apparently more likely to report sleeping more, longer, and better than their pessimistic counterparts. A new study published in the Behavioral Medicine journal finds serious correlations between having a sunny disposition and logging high-quality Zs.
Sleep deprivation is known to be associated with darker moods and decreased resilience to negative thoughts; but could the relationship work the other way too?
Theoretically, from a purely non-scientific standpoint, the self-perpetuating cycle makes sense: Getting enough sleep leads to improved moods and a more positive outlook, which in turn lends itself to better sleep, and so on and so forth, until you’re perfectly well-rested and eternally optimistic. But this idea definitely begs a chicken-or-egg question: Is restful sleep brought on by optimism, or is optimism a result of getting enough sleep (and ditto for the connection between sleep deprivation and pessimism)? We'd guess some of both.
Knowing optimism has long been associated with upping our restorative health capabilities, Dr. Rosalba Hernandez, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign School of Social Work, sought to test the hypothesis “that greater optimism is associated with more favorable sleep quality and duration, [a major restorative process].”
According to Science Daily, Dr. Hernandez measured optimism in more than 3,500 adult participants by having them rate, from one to five, how much they agree/disagree with specific, positive statements (such as “I’m always optimistic about my future”) and negative statements (i.e. "I hardly expect things to go my way”). Subjects also provided reports on their sleep length, insomnia symptoms, sleep quality, and sleep latency (how long it takes to fall asleep), twice over a five-year period. A smaller subset of participants even had their sleep scientifically monitored.
Hernandez’s research found “significant associations between optimism and various characteristics of self-reported sleep,” she says. For each standard deviation increase in a subject’s optimism score, they were 78 percent more likely to report “very good” sleep quality. Those with higher optimism scores were also less likely to report suffering from insomnia and daytime fatigue, and more likely to catch anywhere from six to nine hours of shut-eye (the recommended amount of sleep for most adults).
As with any research results, take it with a grain of salt—there’s no way to know (yet) what exactly it is about an optimistic attitude that positively affects sleep. However, Hernandez does make a logical connection between her research results and the indisputable effects of stress on sleep.
“Optimists,” Hernandez posits, “are more likely to engage in active problem-focused coping and to interpret stressful events in more positive ways, reducing worry and ruminative thoughts when they're falling asleep and throughout their sleep cycle."
Translation: If you have a positive outlook you may either a) get stressed less often or less severely or b) have an easier time coping with stress, making you less susceptible to stress-induced sleep struggles.
If you have trouble sleeping, consider taking steps to rethink the way you think—which right now might be dipping into negativity. While it’s not realistic to snap your fingers and suddenly radiate optimism, there are ways to help manage the stress that’s cramping your mood and keeping you up at night. For instance, taking up meditation to boost your mood, cope with anxiety, and calm your mind might be an ideal way to give your sleep habits a makeover, starting with your outlook.