Turns Out the Trick to Sleeping Better Is Finding a Purpose in Life

July 20, 2017

10:50 am

I know, I know. Who wants to find a purpose in their life? Yet that’s just the easy, simple answer to getting better sleep at night.

The news comes via a Northwestern University study which is the first of its kind to “demonstrate a relationship between purpose in life and the risk for symptoms of common sleep disorders in older adults,” according to the study itself. Here’s how it works.

The Study

The study relied on responses from 823 participants with an average age of 79, who filled out a 10-question psychological well-being test. Even after controlling for age, sex, race, and education, the study found higher levels of purpose in life matched up with a better baseline sleep quality.

The results covered different sleep disturbances: Those who had greater meaning and purpose in their lives, the study found, were “63 percent less likely to have sleep apnea and 52 percent less likely to have restless leg syndrome.”

This is your brain on sleep deprivation

The Limitations

The study’s author noted a laundry list of limiting factors that may have impacted their results:

“First, our findings are based on self-report, which are open to recall bias and subjective interpretation of sleep symptoms. Also, though this is a community-based sample, the educational attainment status of the sample is relatively high and it is possible that these higher levels of educational attainment may reflect a healthier population with higher levels of purpose in life and less severe sleep problems, as well as, greater access to health care.


“It is also possible that given the higher levels of educational attainment, this sample was more inclined engage in behaviors related to a healthier lifestyle, as research has suggested that in older adults in the United States, higher socioeconomic status, especially as measured via educational attainment, has been associated with choosing healthier lifestyle behaviors, specifically healthy diet choices and increased physical exercise,” the study says.

But the bottom line is that your sense of purpose gives you a restful night. For some, it’s easy to find a purpose. In fact, it’s generally considered more important to find a purpose in life than to sleep well, which means that this study doesn’t have the most actionable advice.

Take into account who the study is designed for, though: senior citizens, who are more likely to sleep poorly, are also more likely to have lost a sense of purpose following their retirement. With this new information, those trying to help senior citizens can focus in on what really matters: helping them regain their purpose.

Read more tricks on how to get a good night sleep at TechCo

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Adam is a writer with an interest in a variety of mediums, from podcasts to comic books to video essays to novels to blogging — too many, basically. He's based out of Seattle, and remains a staunch defender of his state's slogan: "sayWA." In his spare time, he recommends articles about science fiction on Twitter, @AdamRRowe

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