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Sleep Disorders

21 August 2019

Optimists get better and longer sleep than pessimists

Seeing the glass half-full not only makes you happier, but could also be the key to a great night’s sleep.

Skimping on sleep could impact your overall health and wellbeing. According to a previous Health24 article, adequate sleep, which is a recommended 6–8 hours for adults, will also improve your vital functions and body weight.  

Yet, several health and lifestyle factors are standing in the way of getting a good night’s sleep for millions of adults across the globe.

But, if you’re always looking on the sunny side, you’re likely to sleep better and longer. That’s according to a new study that was published recently in the journal Behavioral Medicine, led by University of Illinois social work professor, Rosalba Hernandez.       

The study sample included more than 3 500 adults aged between 32 and 51. Participants were asked to rate, on a five-point scale, how much they agreed with positive statements such as “I’m always optimistic about my future”, and negatively worded sentences such as “I hardly expect things to go my way”. After determining their levels of optimism, the scientists then studied participants' sleep quality and duration in order to assess how easy it was for them to drift off at night.

The survey also assessed their symptoms of insomnia, difficulty falling asleep and the number of hours of actual sleep they obtained each night. The study builds on previous research that has suggested that optimists have better cardiovascular health.

A 'public health concern'

A subset of the participants were part of an ancillary sleep study based in Chicago. They wore activity monitors for three consecutive days, and data on their sleep duration, percent of time asleep and restlessness while sleeping were collected.

It was found that in individuals with greater levels of optimism were more likely to get 6–9 hours of sleep. They were also 74% less likely to have insomnia and reported less daytime sleepiness. 

A 2016 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that about one in three US adults fail to get adequate sleep, escalating their risk of many chronic diseases. South Africans also fare badly when it comes to getting quality shut-eye, with only 27% getting the recommended eight hours of sleep every night. 

Insufficient sleep is linked to several leading causes of death, including heart disease and certain cancers, as well as premature ageing and negative effects on metabolism, notes Health24.

Hernandez said the lack of healthy sleep is a public health concern, and that “dispositional optimism – the belief that positive things will occur in the future – has emerged as a psychological asset of particular salience for disease-free survival and superior health".

The researchers hypothesise that positivity can impact stress levels in a good way, allowing optimists to sleep soundly.

"Optimists 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," Hernandez explained.

While the results indicate a significant and positive association between optimism and better-quality sleep, Hernandez suggested that the findings should be interpreted cautiously as only limited work has examined whether optimism is associated with better quality sleep.

Image: iStock

 

Ask the Expert

Sleep disorders expert

Dr Alison Bentley is a general practitioner who has consulted in sleep medicine and sleep disorders, in both adults and children of all ages, for almost 30 years. She also researches and publishes on a number of sleep-related topics both in formal research journals and lay publications including as editor of Sleep Matters, an educational newsletter on sleep disorders for doctors.

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