If Your Life Has Less Purpose, Your Sleep Suffers

Patient Expert

Studies have already demonstrated that sleep quality is linked to psychological attitude and well-being. (One study found that improving sleep can feel as good as a lottery win!)

That being said, we haven’t seen many studies investigate the link between our perceived purpose in life and sleep quality.

A 2017 study published in Sleep Science and Practice set out to examine the relationship between life purpose, sleep quality, and the presence of sleep disorders. Its authors pointed to previous studies which found:

  • Older women with a higher sense of purpose tended to move less when they slept, which may be an indication of better sleep quality

  • A nationally representative sample of older adults with a higher sense of purpose in life experienced fewer sleep disturbances

  • Middle-aged adults with a lower sense of purpose were more likely to get inadequate sleep or sleep for excessive periods of time

Although these previous studies suggested a link between sense of life purpose and sleep quality, they all used a general measure of sleep disturbance or sleep quality rather than looking at specific sleep disorders.

In the 2017 study, researchers recruited 825 individuals with an average age of 79. Researchers measured purpose in life using a modified measure of Ryff’s and Keyes’s scales of Psychological Well-Being. Participants rated their agreement with 10 statements including:

  • “I feel good when I think of what I’ve done in the past and what I hope to do in the future.”
  • “Some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them.”

Sleep quality and symptoms of sleep disorders were measured using:

  • Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (to assess sleep quality)
  • Berlin Questionnaire (to assess sleep apnea risk)
  • Mayo Sleep Questionnaire (to measure the presence of restless legs syndrome and REM behavior disorder)

After analyzing the data researchers found that purpose in life was related to sleep quality and that this may be a useful clinical tool for assessing older adults.

The study also found that higher levels of purpose in life predicted better sleep quality, with researchers stating that the more meaning and purpose one has in daytime activities, the better one tends to sleep at night.

When it came to measuring the link between life purpose and specific sleep disorders, researchers found that higher levels of purpose helped protect against sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome. Specifically, those with higher levels of purpose in life were 63 percent less likely to report sleep apnea and 52 percent less likely to report restless legs syndrome.

No link was found between life purpose scores and the presence of REM behavior disorder.

Why is purpose in life linked to sleep?

The authors of the study suggested that those with a higher sense of purpose in life tend to have better overall health and this can reduce the occurrence of health issues known to have a negative impact on sleep such as heart disease and depression. Furthermore, those with a greater sense of purpose tend to engage in more healthy behaviors such as exercise.

How to increase your sense of purpose

The authors of the study suggested that purpose of life can be cultivated through mindfulness therapies and Acceptance and Commitment Therapies. You can also improve your perception of sense of purpose by thinking about the things that are important to you. This acts as a reminder of life purpose and as an opportunity to find new tasks and problems you can work on that may help increase your sense of purpose.

See more helpful articles:

The Dangers of Using Sleep Trackers for Insomnia and Other Sleep Disorders

How Your Mind Affects Sleep Even With Insomnia from Anxiety, Depression

Therapy and Sleep Coaching: Are These Alternatives to Sleeping Pills Right for You?