Luckily for those of us who suffer from sleep issues, there is an increasing awareness of the importance of sleep and how it affects our overall health. Studies regularly link sleep disorders such as insomnia with serious health issues, including:
That said, the authors of a 2017 study published in the journal Sleep argued that the impact of positive changes in sleep has not been examined.
In other words, although we know that poor sleep is linked to negative health outcomes, it’s harder to prove that positive changes in sleep lead to positive health outcomes. This prompted the study’s authors to investigate the effect of improved sleep on overall health and well-being.
The influence of sleep on mental health and quality of life
The study analyzed data involving more than 30,000 people over the age of 16. The data was collected over two time periods; the first wave of data was collected between 2009 and 2011 and the second wave was collected between 2012 and 2014. This allowed researchers to capture changes in sleep and any effect on health and well-being.
To measure sleep, data was collected on sleep duration, sleep quality, and use of sleep medications.
Health and well-being was measured using the 12-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12) and the 12-item Short-Form Health Survey (SF-12). The GHQ-12 measures psychiatric health while the SF-12 measures health-related quality of life.
How improving your sleep affects your health
Researchers found that an increase in sleep duration and sleep quality, and a reduction in sleep medication, predicted an improvement in mental and physical health.
Interestingly, sleep quality was found to have a significantly stronger effect on health compared to sleep-medication use and sleep quantity.
The study also found the benefits of longer sleep on physical health took longer to emerge than the benefits on mental health.
Improving sleep feels like winning the lottery
Researchers noted that positive changes in sleep had a similar effect on mental health as an eight-week program of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. The improvements were also found to have a positive effect on well-being similar to those experienced by medium-sized (up to around $150,000) lottery winners!
Sleeping pills may not be the answer
The authors of the study found that those who took sleep medications reported worse outcomes over time compared to those who did not take such medications. When you consider that most of us take sleeping pills to improve sleep and overall health and well-being, this should be of particular concern.
An alternative treatment option is cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTI), which has been recognized as effective and is recommended as a first-line treatment for insomnia by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the American College of Physicians.