Happy days, restful nights: Optimistic people are better sleepers, study finds

CHAMPAIGN, III — Falling asleep can feel like an impossible task sometimes. While some people fall asleep easier than others, everyone experiences the occasional sleepless night. Well, according to a new long-term study, the key to a better night’s sleep may just be looking on the bright side of life.

Researchers from the University of Illinois say that the more optimistic a person is, the more likely they are to enjoy longer, more restful sleep patterns.

“Results from this study revealed significant associations between optimism and various characteristics of self-reported sleep after adjusting for a wide array of variables, including socio-demographic characteristics, health conditions and depressive symptoms,” explains study leader Rosalba Hernandez in a release.

More than 3,500 people between the ages of 32-51 took part in the study, and each person’s level of optimism was measured using a survey. The surveys asked participants how much they agreed with various positive and negative statements such as, “I’m always optimistic about my future,” or, “I hardly expect things to go my way.”

Participants also self-reported on their sleep patterns and quality twice over the course of five years, and answered questions on any bouts of insomnia, difficulty falling asleep, and the average number of hours they slept per night. A smaller subset of participants also wore sleep monitors for two nights that recorded data on time spent sleeping, sleep quality, and restlessness while asleep.

The study found that for each data point increase in a participant’s optimism score, their chances of reporting very good sleep quality increased by 78%. Additionally, individuals with higher optimism levels were much more likely to report regularly getting enough sleep — anywhere from six to nine hours per night. Positive individuals were also 74% more likely to have no insomnia issues or daytime sleepiness.

Lack of sleep is a real issue in the United States, with an estimated one in three adults failing to regularly get an adequate amount of sleep each night. While simply staying positive may seem like a overly simple solution to sleep problems, the study’s authors say that optimism can be a powerful psychological asset.

“The lack of healthy sleep is a public health concern, as poor sleep quality is associated with multiple health problems, including higher risks of obesity, hypertension and all-cause mortality,” Hernandez says. “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.”

Hernandez and her team aren’t exactly sure why a positive mindset leads to better sleep, but they hypothesize that positivity likely alleviates the effects of stress on the psyche and promotes a more restful mental state.

The study is published in the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.