Holding a strong purpose in life improves sleep quality, study finds

CHICAGO — Having a strong life purpose can help you improve your quality of sleep, a new study finds.

Researchers at Northwestern University administered a survey to 823 older Americans in good mental health, aged 60 to 100, hoping to determine whether feeling motivated to wake up in the morning could help curb the incidence of sleep disorders.

Woman sleeping in bed
A new study finds that people who feel like their lives have a meaningful purpose are more likely to sleep better at night.

Older individuals were examined in part because they experience higher rates of insomnia and other sleep disorders. The medical community has long sought solutions that are both safe and non-invasive.

The study’s findings were promising: participants who self-reported that they felt their life had significant meaning were 63 percent less likely to have sleep apnea, and 53 percent less likely to have restless leg syndrome than their peers.

Smaller improvements in sleep quality were also reported, which is often used as a benchmark for one’s level of sleep disturbance.

“Helping people cultivate a purpose in life could be an effective drug-free strategy to improve sleep quality, particularly for a population that is facing more insomnia,” says Jason Ong, senior author of the study and  an associate professor of neurology, in a university news release. “Purpose in life is something that can be cultivated and enhanced through mindfulness therapies.”

The survey given to participants had 10 questions focused on one’s life purpose, and 32 questions on sleep.

The questions revolving around life purpose delved into topics such as present and past decisions, and were answered on a rated scale. Participants were given statements to rate such as, “I feel good when I think of what I’ve done in the past and what I hope to do in the future.”

Ultimately, the researchers argue that anyone can improve their quality of life, and in turn their sleep quality, by practicing mindfulness techniques.

The study’s findings are promising in that they demonstrate that long-term gains can come out of sleeping interventions.

Prior research had only proven that similar efforts could work in the short-term.

While it’s natural to wonder if these same results— and their accompanying strategies— would also be applicable to younger individuals, the researchers say age likely wouldn’t affect the outcomes of mindfulness training for sleep disorders.

The study’s findings were published July 9 in the journal Sleep Science and Practice.


  1. I am very pleased that this research is being published and made widely available. I have been involved in mind-body research for over 30 years and, as a practicing psychotherapist, have witnessed the correlation between insomnia and depression, Alzheimer’s, anxiety, cardiac arrest and stroke. I always recommend to my patients that they learn meditation for stress reduction and self-awareness for dealing with their emotions. I remind them that their life depends on them being able to deal with stressors appropriately and in a healthy manner. It is also helpful to feel a sense of purpose in life but finding a sense of purpose can be elusive for many people. Even those with good jobs and a family. For dealing with these issues I suggest they work with the stress reduction and meditation audio programs by Jon Shore at http://www.lightunlimitedpublishing.com. It is worth the small effort involved to do this sort of exercise every day.

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