Optimistic people tend to be better sleepers, according to a new study published in the journal Behavioral Medicine. The findings show that optimists are more likely to get adequate sleep (6 to 9 hours per night) and less likely to struggle with insomnia and daytime sleepiness.
“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,” said study leader Rosalba Hernandez, Ph.D., a professor of social work at the University of Illinois.
To measure optimism, 3,500 participants (ages 32 to 51) answered a 10-item survey, which asked them to rate on a five-point scale how much they agreed with positive statements such as “I’m always optimistic about my future” and with negatively worded sentences such as “I hardly expect things to go my way.”
Scores on the survey ranged from six (least optimistic) to 30 (most optimistic).
Participants reported on their sleep twice, five years apart, rating their overall sleep quality and duration during the previous month. The survey also assessed their symptoms of insomnia, difficulty falling asleep, and the number of hours of actual sleep they obtained each night.
Some of the participants were participating in a sleep study based in Chicago and wore activity monitors for three consecutive days, including two weeknights and one weekend night. Participants wore the monitors on two occasions a year apart.
The monitors collected data on their sleep duration, percent of time asleep and restlessness while sleeping.
The research team found that with each standard deviation increase — the typical distance across data points — in participants’ optimism score, they had 78% higher odds of reporting very good sleep quality.
Likewise, participants with greater levels of optimism were more likely to report that they got adequate sleep of six to nine hours per night, and they were 74% more likely to have no symptoms of insomnia and reported less daytime sleepiness.
According to a 2016 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in three U.S. adults fails to get adequate sleep, increasing their risk for many chronic diseases.
“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 said.
“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.”
However, while a significant and positive link was found between optimism and better-quality sleep, Hernandez suggested that the findings should be interpreted cautiously.
The researchers aren’t sure of the exact mechanism through which optimism influences sleep patterns, but they hypothesize that positivity may buffer the effects of stress by promoting adaptive coping, which enables optimists to rest peacefully.
“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 said.
The findings bolster those of a previous study, in which Hernandez and her co-authors found that optimists ages 45-84 were twice as likely to have ideal heart health.