The secret to a good night’s sleep later in life is having a good reason to get up in the morning, according to US researchers who surveyed people on their sleeping habits and sense of purpose.
People who felt they had a strong purpose in life suffered from less insomnia and sleep disturbances than others and claimed to rest better at night as a result, the study found.
Jason Ong, a neurologist who led the research at Northwestern University in Chicago, said that encouraging people to develop a sense of purpose could help them to keep insomnia at bay without the need for sleeping pills.
More than 800 people aged 60 to 100 took part in the study and answered questions on their sleep quality and motivations in life. To assess their sense of purpose, the participants were asked to rate statements 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.”
According to Ong, people who felt their lives had most meaning were less likely to have sleep apnea, a disorder that makes the breathing shallow or occasionally stop, or restless leg syndrome, a condition that compels people to move their legs and which is often worse at night. Those who reported the most purposeful lives had slightly better sleep quality overall, according to the study in the journal Sleep Science and Practice.
Insomnia and some other sleep disorders become more common in old age, but Ong said that the findings were likely to apply to the public more broadly. “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,” he said.
Age UK, a charity, advises people who sleep badly to go to bed and rise at the same time every day; establish a bedtime routine; and cut out caffeine, alcohol and nicotine in the evening. Not eating a heavy meal late at night; avoiding exercise before bed; cutting out daytime naps and banning TVs and computers from the bedroom helps too, they add.
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