Higher levels of optimism linked to more restful sleep

By Sonal Singh, Staff Writer

Sleep plays an integral role in each and every one of our lives. We spend a third of our lives asleep, during which some of our body’s most important processes take place. It is common knowledge that we need at least 7 hours of sleep in order to function properly. However, according to a report by the CDC in 2011, close to 35.3% of American adults do not get enough sleep on a regular basis. 

The first research study examining sleep was published by French scientist Henri Pieron in 1913. Since then, there has been constant research concerning the different factors affecting the quality and duration of people’s sleep. Recently, Rosalba Hernandez, a professor with the School of Social Work at the University, led a study with a team of researchers on the subject.  Their findings were published in a paper titled “The Association of Optimism with Sleep Duration and Quality.” 

The primary aim of the study was to examine if optimism is related to, or associated with, sleep in any way. “I study things like optimism and happiness. A lot of my research focuses on the benefits of what we call psychological well-being,” Hernandez said. “The reason I wanted to do the study is saying maybe if optimism is associated with sleep, that could potentially be a mechanism through which it is impacting health.”

This study used the Life Orientation Test-Revised (LOT-R) by Carter, C. S., to measure levels of optimism in their participants. The test consisted of 6 statements such as “in uncertain times, I usually expect the best” and each participant had to rank the statement on a scale of how much they agree or disagree with it. In the end, each participant would receive a score out of a total of 30 points. In essence, the higher the score, the more optimistic a person has been determined to be.

“We found that with each standard deviation higher, higher scores of optimism were associated with the participants saying their sleep quality was better,” Hernandez said. “We found these results both longitudinally and cross-sectionally.”

The study spanned across a 5 year period. The results found that if participants had high levels of optimism at the beginning, they also often reported good sleep quality consistently across the 5 years. 

“We found a significant association for the self-reported sleep quality but when it came to the objective sleep markers we didn’t find the same relationship,” Hernandez said. “Future studies should be done to see why that discrepancy is there.”

Although participants reported higher sleep quality, the objective measures suggested that there was not a significant correlation.

Additionally, when they decided to also study the effect of optimism on the duration of self-reported sleep, participants would get asked about how much sleep they thought they got and based on that data, there was no association between levels of optimism and duration of sleep.

“Is it possible that people’s emotions are just painting or coloring the way that they view their sleep and are they being more optimistic when they are reporting their sleep,” Hernandez said. “Another thing that we need to consider is the directionality. The idea that sleeping better could be the reason people are more optimistic, it could be a dual-mechanism.”

The researchers believe that there are many ways in which participants optimism could have affected their sleep quality. One way was that due to them being more optimistic, they were able to work through their issues better. This meant that they were less worried when they were sleeping, which led to a better quality of sleep.

There were many factors that were taken into consideration when this study was conducted, such as other variables that might also affect sleep. The team working on this study tried to adjust for other variables which might affect the quality of sleep such as physical activity. “It is possible that behavioral factors play a role above and beyond optimism,” Hernandez said.

“We are actually conducting studies currently, where we have a curriculum to increase people’s psychological well-being and their optimism. It’s possible that optimism impacts sleep and sleep impacts health. Which means there is something that can potentially be done upstream with emotional well-being.”

Hernandez talks about how it is possible to become more optimistic with time if people decide to put in an effort. They are currently looking into the applications of people taking on a more optimistic mentality and whether or not it can affect the quality of their sleep.

Although there are still many factors to consider when it comes to this study, the results of the examination of the relationship between levels of optimism and quality of sleep will help fuel further studies regarding the matter. This study adds another factor to the long list of existing criteria which we know affect sleep. These findings can also give people an easy and accessible way to improve their sleep and overall health.

Sonal is a sophomore in Business. 

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