We all know sleep deprivation is a major problem. A survey carried out last year revealed that almost half of us manage on only six hours or less each night. So worrying are the effects of chronic sleep deprivation – increased fatigue and irritability, decreased concentration and memory function, even decreased immune function – that a leaked public health green paper suggests the UK Government is planning to recommend the number of hours of sleep for individuals in different age groups.
What we need more, however, is practical help. No doubt you’re familiar with the usual advice: turn off screens and dim the lights an hour or so before bedtime, establish a relaxing bedtime routine, make your bedroom as inviting as possible, and go to bed and get up at regular times. But clearly, these suggestions aren’t sufficient.
Instead of focusing entirely on our surroundings and bedtime routines, a growing number of scientists are beginning to examine a very different approach to encouraging better quality sleep.
Eric Kim, then at the University of Michigan, in a study found that people with a stronger sense of purpose were less likely to develop sleep disturbances.
Arlener Turner and colleagues at Northwestern University in a study also found that higher levels of purpose in life appeared to be protective against the occurrence of both sleep apnoea and RLS, and to be associated with better quality of sleep generally.
Further studies are needed, in particular looking at sleep quality and sense of purpose in younger adults. Furthermore, it’s important to bear in mind that these two studies are correlational only. Causation has not yet been established.
It could be that when we sleep well, we feel more able to think about our sense of purpose - equally, if we have a clear sense of purpose, it may be this encourages us to take good care of ourselves and prioritise good sleeping, eating and other healthy habits. But either way, because clarity of purpose seems to coincide with better quality sleep, there’s certainly no harm - and every reason - to think about your higher aims and ambitions.
Set aside time soon to think about what you really enjoy doing, and how you can make a positive difference to your surroundings and to those around you. Chances are you’ll soon be sleeping better.