If you take care of business today, you’ll rest easy tomorrow—that’s the conclusion of research conducted by the Department of Neurology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Northwestern’s scientists examined two racially diverse, multi-year studies of 814 older adults aged 60 to 99 and compared their incidences of sleep disorders as compared with self-reported “scales of Psychological Well-Being.” On the sleep side of the equation, researchers looked for the presence of sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome (RLS), and REM behavior disorder (RBD) among the participants. When it comes to assessing their well-being, the 800 older adults were asked to rate, on a scale of one to five, statements like, “I feel good when I think of what I’ve done in the past and what I hope to do in the future” and “some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them.” “It was hypothesized,” the scientists wrote in their study, “that higher levels of purpose in life would be associated with better sleep quality and lower risk of sleep disorders.”
A Hypothesis Confirmed
After crunching three years of data, the scientists noted that it appears that “the more meaning and purpose one has in daytime activities, the better one tends to sleep at night.” The researchers, through their own work and the collective work of other scientists, noted that “studies have shown that people with more purpose in life are more likely to exercise, participate in preventative behaviors, such as doctor visits, and seek out adequate relaxation.” It makes sense that people who have a strong sense of purpose want to take care of themselves, which helps them, in turn, sleep better. The report is careful to note that there are limitations to this study, but they plan to continue examining the connection between purpose and sleep health. In the meantime, researcher Jason Ong, has told The Guardian that there’s real promise in the notion that “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.” So, the moral of this story is that establishing a sense of purpose now can mean more restful sleep when you get older.
How do you go about living a purpose-driven life?
This study did not articulate specific ways in which people can increase their sense of purpose in life. But TED has curated a playlist of seven talks designed to help you find your purpose in life. Susan Biali, MD, writing for Psychology Today, discussed six Es that she has considered when looking for her own purpose in life. Elusive: “Typically,” Dr. Biali writes, “your purpose will slowly emerge as you put one foot in front of the other, following where your heart, talents and life seem to be leading you.” Evolving: Your sense of purpose today should be more sophisticated and clear than it was yesterday—and that’s a good thing. Emerges from experience: Purpose isn’t going to jump out at you out of the blue. It makes sense that what you do in your day-to-day activities will influence what you feel like you should be doing with your life. Exactly perfectly timed: So long as you are paying attention to patterns in your life and not waiting for life to happen to you, the right opportunity will eventually present itself with enough planning and preparation. Eminently qualified: Your calling will require training and practice. Get out there and try things so that when an opportunity presents itself, you’ll be ready—and qualified—to grab it. Enjoyable adventure: As the idiom goes, “Getting there is half the fun.” Embrace and enjoy your journey to finding your meaning and purpose in life. Only you can decide whether you have led a purpose-driven life. Get out there and LIVE YOUR LIFE. It’ll help you sleep better when you’re older!