Do optimists sleep better?

Turns out the answer is ‘Yes’.

That’s according to a study of 3,548 people carried out in July 2019 by researchers at the University of Illinois in Chicago.

The study involved a group of adults aged 32 to 51 years of age. Their level of optimism was tested using a ‘Life-Orientation’ Test. Research participants were asked to report on the quality and duration of their sleep twice, five years apart.

The results confirmed decades of previous research on optimism and health. It showed that having an optimistic disposition can help you avoid serious health issues, reduce stress and increase your body’s immunity.

And if you do have a serious health condition, such as cardiovascular disease or cancer, studies show that optimistic people recover more quickly, remain healthy and live longer.

Why do optimists sleep better and have better health?

People have known about the positive health benefits of optimism for years.

Here are 5 things we know about optimists based on various studies of human behaviour:

  1. Optimists look on the bright side of life.

Optimistic people are generally hopeful for their own future and for the future of the world around them.

  1. Optimists brush-up on their health knowledge.

Optimists know more about their health and how to stay healthy. They’re more aware of the risk factors that can have a negative effect on their health.

  1. Optimists tackle all things negative head-on.

Bad things happen to all of us, but optimists tend to deal with negative events or circumstances in an ‘approach-focused’ way. Rather than dwelling on how bad they feel, they confront the problem head-on, seeking solutions. This gives them a reassuring feeling of being in control.

  1. Optimists tend to have better social networks.

They use the support of their social networks to carry them through the bad times. They nurture relationships. These relationships help them to overcome the feelings of stress or depression that might come with negative events or bad news.

  1. Optimists do things that keep them healthy.

Whether that’s doing more exercise, smoking and drinking alcohol less, or eating more fruit and veggies, their increased interest in how to stay healthy translates into healthy behaviours and better health.

The link between optimism and sleep

Much of the research shows that being optimistic and carrying out certain ‘healthy’ behaviours leads to better health outcomes. One crucial aspect of maintaining good health relates to our ability to get enough quality sleep. 

Sleep is restorative.

It helps our body and our mind get over the stress and strains of our busy lives.

Getting good quality sleep ‘immunises’ us against all types of physical disease and mental disability.

According to Rosalba Hernandez, the professor leading the research Chicago-based project, "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".

How to become more optimistic – and get more sleep

So, for optimists, that’s good news.

But if you’re not a ‘natural optimist’, don’t despair! According to an article in Psychology Today, you can change your disposition from pessimism to optimism. Here’s how: 

  1. The first step is to notice your negativity.
  2. When you think of something negative, try and turn it around to a positive.
  3. Write your negative thought down. Then draw two columns underneath. In one, write reasons your negative thought might be true. In the other column, write the evidence against that negative thought. This helps get things into perspective.
  4. Look for the positive in all situations.
  5. Give others positive feedback.
  6. Give yourself positive feedback where you can or reduce importance of the negative.
  7. Think about why you’re feeling negative – consider, are these thoughts of any use?
  8. Take a risk by being positive for a change. See how it feels.
  9. Keep up those positive thoughts. The more you practice at leaning positive, the better you’ll be at it.