On a scale of one to 10, how much do you adore your life? Your answer may match up with how easy or well you rest at night, according to recent research.
SleepScore Labs set out to determine whether a person’s life satisfaction correlates with better-quality slumber. The research uncovered a potential chicken-and-egg scenario. Those who say they like their lives tend to sleep better and those who sleep better tend to like their lives.
“Charlotte Bronte once said that ‘a ruffled mind makes a restless pillow,’” says Elie Gottlieb, Ph.D., an applied sleep scientist at SleepScore Labs. “And existing evidence from the field of positive psychology reveals a strong association between an ‘unruffled mind,’ positive affect, and sleep.”
Keep reading for details on this study, plus tips to help you “unruffle” your mind and get better quality sleep.
The link between life satisfaction and sleep
Previous studies have used self-reported methods to find a potential link between sleep quality and happiness. In their study, SleepScore Labs explored this link using both subjective survey data and objective sleep data.
In the survey, nearly 1,600 participants provided self-reported data on their sleep quality and life satisfaction. SleepScore Labs analyzed sleep metrics from 230 of those participants using the SleepScore sleep tracker app.
“While we’re unable to conclude that life satisfaction directly causes better sleep,” says Gottlieb, “the relationship may likely be bidirectional: Life satisfaction and happiness can support quality of life and healthy sleep behaviors, and sufficient quality sleep may promote mental and emotional health.”
For the self-reported data, participants provided responses to two survey items. First, they chose whether they agreed or disagreed (or had a reaction that fell somewhere in between) with the statement, “I am satisfied with my life.” Then, they rated their sleep quality using a range of options from unsatisfactory to satisfactory.
About 61% of people who said they were satisfied with their lives also said their sleep quality was also satisfactory. Just 28% of those content with their lives said their sleep was unsatisfactory. About 51% of participants who answered "disagree” to the statement that they were satisfied with their lives said their sleep was also of poor quality, whereas 21% said their sleep was fine.
From there, the researchers looked at two groups: those who agreed that they were satisfied and those who disagreed. They then reviewed several objective measures of sleep quality from the Sleep.com app for the 230 users. First, the researchers looked at the difference in the two groups’ SleepScores on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 correlating with the best sleep quality. The group that reported being satisfied with their lives had a higher overall SleepScore (79.5, on average) than those who reported being unsatisfied. The unsatisfied group had an average SleepScore of 77, a small, but statistically significant difference.
The researchers also looked at total sleep time, time awake after falling asleep, and sleep onset latency — the time it takes to fall asleep after lights out. People who expressed satisfaction about their lives fell asleep 13% faster, woke up 2.4% less, slept nearly 2% longer, and had nearly 2% higher sleep efficiency (a measurement based on the percentage of time in bed spent asleep) than participants who reported being unsatisfied with life. Though these percentages may seem small, the researchers at SleepScore Labs deemed them statistically significant.
“People who experienced life satisfaction spent approximately 6 more minutes asleep every night which, although small, may have cumulative effects over time and may be meaningful for individuals already getting less than 7 hours of sleep a night,” explains Gottlieb. “For expository purposes, 6 more minutes a night equates to nearly 45 minutes of sleep a week.”
The researchers’ summary is that people who “experience life satisfaction have better sleep both subjectively and objectively.”
How to boost life satisfaction
What’s an unruffled mind? It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re stress-free and living a life of luxury without a care in the world. That would be an unrealistic expectation.
Instead, life satisfaction, the researchers say, has to do with what’s called eudaimonic well-being. Aspects of eudaimonic well-being include having a sense of purpose or meaning, engaging in self-discovery, cultivating personal growth, and participating in enjoyable and expressive activities.
Want to cultivate your eudaimonic well-being? Try these simple strategies.
- Find purpose or meaning in the things you do. This might mean doing volunteer work, helping an elderly neighbor with household tasks, caring for your children or grandchildren, or cooking a meal for your family — the possibilities go on.
- Engage in self-discovery. Try journaling and other types of writing, travel, explore a new activity, take classes to learn a new skill or hone one you already have, or engage in therapy sessions.
- Nurture personal growth. You might realize growth through the self-discovery practices mentioned above. But you could also try attending a spiritual or meditative retreat, undertaking a challenging new project, setting goals, reflecting on obstacles you’ve overcome, or fostering or rekindling deeper connections with friends and family.
- Engross yourself in expressive activities. Learn to play a new instrument, take a cooking class, enroll in a writing workshop, try an art or woodworking course, become a master gardener — you get the idea. Find activities you enjoy and engage in them often.
- Practice gratitude. “In my practice, a gratitude journal, or a practice where one can develop gratitude for life, is a standard for all clients,” says Zeke Medina, PharmD, an adult sleep coach in Dallas, Texas. Gratitude could help ease anxiety and even make you more resilient. Try taking five to 10 minutes before bed to write down the things you are grateful for, Medina recommends.
- Visualize your future. If something is making you unhappy now — such as a current job — visualize the change you wish to achieve and set small goals to attain the change.
In a 2018 Pew Research study, Americans overall rated their life satisfaction at a 6.7 on a 0 to 10 scale. When asked what gave their lives meaning, those with higher life satisfaction hit on four areas that are universally associated with being content: good health, a partner, their career, and friends — in that order.
When it came to health, some mentioned it for themselves, while others were grateful for the wellness of their loved ones. One in five mentioned a partner as the north star that keeps them going. Those who mentioned rewarding careers rated their lives 8% higher on the satisfaction scale than those who did not mention their jobs. And 20% said their friends gave their lives meaning and fulfillment.
If you’re not sure whether you’re satisfied with life, you can take The Satisfaction With Life Scale. It’s a five-statement assessment, developed by Ed Diener, Ph.D., and colleagues, that takes about a minute to complete to get a score that correlates with your level of contentment.
How to boost sleep quality
Life satisfaction may feel on the “meh” side of things if your sleep quality is compromised. For example, if you’re battling insomnia or simply not getting enough sleep, you might be irritable or have brain fog, Medina says. You might also lack motivation to do the activities you enjoy or to spend time with the people who enrich your life.
“Getting a good night's sleep on a consistent basis is important for one’s energy, focus, and heart health,” adds a physical therapist in Chicago. “Sleep is supposed to prepare us for the next day, and if someone is consistently sleeping poorly, it takes a toll on their body.”
You can also try several other things to improve your sleep, which, in turn, could boost your life satisfaction:
- Eliminate sleep disruptions.
- Practice good sleep hygiene.
- Calculate enough sleep time.
- Unjunk your sleep.
- Eliminate night noise.
- Purchase a higher-quality mattress.
- Talk to your doctor about any sleep concerns.
“Finding ways to increase overall life satisfaction and combining them with other healthy sleep behaviors may make a meaningful impact on not just your sleep quality, but also your ability to function at your peak performance during the day,” says Gottlieb. “Over time, you can assess the effect of small improvements in sleep by reflecting on your day — is it easier to get out of bed in the morning, do you need one less cup of coffee, or are you able to push through your afternoon circadian dip? You may likely find that small changes in sleep-supportive behaviors can have lasting and potentially meaningful effects on both your sleep and overall quality of life.”
Research shows that life satisfaction may help you rest easier, or it may be that resting easier helps you feel more satisfied with your life. Quite likely, the link goes both ways.
While you don’t necessarily have control over everything that occurs in your life, you can aim to control the things you can, focus on gratitude, and explore simple strategies to boost your happiness. And while you can’t always get a perfect night’s sleep, either, you can aim for the best sleep possible — as much as possible. By doing so, you might just find that better sleep helps you live a more content life.