Photo by: Nicholas A.Tonelli via Flickr
New research suggests there may be a psychological alternative to prescription drugs for those who suffer from restless leg syndrome or sleep apnea in terms of managing to enter rapid eye movement (REM) cycles of sleep.This month, a study was published expounding on the psychology of sleep in its examination of the correlation between one’s sense of purpose and the amount of sleep disturbances a person could be expected to experience, which ultimately pertains to the overall quality of sleep as well.
The study reached the conclusion that helping individuals achieve a greater sense of purpose in life, recommended to some extent to be negotiated via mindfulness therapy, may be an effectual treatment to mitigate sleep disturbances and to enhance the overall quality of sleep. 825 participants were involved in a study conducted between Rush University Medical Center and Northwestern Medicine.They were all reasonably considered senior citizens as they ranged between ages 60 and 100.
Each subject was required to answer a litany of questionnaires that were administered one at a time at the beginning of the study, at the one-year mark and again at the two-year mark.These surveys were intended to appraise the symptoms and sleep quality related to three sleep disorders for each participant: restless leg syndrome (RLS), sleep apnea and REM Behavior Disorder.
The participants answered ten questions from each assessment with the aim of adequately measuring their sense of existential purpose in relative terms.In order to qualify a working definition of purpose, though, Arlener Turner, lead author on the study and neuropsychologist, explains: “It’s the idea of having a purpose for what you’re doing with your life, and feeling that your life specifically has meaning.” To assess this, the research team had participants indicate how much they agreed or disagreed with 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.”
There had been earlier work from which to draw on this subject published by psychologist Eric Kim now of Harvard University, and it already illustrated the notion that a sense of purpose can hedge against a myriad of negative health outcomes.The new study pursues the objective of gathering data on correlations between a sense of purpose and not only the quality of sleep but also certain sleep disorders that could be used as symptomatic markers of disturbance but also subsequently as a control of sorts for studying facets of sleep quality.
Turner spearheaded the study in his ongoing postdoctoral fellowship at the lab of Jason Ong, a sleep researcher.They concentrated their study on adults not necessarily because they would have higher senses of purpose but, rather, because adults are far more liable to have pondered the question in considerable depth already from the perspectives of the researchers. “When you’re at retirement age, that is a time when you take stock of your purpose in life,” Turner explains, which essentially frames the study and its findings as being measured in accordance with the common thoughts of the oldest age groups.In the photo: An elderly experiencing a disorder called Sleep Apnea Photo by: L&T's Page via Wikimedia Commons
The experiment’s results were remarkably noteworthy compared to what some might expect.Participants who started the program with greater senses of purpose showed observably superior sleep quality in the beginning as well as improvement over the course of the study.Others who deemed their self-purpose to be miniscule or less significant yielded calculations of being 52 percent less liable to experience restless leg syndrome and 63 percent less susceptible to sleep apnea.Even these, though, showed clear signs of reduced symptoms at their follow-ups on the one-year and two-year marks.Even though Turner’s team anticipated purpose having a significant impact on sleep, they were astonished to realize just how observable the results of their study was with regard to RLS and sleep apnea.
“individuals who have a higher purpose in life tend to be healthier in general and exhibit more healthy behaviors,” Turner explains. “What we think is happening is that having these better health behaviors helps these individuals be at a lower risk for developing biological sleep disorders like sleep apnea and RLS.And it also helps them when it comes to their sleep quality.” It may also be somewhat plausible, according to Turner, that lower levels of anxiety and stress stem from greater perceived meaning in one’s daily life.
In the aging process, people’s sleep patterns do not stay the same but, rather, alter drastically.Some sleep disorders manifest more frequently than others in senior citizens.It is already estimated that somewhere between 32 and 45 percent of senior citizens typically report sleep disturbances ranging from vaguely disrupted sleep to difficulty falling asleep in the first place.
As many as 40 percent of senior citizens grapple with sleep disorders at night, and data shows African Americans having a larger number of sleep disturbances than Whites on average.This new study is the first to showcase observable evidence of a correlation between these ubiquitous sleep disorders and a sense of purpose.Turner speaks to the issue as representing a major phenomenon to understand in order to comprehend “how exactly purpose in life is enacting this impact on sleep.”