Tis’ the season to be grateful… and sleep deprived if you are a college student like myself. In light of it being Thanksgiving tomorrow, meaning an extra long weekend for most of us and hopefully more time to sleep, I figured it would be appropriate to mention that being grateful has been found to help people sleep better.
Digon and Koble found this to be the case in 41 undergraduates. Considering sleep problems are common among university and college students the authors wanted to see if being grateful helped quiet students minds and sleep better.
For a week, students were asked to take 15 minutes in the early evening and keep a gratitude journal. They were to write about a positive event that recently happened and how they felt at the time of the event. The week prior to and during the week of keeping the journal they also kept a daily sleep log. The sleep log tracked how long it took them to fall asleep, what time they went to bed, and how often they woke up throughout the night. The students also took two surveys; one called the sleep quality scale, which is a self-report measure of typical sleep quality and another called the pre-sleep arousal scale that measures arousal at bedtime. These surveys were taken a week before starting to journal and then again at the end of the journaling week.
Digona and Koble found that compared to before keeping the gratitude journal, students’ level of pre-sleep arousal was lower and their quality of sleep improved. However, students didn’t fall asleep any quicker than before keeping the gratitude journal.
Wood, Joseph, Lloyd, and Atkins also found a relationship between gratitude and sleep. In this study, 401 participants between the ages of 18 and 68 took a survey. The survey measured the amount of gratitude participants felt they had in their life, what kinds of thoughts participants have prior to going to sleep (negative or positive thoughts), their quality of sleep, and their personality traits.
Just like the previous study, they found that those who scored higher in gratitude reported better sleep quality where participants could fall asleep faster, slept for a longer period of time, and slept more efficiently. Gratitude was also positively related to positive pre-sleep thoughts. So this means that the more gratitude people expressed the more positive thoughts they had before going to bed. When the effects of positive thoughts and gratitude on sleep were looked at together, they found that positive thoughts enhanced the effect gratitude had on quality of sleep.
Both Digona and Koble and Wood et al. found that gratitude is related to sleep. Digona and Koble state that journaling about positive events raises ones awareness of good things that happened during the day offsetting focus on the negative, which they found gave students a better nights sleep. Wood et al. believe that this is the case because of a link between pre-sleep thoughts and gratitude. First, they state that pre-sleep thoughts have been linked to sleep quality; specifically negative thoughts before bed impair sleep and positive thoughts before bed improve sleep. Second, they state that gratitude has been found to cause a variety of positive outcomes and that positive pre-sleep thinking might be one of them. So put together, negative pre-sleep thoughts impair sleep, and gratitude (through journaling or otherwise) reduces the likelihood of such thoughts, protecting quality of sleep.
There are a few limitations that should be mentioned from each study. Because the first study only looks at undergraduate students, the extent to which the effects of journaling about being grateful has on sleep quality can be extended to the general population is limited. Also, the sample size is relatively small raising more concerns about the representativeness of the findings. However, the second study did have a larger sample size from a more diverse group of people lending to more generalizable results. But both studies used self-report measures, which aren’t always the most reliable especially when it comes to self-reporting on sleep.
Despite a few limitations, both studies did find that being grateful gives people a better nights sleep. So if you’re looking to catch up on some Zzzz’s over Thanksgiving break be sure to say a few extra “Thank yous” or expressions of gratitude and you might just get some of the best sleep you’ve had in a long time.