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How Gratitude Helps You Sleep at Night

An attitude of gratitude promotes longer, sounder sleep.

Grateful thoughts can help you get a great night's sleep. That's the message of a recent study in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, led by psychology professor Nancy Digdon. In the study, writing in a gratitude journal for 15 minutes every evening helped students worry less at bedtime and sleep longer and better afterward.

Grateful for Good Sleep
It's easy to see how gratitude could have this effect. An attitude of gratitude makes you more aware of the good things in your life. This upbeat, positive outlook helps keep pessimism and worry at bay. So it's no surprise that a number of previous studies have linked gratitude to greater happiness, satisfaction with life, and optimism about the future. Fewer studies looked for a connection between gratitude and sleep. However, a couple that did also found a benefit.

In their seminal research, psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough asked people with neuromuscular disorders to make nightly lists of things for which they were grateful. After three weeks, participants reported getting longer, more refreshing sleep.

Following up on this lead, researchers at the University of Manchester in England looked at how gratitude might affect people's snooze time. Their study included over 400 adults of all ages - 40% with sleep disorders - who completed questionnaires that asked about gratitude, sleep, and pre-sleep thoughts. Gratitude was related to having more positive thoughts, and fewer negative ones, at bedtime. This, in turn, was associated with dozing off faster and sleeping longer and better.

In short, when you cultivate gratitude throughout the day, you're more likely to have positive thoughts as you're drifting off to sleep. Rather than ruminating over the friend who forgot to call, you're thinking of the coworker who stayed late to help you. Instead of obsessing over bills, you're thinking of the new client you just landed. With positive thoughts as a lullaby, you're more likely to drift off into a peaceful slumber.

Think Thankful Thoughts
Don't reserve thankfulness for one Thursday in November. Make gratitude a habit of thought all year long:

  • Once a day. Every evening, jot down three to five things from that day for which you're thankful. To make it fun and handy, consider downloading a gratitude journal app to your phone.
  • Once a week. A polite "thank you" when someone holds the door is fine. But now and then, give fuller expression to your appreciation. Take a few minutes to tell someone just how much a kindness has meant to you.
  • Once a month. Write a full-fledged letter thanking someone whose generosity has made a difference in your life. Sending it by email or postal mail is okay, but hand-delivery is even better.

Linda Wasmer Andrews is grateful for this blog, where she gets to write about things she believes in, and she's even more grateful for everyone who takes the time to read it. Follow her on Twitter. Find her on Facebook. Visit her online.

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