If you’ve ever gotten out of bed after a great night’s sleep and said that your “felt like a million bucks,” you may not be that far off, new research led by a University of Warwick psychologist and published online and in the March print edition of the journal Sleep has discovered.
As part of the new study, Dr. Nicole Tang and her colleagues studied the sleep patterns of more than 30,000 UK residents over the span of four years, and found that quality sleep leads to levels of mental and physical health comparable to winning a lottery jackpot of nearly $250,000.
But, as the authors emphasized, it isn’t how much sleep you get that is important. Their research showed that quality, not quantity, of slumber is what matters. Quality sleep can lead to improved mental and physical wellbeing, while a lack of sleep, poor quality sleep and increased use of any sleep medications can cause a person’s mental and emotional states to worsen.
“We are far from demonstrating a causal relationship,” Dr. Tang, an associate professor in the Warwick Department of Psychology, said in a statement. “But the current findings suggest that a positive change in sleep is linked to better physical and mental wellbeing further down the line.”
“It is refreshing to see the healing potential of sleep outside of clinical trial settings, as this goes to show that the benefits of better sleep are accessible to everyone and not reserved for those with extremely bad sleep requiring intensive treatments,” she added. “An important next step is to look at the differences between those who demonstrate a positive and negative change in sleep over time, and identify what lifestyle factors… are conducive to promoting sleep.”
Despite intent, sleep medication linked to lower quality slumber
Each of the participants in Dr. Tang’s study completed the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ), a test used by mental health experts to monitor their patients’ psychological well-being. Over the course of their research, they found that patients who reported improved sleep scored an average of two points higher on the diagnostic.
This two-point improvement is equal to that experienced by patients who took participated in an eight-week , mindfulness-based cognitive therapy program designed to improve a person’s well-being psychologically, the study authors said. They also discovered that these same patients had shown improvement on a separate test that measured their physical and emotional health.
“In raising the public’s awareness of sleep and health, although the emphasis on protecting a critical amount of sleep is important, the focus of the message should be broadened to include the importance of getting sleep of good quality and of reducing dependence on sleep medication,” Dr. Tang and her colleagues wrote, noting that patients who increased their use of sleep medications “reported worse outcomes despite the intended purpose of the medication.”
“Overall, the current study has provided fresh evidence in support of a temporal effect of sleep changes on health and well-being,” they added. “This relationship applies to both negative and positive changes in sleep duration, sleep quality, and use of sleep medication. Sleep is, therefore, a logical and feasible target for preventative health intervention.”
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