The very thing that gets you up in the morning could be the secret to a good night’s sleep.

Older adults who have a purpose in life are more likely to have fewer sleep disturbances such as sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome—and sleep better over a long period of time.

“Helping people cultivate a purpose in life could be an effective drug-free strategy to improve sleep quality, particularly for a population that is facing more insomnia,” says Jason Ong, associate professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Purpose in life is something that can be cultivated and enhanced through mindfulness therapies.”

As they age, people have more sleep disturbances and insomnia. Doctors prefer to use non-drug interventions to improve patients’ sleep, a practice that the the American College of Physicians now recommends as a first line treatment for insomnia, Ong says.

Image: Rand

Published in Sleep Science and Practice, the study included 823 participants—individuals without dementia, 60 to 100 years old with an average age of 79. More than half were African American and 77 percent were female.

People who felt their lives had meaning were 63 percent less likely to have sleep apnea and 52 percent less likely to have restless leg syndrome. They also had moderately better sleep quality, a global measure of sleep disturbance.

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