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Religious faith helps you sleep better, research suggests

25 January 2019

Believers tended to sleep longer, fall asleep faster, and feel more rested


Pope Francis kisses a sleeping baby as he arrives to lead a weekly general audience in St Peter's Square, at the Vatican, last February

Pope Francis kisses a sleeping baby as he arrives to lead a weekly general audience in St Peter's Square, at the Vatican, last February

RELIGIOUS faith makes for a good night’s sleep, researchers in the United States have suggested. They found that those who believed in salvation and felt that they had an unshakeable relationship with God tended to sleep longer, fall asleep faster, and feel more rested in the morning.

The findings did not surprise one of the study’s co-authors, Dr Terrence D. Hill, associate professor at the University of Arizona School of Sociology. He said: “If you believe a higher power is out there looking out for you, then what you’re going through now is temporary.” Religious faith, the findings showed, helped a person to feel less stress by giving a sense of hope and reducing sadness, allowing better sleep. He said that the research showed that “religion can indirectly promote sleep by protecting against other risk factors: in this case, stress.”

His co-author, Reed T. Deangelis, a graduate student of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, agreed. “It makes intuitive sense,” he said. “People who believe they’re secure to God and will go to heaven when they die rest assured.”

The study, “Sleep Quality and the Stress-Buffering Role of Religious Involvement: A mediated moderation analysis”, is published in the US-based Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. It used data from a 2017 Baylor Religion Survey of 1410 people who were asked about recent stressful events, sleep quality, religious involvement, and religious cognitions.

It suggests that religion can help with stress by bringing together regularly people who share common beliefs, which builds solidarity and a shared sense of purpose. Church members also tend to provide assistance to one another and promote positive coping practices. It concludes: “For all these reasons, it is plausible that regular churchgoers may experience less agitation in the wake of negative life events, and, ultimately, better quality sleep.”

Individually pursuing a religious practice, such as frequent reading of scripture or prayer, can also reduce stress and encourage sound sleep if the person feels secure in their attachment to God and their place in the afterlife. “Believers may be unable to comprehend why misfortune has befallen them, but they may nevertheless sleep better at night knowing that the universe is under the watchful eye of a deity who, at the end of the day, remains deeply concerned with the well-being of the world and its inhabitants.”

Dr Renata Riha, an Honorary Reader and Consultant in Sleep and Respiratory Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, said that the findings were “in line with current thinking about having a strong faith — whatever denomination — and better health. This may occur for many reasons, including increased social cohesion and sense of belongingness, reduced stress, and other factors we may not be aware of.

“However, it would be of interest to know whether sleep differs according to belief: i.e. monotheistic religions versus pantheistic religions, spiritual beliefs, and philosophies such as Confucianism.”

Dr Irshaad Ebrahim, the medical director of the London Sleep Centre, a private Harley Street clinic, disagreed. He said: “The effect is, in my opinion, more to do with the healthy lifestyle factors followed by the faithful. Followers of religious faiths tend to drink less or abstain from alcohol, live a healthier life, have a more balanced diet, as most faiths proscribe this, and have more set routines during the day and night, thereby priming their circadian rhythm to follow a set pattern.”

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