How does optimism help with insomnia?

If getting enough good quality sleep is a problem it may be down to whether you are an optimist or a pessimist, according to a study published online in the Journal of Sleep Research.

It’s not always situations in life that make us happy or unhappy; it’s how we interpret situations. Whether something is good or bad boils down to self-talk and the habitual explanations we make to ourselves for what happens in life.

When researchers Jakob Weitzer and Eva Schernhammer from the Medical University of Vienna surveyed over one thousand Austrian people about their sleep routine, work situation, lifestyle behaviours and levels of happiness and optimism, they found the chances of suffering from insomnia or a sleep disorder were around seventy percent lower for optimists than pessimists.

The previous study wasn’t the first to explore relationships between optimism and sleep. For example, when Rosalba Hernadez, professor of social work at the University of Illinois and her team tracked the sleep behaviour of more than three thousand people over five years, they were able to show a clear association between optimism and sleep duration and quality. More optimistic people were more likely to report getting enough sleep each night and sleep between six to nine hours a night; they also experienced less daytime sleepiness


Scientists speculate that optimists have better coping strategies that help buffer against stress. “Optimists are more likely to engage in active problem-focused solving and interpret stressful events more positively, reducing worry and ruminative thoughts when they are falling asleep and throughout their sleep cycle“, said Hernadez in a press release.

Regardless of what is happening, optimistic people have a general sense of hope for the future and believe they can cope with life’s setbacks; life’s challenges are short-lived and manageable somehow. Whereas pessimists often see the worst when something goes wrong and think the worst will continue to happen.

Although we think of optimism and pessimism as fixed traits, it’s not necessarily the case. We have more control than we think. One of the best positive psychology activities found to increase optimism is an exercise called the Best possible Self, where people imagine a future version of themselves in which everything has worked out well in different domains of life. To find out more about how to do the exercise click the link to Greater Good in Action web-site at the University of California, Berkeley.


Jakob Weitzer, Kyriaki Papantoniou .,Clara Lázaro‐Sebastià .,Stefan Seidel Gerhard Klösch Eva Schernhammer (2020). The contribution of dispositional optimism to understanding insomnia symptomatology: Findings from a cross‐sectional population study in Austria. Journal of Sleep Research. First published online: 08 July 2020.

Rosalba Hernandez, Thanh-Huyen T. Vu, Kiarri N. Kershaw, Julia K. Boehm, Laura D. Kubzansky, Mercedes Carnethon, Claudia Trudel-Fitzgerald, Kristen L. Knutson, Laura A. Colangelo, Kiang Liu. The Association of Optimism with Sleep Duration and Quality: Findings from the Coronary Artery Risk and Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) StudyBehavioural Medicine, 2019; 1 DOI: 10.1080/08964289.2019.1575179

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