The American Sleep Association reports that 50-70 million adults in the United States have a sleep disorder, with short-term insomnia reported by 30% of adults and chronic insomnia by 10% of adults.
If you are one of the people with trouble sleeping, whether it is short term or chronic insomnia, you may improve your sleep if you attend church. And no, this does not mean sermons are so boring that they cause people to fall asleep. It also does not improve the chance of sleeping because the church pew is a comfortable place for a nap. However, there is a connection between religious activity and sleep.
A recent study in Sleep Health: Journal of the National Sleep Foundation found that those who attend church and pray regularly sleep better than those who do not. It is possible that participation in religion by attending church reduces stress, decreases substance abuse, and facilitates social support when people engage with church members. All of these factors contribute to positive mental health and therefore influence quality of sleep.
A study from 2011 discovered that veterans who attended church services were less likely to have problems with sleep even with previous exposure to combat situations and prior reports of sleep difficulties, implying that even those at risk of having mental health problems and insomnia can benefit from religious activities.
Belief in one’s salvation decreases the amount of sleep deprivation people experience during particularly stressful times. It could be that those who are confident in their salvation, meaning what happens to them after they die, experience less anxiety and depression which has a positive correlation with good sleep. Religious people view God as in control of their lives so they are less inclined to have mental health symptoms that have a negative impact on length and quality of sleep. If God is in charge, why would they worry?
Religion also may have a biological buffer impact on the stress response, called “allostatic load”, which refers to the negative impacts of chronic stress. When stress hormones are thrown out of whack and religious beliefs help to reduce the allostatic load, it increases the length of sleep.
In another study by Wallace and Forman, they surveyed teens from 135 high schools in the United States. Those who attended church once a week or more, got at least seven hours of sleep, higher than those teens who never attend church. This implies that religious activities have the potential to benefit teens as much as adults.
Whether or not a person attends church, it is worth making prayer or meditation part of a daily routine. This practice intentionally moves people out of the fight or flight mode, which people get stuck in with today’s busy culture. When people pray or meditate, they cannot react. Instead, cultivating this practice reengages the prefrontal cortex, which enables rational, mindful decisions, and releases feel good chemicals in the brain. And feeling good is of course good for mental health and good mental health puts people in a position to sleep better.
This does not mean that mental health providers should have church attendance written on a prescription pad, where patients attend church on Sunday for a better life starting Monday. “We just need more studies,” says co-author Christopher Ellison of The University of Texas at San Antonio. “This is an area that is ripe for more exploration. Given how important sleep quality is for Americans in every phase of their lives, and given how many Americans profess some kind of religious belief, we need to understand the connection much more thoroughly than we do.”
At the very least, there does seem to be a correlation between church attendance and sleep quality which invites consideration for further research and offers an option for patients who want a solution other than yet another prescription. There are enough initial findings to indicate religious activity, including church attendance, prayer, and mediation do have a positive impact on sleep that may be overlooked by many. There is a clear benefit of the lack of unpleasant side effects or potential of addiction with a pharmaceutical solution and is certainly a low risk alternative to losing sleep.