Being Kind to Yourself is Linked to a Good Night’s Sleep

Rather than beating yourself up for waking in the middle of the night, self-care and kindness  could help you to sleep better, according to new research.

Researchers from The University of Melbourne (Australia) and Brigham and Women’s Hospital (USA) found that self-compassionate people tend to have significantly better sleep quality and fewer sleep problems than those who are more self-critical.

A strength of the meta-analysis of 17 independent studies  was its inclusion of data from a large sample of 1,830 participants globally.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have found that their sleep is disturbed by worry and restlessness,” University of Melbourne clinical psychologist and lead author Dr Lydia Brown said. “This study shows that self-compassion is associated with fewer sleep disturbances, so it might be a helpful psychological skill linked to a better night’s sleep.”

Self-compassion can be defined as a healthy way of relating towards yourself during difficult moments, such as waking  up at night.

“Oftentimes people can become very frustrated, treat themselves with harsh self-criticism and feel quite isolated and alone when they have a restless night’s sleep,” Dr Brown said.  “Unfortunately, these reactions only make matters worse by stimulating the mind and nervous system, waking you up even more.”

Dr Brown  said a more helpful approach on awakening would be to practice mindful acceptance of the situation, recognise that you are not alone (and that many people suffer poor sleep from time to time), and treat yourself with kindness.

This study provides good evidence that self-compassion is relevant to sleep quality. However, a  key limitation is that it synthesises cross-sectional data, which makes it difficult to infer directions of causality.

“What we do know is that self-compassion is a learnable skill,” Dr Brown said. “The active cultivation of a kind attitude toward the self is already known to have many benefits, including reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression. We now need high-quality experimental research to build on our findings, to see if self-compassion-based training can improve our sleep.”

Scientific Article


Dr Lydia Brown