The Science of Gratitude: Enhance Sleep and Reduce Inflammation

November 24, 2023 8 mins to read
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In many countries modern medicine has programmed us to think of symptoms in a vacuum, looking at them independently instead of as interconnected parts. And the role of mental well-being is often overshadowed by physical aspects like diet and exercise. In holistic nutrition we learn that everything is connected and can play a role in our health. New research has shown evidence there’s an interplay between our thoughts and feelings – they can potentially manifest in physical illness. And mental state, especially gratitude, can have a big influence on inflammation, a driving force behind disease and our over-all health. So In this article I look at gratitude health benefits and it’s affect on our mental state, inflammation, sleep and over-all mental and physical well-being.

Combating Inflammation with a Thankful Heart

A groundbreaking 2021 study in “Brain, Behavior, and Immunity” shed light on how expressing gratitude could tangibly decrease inflammatory markers. Participants who maintained a gratitude journal showed significant reductions in these markers compared to those who didn’t. This discovery aligns with the broader understanding that positive emotions and behaviors can influence physical health, potentially impacting dietary choices and gut health, crucial in managing inflammation. On one hand gratitude can influence us physiologically directly. We have a complex relationship with food, it can become a replacement for social interaction, and a coping mechanism or distraction for unpleasant emotions, so it makes sense that on the other hand, emotions can drive our eating habits and dietary choices, further exacerbating the issue.

Grateful Gut, Peaceful Sleep

Research in “Behavioral Sleep Medicine” revealed that individuals who scored high on gratitude tests experienced longer, more restorative sleep; a lot of people struggle with sleep. This could be attributed to gratitude’s ability to alleviate depression – which research shows can disrupt sleep. Additionally, a systematic review of 19 studies confirmed gratitude’s strong correlation with improved sleep quality, suggesting that a mindset focused on gratitude might also influence our dietary choices before bed, promoting foods that aid in better sleep. This relationship between gratitude and sleep is complex, but it’s clear it has a positive affect on the mind and body, which forms a positive feedback circle – reducing depression and driving us to make better dietary choices that result in a better sleep and potentially less depression.

Mental Health and Nutritional Choices

We are in a mental health epidemic with mental health issues on the rise, which highlights the importance of gratitude in our daily lives. A 2023 meta-analysis of 64 clinical trials found that gratitude exercises improved participants’ overall mood and reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression. We get so caught up in life, we can neglect or even refuse to engage in gratitude and other self-care or wellness activities even if we know they work; I’m guilty of that myself. And it’s easy to stop doing these activities for various reasons e.g. busy or during hard times. But often the times when we last want to engage in these activities, are when we can benefit from them the most. And that can lead to a positive feedback loop. Realistically a gratitude journal entry takes 5-15mins…unless you’re the president (and even then), you can find the time (journal on the toilet if you have to).

Practical Tips for Fostering Gratitude

Incorporating gratitude into our daily routine can be as simple as keeping a gratitude journal or making a list of things we’re thankful for. I’ve found writing down what I’m thankful for, to be the most effective…something about physically writing it down, gives it more energy and power. These practices not only improve our mental well-being but can have a multi-faceted affect – subtly influencing our mental health, physical inflammation, and dietary choices, which leads to a cascade of positive impacts on our over-all health and life. No matter how hard life is, there are always things we can be thankful for and if you don’t think so, you need to look harder.

List of Gratitude Activies

  • Keeping a Gratitude Journal: Each day, write down three things you’re thankful for. This simple practice can shift your mindset to focus on the positive aspects of your life.
  • Gratitude Jar: Fill a jar with notes of things you’re grateful for. Then, pull out a note whenever you need a reminder or a mood boost.
  • Gratitude Letter: Write a letter to someone expressing your gratitude for their impact on your life. You can choose to send it or simply keep it for yourself.
  • Gratitude Meditation: Spend a few minutes each day meditating on the things you’re grateful for. This can be done through guided meditations or personal reflection.
  • Gratitude Walk: Take a walk and notice all the things around you that you can be grateful for, like the beauty of nature or the comfort of your neighborhood.
  • Gratitude Visit: Visit or call someone who has made a difference in your life to express your gratitude in person.
  • Gratitude Collage: Create a visual collage filled with images, quotes, and items that represent things you’re thankful for.
  • Thank You Notes: Regularly write and send thank you notes for gifts, kind gestures, or simply for the presence of certain people in your life.
  • Sharing Gratitude at Meals: Make it a habit to share something you’re grateful for during meal times with family or friends.
  • Gratitude Reflection: End your day by reflecting on a positive experience or something you were grateful for that day.
  • Gratitude Challenge: Commit to a 30-day gratitude challenge where you actively find something new to be thankful for each day.
  • Gratitude in Difficult Situations: Challenge yourself to find something to be grateful for in a challenging or negative situation.

My Experience with Gratitude | Gratitude Health Benefits

At the time of writing this article, I’ve been doing gratitude journaling for 2-3 weeks. The biggest improvement has been on my mood, and dietary choices – I feel happier, and therefore take actions in my life, to engage in activities that make me happier and lead to better eating habits – a cascade of positive affects then occur. Honestly, I forget to do my journal some days, but I don’t think of that as a failure…I just pick it up the next day. I’ve started to look forward to doing my gratitude journaling and I hope this can become a lifelong habit. Because I think it is one of the best habits we could possibly have and we would all be better with it in our lives.

Conclusion | Gratitude Health Benefits

Despite what modern medicine might lead us to believe, every part of us is interconnected and should be address holistically with all parts being addressed. Our thoughts and beliefs can manifest in physical illness, and gratitude can affect our inflammation, mood, sleep and eating habits – a complex interplay that highlights the importance of a balanced lifestyle that nurtures our minds and bodies. And a feedback loop that can be positive (or negative if we neglect gratitude). The profound impact gratitude can have on our mental well-being highlights it’s importance. So stop making excuses for neglecting a 15 min gratitude activity in your life, because the science is in – it boosts our over-all health in a myriad of ways.

References

Disclaimer

The information provided in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any health care agency or government entity in Canada or the United States.

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