Sleep and Resilience Can Form a Virtuous Cycle for Teens

Resilience, or being able to bounce back from adverse events, is a useful skill to have – if we didn’t already know that, 2020 has certainly driven the point home!

Psychologists know that resilient people tend to share certain traits, such as finding meaning in events and trusting their ability to navigate challenging situations.

And a new study suggests another trait highly resilient people might commonly have: getting a good night’s sleep.

The researchers were interested in the relationship between sleep and resilience in teenagers – a group that, incidentally, has had its own set of challenges to navigate this year, with the closing of schools.

They were especially interested in a type of chicken-and-egg question that often comes up in psychology studies: if teenagers who are more resilient also sleep better, is that because resilience improves people’s sleep or because better sleep makes people more resilient?

As it turns out, the answer seems to be all of the above!

The researchers came to that conclusion by surveying 1,299 teenagers over the course of two years. Running their experiment over such a long period of time allowed the researchers to look at whether changes in resilience preceded changes in sleep or vice-versa.

Over the course of the two years, teenagers whose resilience increased tended to subsequently enjoy better sleep quality and an ability to fall asleep more quickly. That suggests resilience might contribute to better sleep.

On the other hand, when teenagers saw fewer sleep disturbances and less interference of sleep problems in their daytime functioning, they also experienced subsequent increases in resilience. Thus, sleep also seems to affect people’s ability to cope with adversity.

Those findings raise the possibility that sleep and resilience can create a virtuous circle, in which sleeping well makes people more resilient and becoming more resilient makes it easier for people to sleep well.

Although the study focused on this phenomenon in teenagers, it’s a good reminder to us all: a fundamental thing you can do to care for your mental health is to get enough sleep!