Sleep may be one of the most important factors for well-being; yet, according to the CDC, one in three adults does not get enough.

Lack of sleep can lead to potential cognitive declines, chronic diseases and death. Now, research from the University of Missouri finds that older adults who have trouble sleeping, could benefit from participating in social activities, in particular attending religious events.

To study the relationship between sleep and social participation for older adults, Jen-Hao Chen, assistant professor of health sciences at the MU School of Health Professions and the Truman School of Public Affairs, analyzed two waves of data collected over a five year period from the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project.

He looked at three aspects of social participation; volunteering, attending religious services and being part of organized group activities. He then compared the data to sleep outcomes measured by actigraphy—wearable wrist sleep trackers. Results showed that older adults with greater levels of social participation were getting better sleep.

However, Chen says despite the strong associations between social participation and sleep, social participation does not necessarily lead to better sleep. The strong associations he found could also be due to those already sleeping well may feel well enough to be more active socially.

His future research on sleep will continue to use innovative sleep measurements to understand the role various social relationships have on sleep behaviors and outcomes.

The study “Social Participation and Older Adults’ Sleep” was published in the Journal of Social Science and Medicine. Chen collaborated with Diane Lauderdale and Linda Waite at the University of Chicago on the study.