Laughter therapy is a thing. Here’s what it can do.
There are about a thousand reasons you might be struggling to sleep at night (and that’s only a slight exaggeration). TBH, many of those reasons stem from the same issue: stress.
When you experience severe stress for long periods of time, your muscles are in a nearly constant state of tension, as if they’re trying to remain ready to run or bail if things really heat up, according to the American Psychological Association. Long-term tension puts strain on the rest of the body, particularly in functions regulated by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.
Hormones that are produced in the HPA axis are responsible for things like appetite, sexual reproduction and desire, and even body temperature regulation. When stress impairs the HPA axis, other hormones may be inhibited to conserve resources. Learn more about the chronic physical symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Tense muscles can make it difficult to relax and shut off a racing mind, so it’s no surprise that high stress levels disrupt your sleep. Whether it’s a stressful workplace, a frustrating relationship, or an actual anxiety disorder, this chronic “fight or flight” response is bound to affect your ZZZs.
What Is Laughter Therapy and What Does It Do?
From yoga to massage to meditation, many relaxation techniques can help manage stress levels, but a more jovial one that’s becoming increasingly common at senior citizen homes and cancer care centers is laughter therapy.
Laughter therapy is formally defined as a type of therapy that uses humor to cope with pain and stress and improve someone’s quality of life and overall health, according to the National Cancer Institute. Clowns, funny books and movies, games, and puzzles can all be used to induce laughter.
It sounds too good to be true, but there’s now scientific data showing laughter can truly boost your health in a number of ways. A 2016 study of over 20,000 adults over the age of 65 found that those who reported laughing every day had a lower prevalence of heart disease and stroke compared to those who laughed “never or almost never.”
Correlation is not causation (and it’s possible that the prevalence of a chronic illness could result in wanting to laugh less). But consider the mechanics of laughing: Your chuckles and chortles produce endorphins, which can help lower levels of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Those wonderful endorphins can help the relieve pain and relax the nervous system.
So, Can Laughing More Help You Sleep?
If laughter can effectively help you relax, then it might help your sleep quality, too. In a 2011 study, more than 100 participants with depression and insomnia were split into two groups: a control group and a laughter therapy group. (Learn more here about how depression can affect sleep.)
Compared to the control group, those in laughter therapy saw statistically significant improvements in depression, insomnia, and sleep quality. This suggests that the laughter may be more powerful than anyone thought—helping to boost mood and relaxation and improve sleep.
Most studies specifically study the effects of a formal intervention program of laughter therapy, but adding “casual laughter” to your life could yield similar results. Watching funny movies and shows (or hanging out with your hilarious friend) might help bust some of that stress and give you a better night’s sleep.
Laugh it up, and check out these other tips to sleep better tonight.
Hayashi K, Kawachi I, Ohira T, Kondo K, Shirai K, Kondo N. Laughter is the best medicine? A cross-sectional study of cardiovascular disease among older Japanese adults. J Epidemiol. 2016;26(10):546-52.
Ko JH, Young CH. Effects of laughter therapy on depression, cognition, and sleep among the community-dwelling elderly. Geriatr Gerontol Int. 2011 Jul;11(3):267-74.
Laughter for health. AARP. (Accessed on June 23, 2018 at https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-06-2011/laughter-health.html.)
Laughter therapy. National Institute of Cancer. (Accessed on June 23, 2018 at https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/laughter-therapy.)
Stephens MAC, Wand G. Stress and the HPA axis: role of glucocorticoids in alcohol dependence. Alcohol Re. 2012;34(4):468-83.
Stress and insomnia. National Sleep Foundation. (Accessed on June 23, 2018 at https://sleepfoundation.org/ask-the-expert/stress-and-insomnia.)
Stress effects on the body. American Psychological Association. (Accessed on June 23, 2018 at http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-body.aspx.)