Our feelings of love, joy, and peace vary by how well we sleep

In our previous blog we took the 6,100 Soulpulse respondents data and compared the experience of God’s presence (in other places we call it closeness to God) by the quality and quantity of sleep.  Today we are taking the data in the same sample and comparing the subjective experience of love, joy, and peace with sleep.  Using ESM smartphone methodology, respondents were asked twice each day to report their experience of love, joy, and peace.  Here is a histogram on those results compared with the quality of sleep:


As you can see, there is a slight trend towards experiencing (subjectively, or in John Ortberg’s words “the experiencing self, not the remembering self”) more love, joy, and peace with better sleep quality.  As mentioned in the previous blog, data like this in the entire sample suggests attention to sleep quality can enhance experience of what the Soulpulse researches call “spiritual fruit” (love, joy, peace).

How Does Sleep Affect How We Feel God’s Presence?

We took 6,100 surveys from the SoulPulse data and asked on a scale from 1-10 how close people felt to God (at this moment I feel God’s presence) two times each day for a two week period. When we compared the answers to questions about sleep we found the following results.

Here is a histogram of feeling close to God correlated to perceived quality of sleep:
Graph5-Close to God by quality of sleep

As you can see, the more respondents felt they had “quality sleep” the more they generally report feeling close to God. When one of the chief authors of SoulPulse, John Ortberg, saw his results, his discovery on this factor immediately increased his attention to his sleep habits. He noticed that his experience of God’s presence was even more dramatically affected by sleep quality than the trend shown by the overall sample in the above graph.

When we asked the same sample about the closeness to God correlated with the number of hours sleep there did not seem to be any trend of significance, as you can see from this histogram

Graph3-Close to God by hours slept

So according to our data sleep does effect experiencing the presence of God, but much more so in terms of quality than quantity. What do you think accounts for this? And how would you differentiate a quality night’s sleep from quantity hours of sleep?

Next time we will look at SoulPulse data on how the experience of love, joy, and peace (what we call spiritual fruit) is affected by both quality and quantity of sleep.

Do Women and Men Differ in Feeling Close to God?

Women and men experience spirituality in different ways. Drawing from SoulPulse data, we took 6,100 surveys in which participants responded to the statement “I feel close to God” at this moment, with zero being “not at all” and ten being “very much.” It turns out that in terms of average levels, there’s no significant difference. Both the women and men in the SoulPulse sample scored about 6 out of 10. But there was another difference. Below are two histograms: The one of the left plots the distribution for women participants, and the one on the right for men. They have different distributions.


Namely, women reported more variation in their feeling close to God. Some women sometimes reported being at 1 of 10, the lowest possible score, and other women at other times reported being at 10 out of 10–the highest possible score. In fact, 15% of women’s scores were at the highest level. Men also ranged from lowest to highest, but they were much more likely to come in around the average. Put differently, the women in our sample were more likely to run hot or cold to God, and men were more likely to be warm.

How would you explain this difference?

(Feel free to download and share this figure)

First Report: Variation in Spiritual Awareness

We start with a simple plot of spiritual awareness scores across all the daily surveys. The study has generated 19,716 observations of this variable, and it is scored from 1 “not much” to 100 “very much.” Figure 1 plots a histogram of these observations.

Spiritual Awareness, Participants 1 to 1500

The striking feature of Figure 1 is just how much variation there is across observations. Sometimes people rated their spiritual awareness at that moment as “1”, other times “100”, and every point in-between. This variation raises the interesting question of why people’s spiritual awareness varies so much over time.

There are some distinct patterns in this variation. The median score is “70,” suggesting that this predominately (90%) Christian sample experience relatively high levels of spiritual awareness day in and day out. Also, many observations were clustered at the ends of the scale, with almost 20% of the observations scoring 95 or higher and 6% rating five or lower. This clustering suggests that for some people, spiritual awareness can be an all-or-nothing nothing proposition. (The spike at “50” is a measurement artifact that we corrected partway through the study).

To better understand how individual people vary in their spiritual awareness, we present data for three separate participants. Each is a woman in her 50s, who is married, but they demonstrate very different patterns of spiritual awareness.


Participant #904 is a white woman who lives in California. She has a master’s degree. She’s married and has five or more kids. She is a Baptist, and she has no doubts that God exists.

She averages high levels of spiritual awareness, for half of her scores fall between 95 and 100. However, sometimes her scores dip down to the midrange of the scale.


Participant #1200 is African-American woman who lives in Florida. She is married, has two children, neither of whom lives at home. She earned an associate’s degree. She is a Presbyterian, and she has no doubts that God exists.

Her spiritual awareness varies widely. She’s always somewhat spiritually aware but never fully so. Her scores range from “26” to “86.”


Participant #1400 is a white woman who lives in New England. She has two children. She has a PhD. She identifies herself as Jewish. She sometimes believes in God.

Her spiritual awareness scores are uniformly low. All but one are at “4” or below, and that one exception is only “9.” It’s possible that for each survey she swiped the slider bar all the way to the left for this question—intending to register “not much” each time.

Upcoming: The First Report

The following five posts are from the first report on SoulPulse’s findings. The results are based on the first 1,500 participants. This report focuses on one of the central measures in the study: spiritual awareness. In the daily surveys, participants are asked to rate themselves on the statement “I am aware of God at this moment”, with responses ranging from “not at all” to “very much.” (Participants who don’t believe in God are instructed to call to mind whatever they view as holy or sacred). This report describes day-to-day fluctuations in spiritual awareness.

An Introduction to SoulPulse

SoulPulse is an ongoing research study that combines smartphones and survey methodology to learn how people experience spirituality on a moment-by-moment basis. Participants sign-up at SoulPulse.org (and we invite you to be one), and after an intake survey, they receive two short surveys a day for 14 days. These daily surveys are texted to them on their smartphones, and they answer questions about what they are experiencing at that moment in regards to their spirituality, circumstances, health, and emotions. At the end of two weeks, participants receive an interactive report that plots their spiritual experiences during the study. To date, over 1,700 people have signed up for SoulPulse, and the study will run for at least three more years. It is funded by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation as well as private donors. On this blog we will post interesting findings from the spiritual study in hopes that they inform and encourage your spiritual life.