Exercise and Sleep: New findings from the National Sleep Foundation

The 2013 National Sleep Foundation poll was released earlier this month. Past research has shown that exercise can have a positive impact on sleep, and this year, the poll looked a little deeper into the relationship. Here is a quick summary of the findings.

  • Exercisers say they sleep better. Those who exercise at any intensity level (vigorous, moderate or light) are all more likely to say “I had a good night’s sleep” than non-exercisers. According to Max Hirshkowitz, PhD, and poll task force chair, “If you are inactive, adding a 10 minute walk every day could improve your likelihood of a good night’s sleep. Making this small change and gradually working your way up to more intense activities like running or swimming could help you sleep better.”
  • Sleep quality improves with exercise intensity. Overall, exercisers report better sleep than non-exercisers. But sleep quality also appears to improve with the amount and intensity of exercise you are getting. More than two-thirds of vigorous exercisers say they rarely or never  had symptoms of insomnia (e.g. waking up too early and not being able to fall back to sleep or difficulty falling asleep.) To the contrary, half of non-exercisers wake up during the night, and once-fourth have difficulty falling asleep most nights.
  • Non-exercisers are sleepier and have a lower quality of life. About a quarter of non-exercisers are considered sleepy during the day–this is twice the incidence of sleepiness as those who exercise. Unfortunately the study also found that sleepiness interferes with the safety and quality of life of non-exercisers–they report difficulty staying awake while driving, eating or engaging in social activities.
  • Exercising reduces the risk of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a medical condition which causes a person to periodically stop breathing during sleep. It is associated with a number of other medical conditions including obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Nearly half of non-exercisers are at a moderate risk of developing sleep apnea.  The risk becomes much lower in those who exercise: 26%, 22%, and 19% in light, moderate and vigorous exercisers respectively.
  • The less you sit, the better you’ll sleep. While standing up during the day may not be considered exercise, the study did delve into the impact of the amount of time a person spends sitting on their sleep. It found that those who sit for less than eight hours a day are significantly more likely to say they have “very good” sleep quality than those who sit for over eight hours. For those that work in an office, it can be tough to spend less than eight hours sitting. You may want to consider standing at your desk occasionally or taking frequent breaks to stretch your legs.
  • Exercise at any time of day appears to be good for sleep. This study contradicted past beliefs that exercising close to bedtime can hinder sleep. In fact, it found that exercising at any time is better for sleep than no exercise at all. As Dr. Barbara Phillips, poll task force member explains, “Exercise is beneficial to sleep. It’s time to revise global recommendations for improving sleep and put exercise—any time—at the top of our list for healthy sleep habits.”



3 responses to “Exercise and Sleep: New findings from the National Sleep Foundation

  1. Rosalie Dwyer Kent

    This makes a lot of sense. I have not been feeling well for several weeks and missing out on walking. Started some walking yesterday and will
    plan daily routine to gradually increase energy for now.

  2. Enjoyed the article. Good work..

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