A new poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation finds that those who exercise get better sleep than those who never exercise. The effects were detected even for individuals who engage in a very limited amount of exercise. Overall, about 56% to 67% of people who said they engaged in any level of exercise reported that exercise improves sleep on virtually every weeknight. In comparison, only 39% of those who never exercised reported the same.
People who reported exercising also reported fewer sleep problems than couch potatoes. An alarming 24% of those who never exercise said they have a hard time falling asleep nearly every night of the week. The same was true of only 8% of those who reported frequent, vigorous exercise. So how much exercise is needed to improve your sleep?
Light, Moderate and Vigorous Physical Activity
In the study, light exercise included activities such as walking. Moderate exercise was defined as activities such as yoga and lifting weights. Finally, vigorous exercise included running, cycling, swimming and other high-intensity activities. Those polled in the study were asked to identify the type of exercise they participated in. They were only allowed to declare such participation if they engaged in the exercise for a minimum of 10 minutes.
A total of 1,000 adults between the ages of 23 and 60 were included in the poll. About half of the participants said they engaged in light exercise. About a quarter said they exercised moderately, while 18% reported vigorous exercise. Fortunately, just 9% of the participants said they never exercise at all.
Even if you never exercise, you could potentially improve your sleeping patterns by sitting less, according to the study. Just under a quarter of those polled who spent less than eight hours per day sitting rated their sleep as “very good,” while the same was true of only about 12% of those who spent more than eight hours sitting each day.
Possible Limitations of the Study
Sleep psychologist Lisa Meltzer of Denver’s National Jewish Health said that the findings of the study have been generally accepted by the medical community for many years. However, she pointed out certain limitations of the study as well. She notes that the study only found a link of association between exercise and sleep, but not necessarily one of causality. She says it’s possible that people who sleep poorly are too tired to exercise the next day.
Meltzer also notes that frequent exercisers tend to stick to a more fixed schedule in comparison to those who don’t exercise. This might also mean that they’re more likely to stick to a regular, clearly defined sleeping schedule as well. Going to bed and waking up at the same times every day has been shown to improve sleep quality.
Finally, it’s important to note that exercise habits didn’t seem to influence the amount of sleep that people got each night; most of the participants reported getting about 7 hours. However, experts agree that quality of sleep is just as important, or likely more so, than quantity.
Exercise Before Bed – A Good Idea?
Conventional wisdom holds that exercising shortly before bedtime makes it more difficult to fall asleep since it gives you a boost of energy. However, the study found that people tended to sleep better even if they exercised not long before they went to sleep. Overall, the study found that it doesn’t matter when you exercise – if you do it, you’ll sleep better.
The National Sleep Foundation is now altering its guidelines to reflect the findings of the study. Starting now, they’re recommending that people exercise regardless of the time of day, unless doing so directly takes away from time that should be devoted to sleeping. The exception is for people who suffer from chronic insomnia, as exercise before bed could make falling asleep more difficult for them.
If you personally find that exercising shortly before going to bed makes it more difficult for you to fall asleep, then you should certainly modify your exercise schedule.
Exercise Improves Sleep: The Bottom Line
People who exercise – regardless of intensity – tend to sleep better than those who don’t exercise at all, according to a new study by the National Sleep Foundation.