By Andrea Ramberg, BA, CCSH, RPSGT
Exercise and sleep have both been shown to be vital for optimal health. The two function in a bidirectional way, with exercise leading to better sleep and a lack of sleep leading to sub-optimal performance the next day. It has been proven to decrease stress and improve overall mood. It not only strengthens circadian rhythms, in turn increasing daytime alertness but also helps us to get sleepy when it is time for bed. Research has indicated exercise helps to improve the amount of sleep we get while also putting our bodies into longer periods of the most restorative sleep, known as slow-wave sleep.
Regardless of age, sex, and race, higher levels of physical activity lead to better sleep.
But, is that immediate? And do other factors come into play when determining these outcomes?
Recent research done by Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine indicates there are a multitude of factors that come into play when trying to figure out in exactly what time-frame those positive effects of exercise are revealed. A group of adults, 55 and older, living a sedentary lifestyle, also suffering from insomnia, were separated into two groups. One group maintained the sedentary lifestyle, whereas the other group was assigned 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 3 times a week.
To find the correlation, they assessed how sleep could impact the quality of physical activity the next day and determined the following:
Exercise itself did not determine how one slept that night or on a day-to-day basis.
Even after two months of the 16-week study period, the active group did not see any improvements in their sleep satisfaction scores. The 16-week mark, however, brought greater improvements in both sleep quality and sleep quantity.
Despite not improving sleep quality immediately, the subjects who remained active demonstrated significant improvement in their physical abilities the very next day. Shorter exercise duration was noted after a poor night’s sleep.
Diminished exercise was seen more frequently in those that were most challenged with exercise in the beginning. This suggests that those living a sedentary life have to do more work to get to the better sleep component, but all hope is not lost.
This could seem disappointing, but take heart that exercise can improve sleep over time. The gradual build-up to better sleep is not unlike how we look at exercise and the correlation to weight loss – stick to it, and you will see results. Don’t be discouraged when first starting an exercise routine as there is no quick fix when trying to see results. A moderate exercise program combined with a good sleep schedule can and will provide significant benefits if done on a routine basis. Consistent effort will get you to your goals.
Andrea Ramberg BA, CCSH, RPSGT is a Business Development Manager at MedBridge Healthcare. This article was republished with permission. MedBridge Healthcare partners with hospitals and physician practices to offer comprehensive, fully-integrated sleep disorders services. Find out more here.