Results from a new poll released Monday reveals a “compelling association” between weekly physical activity and a better night’s sleep. The relationship is so strong, says researchers, that just adding 10 minutes of walking to your day is likely to improve the quality of your sleep.
“There is a relationship there, and it’s sequentially greater as people exercise more,” said Max Hirshkowitz, an associate professor at Baylor College of Medicine and a sleep researcher. “Really, it confirms what should be common sense.”
The results from the poll, conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, agree with one of the classic rules of sleep hygiene: "People who are active tend to sleep better,” said sleep psychologist Lisa Meltzer.
In a study of 1,000 adults, ages 23 to 60, participants were categorized as either exercisers or non-exercisers, based on self-reported activity levels.
Although both groups averaged six hours and 51 minutes on a weeknight, the quality of sleep they reported was very different.
Among people who said they engaged in exercise during the week, 56 to 67 percent reported that they "had a good night’s sleep" almost every night on week nights, compared to only 39 percent of non-exercisers who reported sleeping that well.
However, Hirshkowitz cautioned, even though exercise leads to improved sleep, it’s also possible that poor sleep makes people less inclined to exercise.
Regardless, vigorous exercisers had even better sleep results, with 72 percent reporting “rarely” or “never” waking up too early and struggling to get back to sleep. But 50 percent of the non-exercisers reported waking up too early, with 24 per cent reporting they had difficulty falling asleep every to nearly every night.
Non-exercisers were also more likely to have problems with staying awake while driving, eating or engaging in social activity during the prior two weeks, and they reported such problems nearly three times more than exercisers – 14 per cent four compared to six per cent.
Moreover, 44 per cent of the non-exercisers were at moderate risk for sleep apnea, compared to 26 per cent for light exercisers, 22 per cent for moderate exercisers and 19 per cent for vigorous exercisers.
“People neglect to think of sleep as one of the fundamental building blocks of life. But without it, the good things lose their goodness and the bad things just get terribly worse,” said Hirshkowitz. “Placing your life at the altar of the god of productivity just isn’t worth it in the end.”