Health

How to sleep: Want to sleep 'significantly' better? Do this amount of exercise a week


Sleep loss is beyond exasperating – it can also prove life-threatening. Among the list of damaging effects is an increased risk of heart disease, one of the most common killers worldwide. The NHS explains: “Long-standing sleep deprivation seems to be associated with increased heart rate, an increase in blood pressure and higher levels of certain chemicals linked with inflammation, which may put extra strain on your heart.”

Fortunately, you can reset you sleep-cycle and ward off the serious threats.

Simple lifestyle tweaks can be game-changing and one that is supported by solid evidence is exercise.

According to a study published in the journal Mental Health and Physical Activity, people sleep significantly better and feel more alert during the day if they get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week.

A nationally representative sample of more than 2,600 men and women, aged 18-85, found that 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a week provided a 65 percent improvement in sleep quality.

READ MORE: How to sleep in hot weather: Three ways to get to sleep when temperatures are extreme

People also said they felt less sleepy during the day, compared to those with less physical activity.

“We were using the physical activity guidelines set forth for cardiovascular health, but it appears that those guidelines might have a spillover effect to other areas of health,” said Brad Cardinal, a professor of exercise science at Oregon State University and one of the study’s authors.

He continued: “Increasingly, the scientific evidence is encouraging as regular physical activity may serve as a non-pharmaceutical alternative to improve sleep.”

After controlling for age, BMI (Body Mass Index), health status, smoking status, and depression, the relative risk of often feeling overly sleepy during the day compared to never feeling overly sleepy during the day decreased by 65 percent for participants meeting physical activity guidelines.

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Similar results were also found for having leg cramps while sleeping (68 percent less likely) and having difficulty concentrating when tired (45 percent decrease).

In his concluding remarks, Professor Cardinal said: “Our findings demonstrate a link between regular physical activity and perceptions of sleepiness during the day, which suggests that participation in physical activity on a regular basis may positively influence an individual’s productivity at work, or in the case of a student, influence their ability to pay attention in class.”

What mechanisms explain the association?

Although the exact mechanisms are unknown, there are many possibilities for how exercise may reduce sleep loss.

According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), one theory is the body-heating effects of exercise, especially when performed in the afternoon or later.

The NSF explains: “Exercise triggers an increase in body temperature, and the post-exercise drop in temperature may promote falling asleep.”

Exercise may also reduce insomnia by decreasing arousal, anxiety and depressive symptoms, the health body notes.

Insomnia is commonly linked with elevated arousal, anxiety, and depression, and exercise has strong effects on reducing these symptoms in the general population.

“Finally, exercise may reduce insomnia by its effects on circadian rhythms (body clock),” added the sleep body.

Your circadian rhythm is a 24-hour internal clock that regulates your sleep/wake cycle.

Other key self-help tips

It is also important to keep regular sleeping hours.

“This programmes the brain and internal body clock to get used to a set routine,” explains the NHS.

It adds: “By working out what time you need to wake up, you can set a regular bedtime schedule.”





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