It seems sleep deprivation and disturbance are an increasingly common symptom of today’s society, with many people suffering from a lack of sleep caused by a variety of modern-day issues, from work stresses and money problems to overly hectic schedules. A healthy amount of good quality sleep is extremely important when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle, and while there may be some aspects of our lives which are hard to change, there is one way we can help improve our sleep – sport.
1. Why is sleep important?
It has long been shown that sleep (or rather lack of) can have a variety of negative effects on the body: from mental impacts such as trouble with concentration, memory loss or mood changes, to more physical ones like a weakened immune system, high blood pressure, weight gain and others. Sleep plays a key role in maintaining a healthy body, and just as we should pay attention to eating a healthy amount of good quality food, so should we ensure we get a healthy amount of good quality sleep.
Many scientific studies over the years have shown the importance of quality or quantity of sleep. However, a 2019 American study led by Boston-based Tianyi Huang, a researcher specialised in the epidemiology of sleep and sleep disorders, went one step further and looked at sleep irregularities and their effect on our bodies. The study found that a regular sleeping pattern (keeping a consistent bedtime and wake-up schedule to ensure the same amount of sleep each night), could reduce the likelihood of developing “metabolic abnormalities” such as obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar. Equally, it found that increasing sleep duration or bedtime variability caused health issues which in turn are associated to further health risks, particularly heart related disease or damage. According to the research, a single hour night-to-night difference in sleep duration can lead to a 27% greater chance of experiencing a metabolic syndrome. In summary, having a disciplined, regular sleep pattern has a significant positive impact on the quality of our every-day life and fighting against health problems.
2. How does sport help?
So we know sleep is important, but how can we improve our own? One significant factor is sport. Exercise, specifically moderate-to-vigorous exercise, has been shown to increase sleep quality for adults by reducing sleep onset (the time it takes to fall asleep), decreasing that frustrating time spent in bed trying, seemingly endlessly, to fall asleep!
Physical activity can also help to reduce sleepiness at unwanted or inconvenient times, like during the daytime. A healthy amount of sport can therefore not only improve how easily you fall asleep when you go to bed, but also avoid drowsiness in our day-to-day lives.Florent Rivault, Wellbeing Manager Aspria Royal La Rasante
Exercise can also improve sleep in indirect ways, for example, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity can decrease the risk of excessive weight gain, which in turn makes us less likely to experience symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is more common in people suffering with obesity.
3. What science says
Although researchers don’t know exactly how physical activity improves sleep, it is known that moderate aerobic exercise increases the amount of slow wave sleep (deep sleep) you get. Slow wave sleep gives the brain and body a chance to rejuvenate, so exercise can help to stabilise our mood and decompress our mind, which is an important process when it comes to falling asleep.
Research by the Sleep Foundation showed that in comparison to adults who exercise three or more times per week, those only exercising less than once a week were more likely to sleep less than six hours per night, experience fair or poor sleep quality, struggle with falling and staying asleep, and receive a diagnosis for a sleep disorder such as insomnia, sleep apnea, or restless legs syndrome. Additional research showed that roughly 76-83% of adults in a survey who engaged in light, moderate, or vigorous exercise reported very good or fairly good sleep quality, whilst only 56% of those who did not exercise said the same. People who exercised were also more likely to get more sleep than needed during the work week, something I’m sure we can all agree, is definitely worth that extra bit of exercise!