Exercise Improves Sleep Quality

December 28, 2016

Exercise Improves Sleep Quality

Do you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or both? If so, then you just might have insomnia. What you might not realize is that you are not alone. Insomnia is actually the most common sleep disorder effecting more than 20 million adults in the United States. Individuals with insomnia:

  • Lie awake for a long time before falling asleep,
  • Sleep for only short periods,
  • Are awake for much of the night,
  • Feel as if they haven’t slept at all, or
  • Wake up too early.

Insomnia is a recognized medical condition that is characterized by duration and cause. Acute insomnia is common and is induced by stressful situations such as family pressures, traumatic events or work stresses. As the name denotes, this type of insomnia is a short-term condition that normally abates when the stresser is removed. Acute insomnia is often classified as primary insomnia because the sleep issues are not caused by an underlying medical condition.

Insomnia becomes chronic when sleeping issues persist for a month or longer. Chronic insomnia is often classified as secondary insomnia because causality is attributed to a comorbidity. Comorbidities include, but are not limited to, persistent pain, a medical condition (i.e., asthma, cancer, arthritis, depression, etc.), medication or a substance like drugs or alcohol.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the ideal amount of sleep for most adults appears to be 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night. For insomnia suffers this is essentially a mission impossible.

The good news is that a recent study conducted in Germany demonstrates that even moderate exercise can actually improve sleep quality and may serve to prevent sleeping issues such as insomnia.

The six-week study included 114 volunteers with chronic, sleep-related issues. The volunteers were split between an intervention and control group. The study was designed to evaluate the influence of intervention on self-rated sleep quality, daytime mood, and quality of life. These outcomes were selected because they are the very things that are impacted by poor sleep.

The 70 adults in the intervention arm received a combination of sleep education and physical exercise. The sleep education consisted of verbal and written information on the importance of sleep, sleep disorders, possible causes of insomnia and its associated impact. The exercise component was three aerobic exercise sessions consisting of Nordic walking and / or an equivalent sport of moderate impact. The control group did not receive sleep education, nor did they participate in group or individual exercise.

 “Improvements achieved at the end of the intervention were well maintained over time and even enhanced three months later.” Volunteers in the intervention group, fell asleep 18-minutes faster and slept 33-minutes longer versus individuals in the control group. At the three month follow-up, the intervention group was actually sleeping 47 minutes longer—a 14 minute increase over the baseline.

The authors of the study hypothesis that the improvements seen in sleep duration and quality are related to the catabolic process caused by exercise. In other words, because of the muscle breakdown that occurs during physical activity the body requires a deeper and more restful sleep to repair the damage. While the exact mechanism is unknown, the impact and benefits of exercise on sleep are well established.


Reference: C. Gebhart, “Moderate Exercise Plus Sleep Education Improves Self-Reported Sleep Quality, Daytime Mood, and Vitality in Adults with Chronic Sleep Complaints: A Waiting List-Controlled Trial,” Sleep Disorders, vol. 2011.