Welcome to Focus on Fatigue.
Here in Australia we are just starting to emerge from a long and very hot summer. If there’s one thing I don’t like to do when the temperature soars, it’s exercise. For those of you in the northern hemisphere, the thought of coming out of blanket hibernation to go for a run during the winter months may not be any more appealing. However, as we all know, regular exercise is one of the three fundamental cornerstones of good health (along with plenty of sleep and a healthy diet). And now that cooler (or warmer) weather is just around the corner, this is the perfect time to get started on a regular exercise routine.
This month in Focus on Fatigue we’ll look at the benefits of regular exercise on getting a good night’s sleep.
The FRMS Team
InterDynamics Pty Ltd
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Views expressed in articles and links provided are those of the individual authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of InterDynamics (except where directly attributed).
Exercise and Sleep
We all know how important it is to get enough sleep. Unfortunately, achieving the rest we need is not always easy, especially when doing shift work. There are times when good sleep hygiene practices, such as having a dark room and a comfortable bed, are simply not enough. Thankfully, there are many habits we can instill in our waking lives that will support our sleep. One of these habits is, of course, wearing ourselves out. Yes, regular exercise is a great way to increase the chances of achieving a restful sleep when we slip beneath the covers.
In 2013, the National Sleep Foundation conducted a Sleep in America poll of 1000 people from across America. The poll found overwhelming support for their proposition that exercise is good for sleep. Those who identified themselves as ‘vigorous exercisers’ reported the best sleep. They also reported having no problem maintaining enthusiasm to get things done in the previous two weeks. However, even those who identified as ‘light exercisers’ reported significantly better quality of sleep than those who did no exercise at all.
Meanwhile, non-exercisers were significantly more likely to report poor health. They were also more likely to have trouble staying awake while driving, eating or engaging in social activities. They drank more coffee, took more medicated sleep aids, were excessively sleepy during the day, had lower moods, and were at greater risk for sleep apnoea.
The most important thing to remember here is that, while vigorous exercise was best, even light exercise was enough for participants to start experiencing benefits.
Once you’ve fallen asleep, regular exercise has been found to increase sleep length and can also have an impact on the quality of sleep.
These sorts of improvements have been found in a wide variety of groups, including people with insomnia, those with mild to moderate sleep apnoea, and in adolescents.
Can I exercise close to bedtime?
Many people believe they shouldn’t exercise too close to bedtime because it will interfere with their sleep. This is not surprising considering sleep tip lists all over the internet will tell you exercising in the hours before bedtime is a bad idea.
The research, however, has found that this is not necessarily true. The Sleep in America poll found no significant differences between the sleep quality of those who did even vigorous exercise within four hours of bed and those that exercised earlier. Another study wanted to test this hypothesis more specifically. It concluded “that vigorous late-night exercise does not disturb sleep quality.” Other research has had similar results.
Exercise does cause a whole host of reactions in the body, such as increasing hormone levels, blood flow to muscles, and body temperature. But according to sleep experts, it only takes an hour for these processes to return to normal levels. So, if you are going to exercise before going to sleep, do make sure to give yourself an hour to cool down.
How this all relates specifically to shift workers has yet to be seen. However, what we can take away from these research studies is this: If the only time you have available to devote to exercise is in the hours before you sleep, don’t feel that you have to refrain on the basis that the exercise will harm your sleep. This will not necessarily be the case.
- Brand, S., Gerber, M., Beck, J., Hatzinger, M., Puhse, U. and Holsboer-Trachsler, E. (2010) High exercise levels are related to favourable sleep patterns and psychological functioning in adolescents: A comparison of athletes and controls. Journal of Adolescent Health, 46(2), 133-141.
- Flausino, N. H., Da Silva Prado, J. M., de Queiroz, S. S., Tufik, S. and de Mello, M. T. (2011) Physical exercise performed before bedtime improves the sleep pattern of healthy young good sleepers. Psychophysiology, 49(2), 186-192.
- Myllymaki, T., Kyrolainen, H., Savolainen, K., Hokka, L., Jakonen, R., Juuti, T., Martinmaki, K., Kaartinen, J., Kinnunen, M. L. and Rusko, H. (2011) Effects of vigorous late-night exercise on sleep quality and cardiac autonomic activity. Journal of Sleep Research, 20, 146-153.
- Neil-Sztramko, S. E., Pahwa, M., Demers, P. A., and Gotay, C. C. (2014) Health-related interventions among night shift workers: A critical review of the literature. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health, 40(6), 543-556.
- Reid, K. J., Baron, K. G., Lu, B., Naylor, E., Wolfe, L. and Zee, P. C. (2010) Aerobic exercise improves self-reported sleep and quality of life in older adults with insomnia. Sleep Medicine, 11(9), 934-940.
- Sengul, Y. S., Ozalevli, S., Oztura, I., Itil, O. and Baklan, B. (2011) The effect of exercise on obstructive sleep apnea: A randomized and controlled trial. Sleep Breath, 15, 49-56.
In the News
‘The early bird gets the worm’ is a favourite adage among morning gym-goers, but what about those of us who prefer to live – and exercise – by night?
Life, as you may have heard, is not always so easy, and so it’s important to practice being comfortable with being uncomfortable. One of the most reliable ways to do that — as Science of Us reported last month — is by pushing yourself physically: People who undertake and endure exercise challenges tend to perform better in hard, yet ostensibly unrelated, areas of their lives, such as quitting smoking or remaining calm during final exams. The scientific theory underlying this phenomenon is called the “cross-stressor adaptation hypothesis.”
Want to Improve Your Sleep? Perhaps fall asleep quicker? How about just sleep longer? Find out how exercise can improve your sleep gainz!