Young adults might sleep better if they exercise moderately and decrease sedentary behavior, according to research presented Tuesday at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology/Lifestyle meeting.
Researchers looked at how different amounts of physical activity and sedentary behaviors impacted the quality and duration of sleep in 658 young adults who averaged 24 years old. They measured how many days a week participants did light, moderate or physical activity and the number of hours per day spent reading, watching TV and using the computer.
Both physical activity and sedentary behaviors were both associated with sleep duration and quality, said researchers. Specifically, each additional 10 minutes of moderate physical activity was associated with better sleep quality, although each additional day of light or vigorous physical activity was associated with 3 minutes less sleep per night. Watching television and using the computer was associated with less, poorer quality sleep.
“The finding is not surprising,” according to Kristen Knutson, Ph.D., assistant professor of the department of medicine at the University of Chicago in Illinois, whose research focuses on how sleep affects diabetes and heart disease risk. “Exercise is associated with better sleep quality. Healthy sleep habits should be considered part of a healthy lifestyle along with exercise and diet. Further, these healthy behaviors are not independent of one another and improving one can improve another.”
According to a National Sleep Foundation poll, vigorous exercisers were almost twice as likely as non-exercisers to report, “I had a good night’s sleep” every night or almost every night during the week, and were less likely to report sleep problems. Studies show that exercise improves sleep for most people if it’s not done right before bed, said Knutson. Clinicians who treat sleep problems in young adults should consider taking physical activity and sedentary behavior into account when prescribing treatment plans, researchers said.
About 30 percent of 18 to 29 year-olds reported their sleep quality as poor or very fair in another NSF poll. Sleep disturbances and the loss of sleep are associated with physical changes in the body, like increased sympathetic nervous system activity that could factor into heart disease and stroke risks, said Knutson. “Obviously there is still a lot we need to understand about these associations.”