Vigorous Exercise Leads to Better Sleep, Poll Says

The National Sleep Foundation’s annual ‘Sleep in America’ poll has found that the more people say they exercise, the more likely they are to also report sleeping well.

Good morning, America! With the first night’s sleep of National Sleep Awareness Week complete, how do you feel? If your answer is “not very good,” the National Sleep Foundation has some help to offer you.

According to their annual Sleep in America poll, the solution to your sleep woes may be simple: exercise.

In the poll of 1,000 American adults — who slept an average of 6 hours and 51 minutes a night — vigorous exercisers reported getting a good night’s sleep for 67 percent of nights over a two-week span. Vigorous exercisers were defined as those who participated in “hard physical effort such as: running, cycling, swimming, or competitive sports,” according to the NSF poll.

Moderate exercisers, those who took part in activities such as yoga, tai chi, or weight lifting, reported getting a good night’s sleep for 58 percent of nights over the two-week period. Similarly, light exercisers who participated in lower-effort activities like walking claimed to get a good night’s sleep 56 percent of the time.

But non-exercisers didn’t do so well. They got a good night’s sleep only 39 percent of the time over the same two-week span.

The 2013 Sleep in America poll seems to validate the idea that even a little bit of exercise can make dramatic differences in a person’s ability to sleep well, and the more intense the workout, the better the results appear to be.

“If you are inactive, adding a 10-minute walk every day could improve your likelihood of a good night’s sleep,” said Max Hirshkowitz, PhD, NSF poll task force chair, in a press release. “Making this small change and gradually working your way up to more intense activities like running or swimming could help you sleep better.”

The exercise trend continued throughout the poll, with vigorous exercisers reporting the best quality sleep: 83 percent claimed to have fairly good or very good overall quality of sleep, and they were the least likely group to develop sleep apnea, with a moderate sleep apnea risk of 19 percent.

Moderate and light exercisers, despite a significant gap in exercise intensity compared to the vigorous exercisers, reported similar numbers. When it came to overall quality of sleep, moderate exercisers reported fairly good overall quality 77 percent of the time, narrowly higher than the 76 percent of light exercisers who reported fairly or very good overall quality of sleep.

Only 56 percent of non-exercisers reported getting fairly good quality of sleep. the inactive group also had the highest percentage of people at moderate risk of sleep apnea — 44 percent. Sleep apnea risk among moderate and light exercisers was 22 percent and 26 percent, respectively.

“Our poll data certainly find strong relationships between good sleep and exercise,” added Hirshkowitz in the release. “While cause and effect can be tricky, I don’t think having good sleep necessarily compels us to exercise. I think it is much more likely that exercising improves sleep. And good sleep is fundamental for good health, productivity, and happiness.”

By Jeffrey Kopman