If you're having sleep difficulties, consider exercise for a better night rest

  • Living
  • Tuesday, 16 Apr 2024

Research found that people who were persistently active were 42% less likely than others to have difficulty falling asleep. — 123rf

WE'RE not all equal when it comes to insomnia. However, there are a few healthy lifestyle habits that can help minimise the risk of sleep difficulties. One of these is exercise, according to a study published in the journal BMJ Open.

The findings of this study are the result of 10 years' work by an international research team. The researchers assessed the frequency, duration and intensity of weekly physical activity in 4,339 middle-aged adults from nine European countries. They also took into account their insomnia symptoms, the duration of their nighttime sleep and their level of daytime sleepiness.

For the purposes of this study, participants who reported doing exercise sessions of at least one hour, at least twice a week, were considered to be physically active. It emerged that Norwegians tended to be the most active, unlike Spaniards and Estonians, who did very little exercise per week.

Overall, 37% of the volunteers remained persistently inactive throughout the study, and a quarter were persistently physically active. Others saw their sporting activity evolve over the 10 years, doing more or less exercise than at the start of the experiment. It turns out that participants who were persistently active tended to be men, younger, non-smokers and in employment.

After taking into account factors that could increase the risk of insomnia (smoking, age, BMI, etc), the researchers deduced that people who were persistently active were 42% less likely than others to have difficulty falling asleep. They were also less likely to suffer from insomnia symptoms.

Normal sleepers

As far as sleep is concerned, people who exercised regularly tended to be "normal" sleepers. Normal sleep duration is estimated at seven to 8.5 hours per night, although this varies greatly from one individual to another. Indeed, short sleepers need only four to 6.5 of sleep per night, compared with nine hours or more for long sleepers. Interestingly, only 29% of study participants who were persistently active were short sleepers.

The researchers conclude that regular physical activity appears to reduce the risk of insomnia. "Our results are in line with previous studies that have shown the beneficial effect of PA on symptoms of insomnia, but the current study additionally shows the importance of consistency in exercising over time, because the association was lost for initially active subjects who became inactive," the study authors write.

Although this research has certain methodological limitations, it demonstrates the importance of regular exercise, whether it's swimming, running or dancing, for example. The important thing is to get moving to reduce the harmful effects of a sedentary lifestyle. – dpa

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