Regular Exercise May Improve Rest, Reduce Sleep Apnea Risk, Poll Finds

For the millions nationwide who struggle to get a good night’s sleep, the answer might be to start exercising.

A new poll from the National Sleep Foundation found that not only does working out help you sleep better, exercising regularly may also significantly reduce the risk of sleep apnea.

“This poll is the first to show that simply spending too much time sitting might negatively affect our sleep quality,” said Professor Marco Tulio de Mello, a poll task force member. “In addition to exercise, standing at your desk, getting up for short breaks, and moving around as much as possible are important healthy behaviors to include in our lives.”

Not getting enough sleep is associated with a number of chronic diseases and conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People who have diabetes, depression, cardiovascular disease or struggle with obesity may also suffer from insufficient sleep.

In the poll, people who described themselves as “exercisers” reported better sleep than those who didn’t exercise despite both groups claiming they had the same amount of shut-eye each night –  just under seven hours.

Indeed, those who exercised vigorously were nearly twice as likely as non-exercisers to say they got a good night’s sleep every night or almost every night during the week. This group was also the least likely to report sleep problems. Seventy-two percent said they never or rarely wake up too early and are unable to resume sleeping. Sixty-nine percent say they don’t have a hard time falling asleep.

But of those who claim not to exercise, about one-half said they wake up during the night and almost one-fourth said they had difficulty falling asleep nearly every night.

“Poor sleep might lead to negative health partly because it makes people less inclined to exercise,” said Shawn Youngstedt, PhD, a poll task force member. “More than one-half of the total sample reported that their activity level will be less than usual after a night of poor sleep. Not exercising and not sleeping becomes a vicious cycle.”

And those who don’t exercise also have more symptoms of sleep apnea – a condition where a person stops breathing while sleeping. Roughly 44 percent of non-exercisers had a moderate risk of sleep apnea but the risk went down the more a person exercised.

“People with sleep apnea are often overweight,” said Christopher Kline, PhD, poll task force member. “Exercise can be part of the treatment.”

And as little as 10 minutes of walking every day can improve the likelihood of getting a good night’s rest.

“Making this small change and gradually working your way up to more intense activities like running or swimming could help you sleep better,” said Max Hirshkowitz, PhD, poll task force chair.

Sources: National Sleep Foundation news release; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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