When Warren Zevon coined the maxim “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” he more than likely nearly met his demise after uttering those words. The implications of a bad night’s sleep are manifold — from weakened immunity, mood changes, poor balance and even weight gain.
We’re still only beginning to understand the delicate balance between our lifestyle choices and our ability to get a good night’s rest. It’s fair to assume that physical exercise during the day is conducive to a good night’s sleep later.
But, recent findings have found that most people overestimate how vigorous the exercise has to be.
A study by researchers at the Brandeis University Psychology Department, published in the National Sleep Foundation journal Sleep Health, found that exercise, even as low-impact as walking, can drastically enhance one’s quality of sleep. The findings were especially favorable for the women who took part in the study.
“Averaged across the month, daily active minutes were positively related to sleep quality but not duration… [O]n days that participants were more active than average, they reported better sleep quality and duration in both sexes. Results suggest that low-impact [physical activity] is positively related to sleep, more so in women than men.”
In an effort to better understand how low-impact activities such as walking promote sleep in healthy adults, researchers recruited 59 (mostly middle-aged) fully employed men and women. The volunteers were equipped with an activity monitor and encouraged to try to fit more walking into their daily schedules over a four-week period.
The researchers measured the participants’ daily activity using a Fitbit Zip, while, at the same time, recording their sleep quality, which was self-reported by the participants throughout the breadth of the study. The participants also were asked to fill out a questionnaire rating their restfulness on a daily basis. The level of activity measured was comprehensive; activities varied from housework to light exercise.
The researchers then parsed through the data of the 59 participants, zeroing in on how much they had moved and how well they slept, anticipating a pattern.
The results were confirmed — the relationship between movement and sleep was consistent. When the day to day recordings was considered, the results became more telling. On a day that one of the participants recorded a higher amount of movement, they also experienced better sleep quality.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to run a marathon in order to experience serious Zs. While covering more ground was linked to better sleep, participants who simply added a few more steps than normal to their day experienced better sleep later on.
“The average step count among the 59 volunteers was about 7,000 per day, which is a little more than three miles a day of walking,” Alycia Sullivan Bisson, a graduate student in psychology at Brandeis and member of the research team, told The New York Times.
Bear in mind that this study was purely observational, based on the perceptions of the participants sleep quality alone. And, the research did not consider how the quality or pace of the daily movement may affect overall health.
The results, though not conclusive, do corroborate the link between sleep and daily movement — this may be reassuring for those who struggle to find the time for a proper workout. If anything, it gives you an excuse for breaking into spontaneous dance on your lunch break. Your coworkers can judge all they like, but you’ll be more rested to deal with their cynicism in the AM.