Get Moving, Then Get Snoozing

Exercise and good sleep go together. Obvious, right? Except, not all physical exercise is created equal... and not everyone benefits equally.


This may not come as a surprise, but sleep is good for you. Numerous studies have demonstrated the beneficial effects of sufficient sleep on the brain and body, though recent data indicates that as many as 1 in 3 Canadians are not getting enough.

So how can we improve our sleeping habits? What can we do to promote high-quality and healthy sleep? A new study from researchers in Japan, Taiwan, and Canada — namely the University of Calgary —  may provide some guidance. The simple answer? Exercising enough to get your heart pumping!

The research team collected data from nearly 700 adults aged 40 to 64 in Japan, including how long they demonstrated sedentary behaviour and participated in light-intensity physical activity or moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each day.

To do this, researchers provided the participants with waist accelerometers that measured daily average physical activity time for seven consecutive days. The researchers also collected data on the participants’ sleep quality via self-reported questionnaires.

The researchers’ particular focus was the effect on sleep quality of replacing one type of activity (i.e., sedentary behaviour) with another (moderate-to-vigorous physical activity), rather than the effect of one behaviour in isolation — an approach that is called isotemporal substitution.

Unsurprisingly, the team found a positive association between replacing one hour of sedentary behaviour or light-intensity physical activity with one hour of moderate-to-vigorous activity and increased sleep quality. However, this relationship was only found in women. No such association was found among men!

The researchers hypothesized that moderate-to-vigorous physical activity may be associated with increased sleep quality due to an effect on multiple potential mechanisms, including metabolic/endocrine functions and body temperature. Further research will be necessary to understand the differences in men and women.

Unfortunately for those who prefer slow walks over jogging, no effect on sleep quality was observed when sedentary behaviour was replaced with light physical activity. Interestingly, the researchers acknowledge that one reason for this could be that the light physical activity done by participants could have been household chores such as cooking, doing dishes, and ironing. Though they are physical in nature, the very fact that they are a chore may have increased stress in participants and thus negated any effects on sleep quality.

The gender disparity is particularly of note, and could benefit from further research. Are there other circumstances in which the sleep quality of men could also benefit from moderate or vigorous physical activity? Until we find out, I suppose I’ll keep going to the gym!

‹ Previous post
Next post ›

Borna Atrchian is an MA student in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto. Having previously completed a Behavioural Neuroscience degree, he is passionate about issues where politics and power intersect with psychology and human behaviour. He is interested in understanding the conditions that create distrust of the scientific community, as well as finding the most effective ways to rebuild this trust.