Sleep easier by exercising

People who exercise say they sleep better than People who exercise say they sleep better than those who are inactive, according to the new 2013 Sleep in America poll from the National Sleep Foundation in Arlington, Va. Photo Credit: iStock

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Don't take poor sleep lying down. Get up and do something about it.

People who exercise say they sleep better than those who are inactive, according to the new 2013 Sleep in America poll from the National Sleep Foundation in Arlington, Va. Each year, the not-for-profit organization produces a study on a single topic and how it affects sleep. This year's study, based on a survey of 1,000 Americans, analyzed the association between physical activity, exercise and sleep.

"All these things are interconnected," says Max Hirshkowitz, chairman of the poll's task force. Hirshkowitz, a sleep expert, is also a professor at the Baylor College of Medicine VAMC Sleep Center in Houston. "Exercising improves health overall, and good health usually means good sleep."

What surprised Hirshkowitz and other researchers was the stark difference in sleep quality between those who did some sort of daily exercise and those who did none. For example, 83 percent of those who reported regular vigorous exercise and 76 percent of those who said they did only light exercise reported "fairly good or very good" sleep. Conversely, only 56 percent of those who said they were inactive reported "fairly good or very good" sleep. The take-away: "Any exercise is beneficial," Hirshkowitz says.

Otherwise-healthy older adults trapped in what Hirshkowitz calls a "sleep slump" can probably benefit from starting a light exercise routine. Even an easy 10-minute walk a day will get you off on the right foot. Exercising may lead to better sleep, which, in turn, will lead to better health, which, in turn, will make it easier to exercise. "Old injuries act up if you're sleep deprived," he says. "If you wake up after not getting enough sleep, all your joints ache."

And, as anyone who has been sleep deprived for even a short period of time knows, each day becomes a grind. "Life loses a little bit of luster," Hirshkowitz says. "Little things that annoy you are much bigger than they should be."

Those whose problem is more persistent than the occasional "sleep slump" should go to a doctor to get diagnosed, Hirshkowitz says. "If you're starting to have a chronic sleep problem, the nature of that problem makes a big difference," he says. For example, physical issues caused by sleep apnea need to be treated differently than insomnia caused by depression.

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For more tips on getting a good night's sleep, go to the National Sleep Foundation's website at sleepfoundation.org.

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