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Sleep quality is determined by daily activities and exercise

Early risers and night owls alike crave a good night’s sleep. Yet, despite our best efforts, quality sleep can be elusive, impacting our health and well-being.

Researchers from the University of South Australia reveal a surprising link: how we structure our day significantly impacts our sleep quality, with exercise playing a central role.

Sleep quality as a public health priority

“Sleep is essential for health and well-being. While the fundamental importance of sleep is consistent across all ages, the factors influencing it, as well as its patterns and implications, can differ between children and adults,” wrote the study authors.

“Poor sleep, typically characterized in terms of short sleep duration, delayed sleep timing and poor sleep quality, has been associated with a wide range of negative health outcomes. The importance of sleep for health has gained considerable attention, with efforts and interventions to promote sleep increasingly viewed as a public health priority.”

Different aspects of sleep quality

The experts investigated how daily activities impact sleep quality in over 2,500 Australian participants, including both children and adults. 

The researchers looked closely at the participants’ daily schedules for 24 hours and compared their activity patterns to different aspects of sleep quality. 

“In this study we created different simulations to see how extending and restricting aspects of time were related to different aspects of sleep,” noted Dr. Lisa Matricciani.

Impact of daily activities on sleep quality

The study focused on several daily activities, including sleep, sitting, light exercise, and moderate to vigorous exercise. The researchers found strong connections between how people spend their day and how well they sleep. This applies to both how long they sleep and how they feel after sleeping (e.g., feeling rested, tired, etc.).

Breaking it down further, the study showed that all types of activities, including sleep itself, were linked to sleep timing (when people fall asleep and wake up), how well they stay asleep (sleep efficiency), and how consistent their sleep patterns are (sleep variability). This means that how people choose to spend their time throughout the day can significantly impact their sleep health.

Essential role of exercise for sleep health

“We found that if children and adults increased moderate to vigorous physical activity, they would feel less tired, have less troubled sleep and better-quality sleep,” said Dr. Matricciani.

For children, the amount of sleep they get and how much time they spend sitting are most important for efficient sleep. Light exercise also plays a role in their sleep efficiency and consistency, but does not necessarily affect when they fall asleep.

For adults, the study found that moderate to vigorous exercise is the only activity that is significantly linked to satisfactory sleep. This suggests that physical activity is particularly important for adult sleep health.

More sleep is not always better

The research highlights the complexity of the relationship between sleep duration and sleep quality. Just getting more sleep, without considering how it fits into your daily routine, won’t necessarily improve your sleep quality. “Interestingly, simply making more time for sleep predicted more restless sleep,” said Dr. Matricciani. 

In some cases, it might even make your sleep less efficient. This aligns with other studies on extending sleep, which suggest that while sleeping more might seem helpful, there’s a limit to how much sleep your body actually needs. 

Going beyond that limit can lead to less efficient sleep, meaning even though you’re in bed longer, your sleep isn’t as good. 

Focus less on bedtime routines

By considering our daytime activities when thinking about sleep, this research suggests a more comprehensive approach to sleep health. 

“Sometimes, the activities we choose might directly displace sleep – think of kids playing video games late into the night – but other times, it’s how we spend our daytime hours,” explained Dr. Matricciani. This challenges the usual focus on bedtime routines and provides a clear, practical way for people who have trouble sleeping. 

Tips to improve sleep quality

A good night’s sleep involves finding a healthy balance in your daily routine. Here’s what you can do:

Exercise regularly

Aim for activities that get your heart rate up, like brisk walking, running, swimming, or cycling. This can improve sleep quality, especially for adults.

Reduce sedentary behavior 

While some sitting is unavoidable, it’s important to balance it out with physical activity for better sleep.

Get enough sleep, but not too much

Make sure you get enough sleep each night, but avoid oversleeping as it can make your sleep less restful.

Stick to a sleep schedule

Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends. This helps regulate your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, improving sleep quality and making it easier to fall asleep and wake up feeling refreshed.

Move throughout the day

Light physical activity throughout the day, like taking the stairs or doing some stretches, can also contribute to better sleep patterns.

The study is published in the journal Sleep Health.


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