Sleep Disorders

Updated 28 July 2015

Most physical activities help you sleep better

Certain types of physical activity help you sleep better, while others might leave you tossing and turning, a new study finds.


Researchers looked at data from a survey of more than 429,000 American adults. They found that activities such as walking, bicycling, running, weight lifting, aerobics/calisthenics, gardening, yoga/Pilates and golfing were all linked to better odds of a good night's slumber.

Surprising results

But, people who got physical activity from household chores and child care had a greater risk of poor sleep, according to the study.

Read: Insomnia

Results of the study were presented at the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, in Seattle. Findings presented at meetings are generally viewed as preliminary until they've been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

The results of this study were surprising, according to study leader Michael Grandner, a psychiatry instructor at the Centre for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

"Not only does this study show that those who get exercise simply by walking are more likely to have better sleep habits, but these effects are even stronger for more purposeful activities, such as running and yoga, and even gardening and golf," Grandner said in a university news release.

"It was also interesting that people who receive most of their activity from housework and child care were more likely to experience insufficient sleep – we know that home and work demands are some of the main reasons people lose sleep," Grandner added.

"These results are consistent with the growing scientific literature on the role of sleep in human performance. Lab studies show that lack of sleep is associated with poor physical and mental performance, and this study shows us that this is consistent with real-world data as well," he explained.

Sleep disorders in South Africa

But since the study design only allowed the researchers to find associations between activity and sleep in America, instead of proof of a cause-and-effect relationship, more studies are needed, according to Grandner.

Read: Sleep or die

One in every three patients seen in the SA primary care setting have occasional sleeping difficulties, according to the South African Society of Sleep Medicine. Ten percent of those experience chronic sleep problems. 

They also state that between thirty and forty percent of adults suffer from some form of insomniaduring any given year, and between ten and fifteen percent of those suffer from severe or chronic insomnia. Sleep disorders tend to get worse as people get older, and more women than men experience serious sleeping difficulties.

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Image: Good night from Shutterstock


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Dr Alison Bentley is a general practitioner who has consulted in sleep medicine and sleep disorders, in both adults and children of all ages, for almost 30 years. She also researches and publishes on a number of sleep-related topics both in formal research journals and lay publications including as editor of Sleep Matters, an educational newsletter on sleep disorders for doctors.

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