Physical Activity Impacts Quality of Sleep


A study published in the January 2001 issue of the journal International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology by Professor Raúl Quevedo-Blasco, stated that adolescents who had better sleep patterns (those who slept between six and ten hours a night i.e. average amount of sleep) achieved higher scores on mathematics and physical education tests.

Recently, a study has confirmed that physical activity impacts the overall quality of sleep. People sleep significantly better (hence feel more alert during the day) if they get a minimum of 150 minutes of exercise a week.

The study conducted on a nationally representative sample of more than 2,600 men and women, ages 18-85, found that 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every week, provided a 65% improvement in sleep quality; people also said they felt less sleepy during the day.

Physical inactivity is a major risk factor. It is one of the leading causes of death in developed countries; leading to coronary heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, breast cancer and strokes, among other things. The cost of physical inactivity in England – including direct costs of treatment for the major lifestyle-related diseases, and the indirect costs caused through sickness absence – has been estimated at £8.2 billion a year. According to the UK Department of Health (2005), “Increasing activity levels will contribute to the prevention and management of over 20 conditions and diseases including coronary heart disease, diabetes, cancer, positive mental health and weight management.”

Being physically active on the other hand can boost mental health, keep you stress-free and reduce several cardiovascular risks.

The recent study (which is due to be out in the December issue of the journal Mental Health and Physical Activity) emphasizes the importance of exercise on a number of health factors. Sleep is one of these health factors as insomnia can have a drastically negative impact on a person’s life.

“We were using the physical activity guidelines set forth for cardiovascular health, but it appears that those guidelines might have a spillover effect to other areas of health,” said Brad Cardinal, a professor of exercise science at Oregon State University and one of the study’s authors. “Increasingly, the scientific evidence is encouraging as regular physical activity may serve as a non-pharmaceutical alternative to improve sleep.”

The participants of the study were given certain physical activity guidelines which they were expected to meet. It was found that participants felt 65% more active during the day (as opposed to feeling tired or lethargic) upon following these guidelines (factors such as age, body mass index, smoking or depression were taken into consideration, as these could affect the results). Additionally it was found that participants were 45% more attentive (or had a better ability to focus or concentrate on something) even when they were tired.

Paul Loprinzi, the lead author of the study said, “Our findings demonstrate a link between regular physical activity and perceptions of sleepiness during the day, which suggests that participation in physical activity on a regular basis may positively influence an individual’s productivity at work, or in the case of a student, influence their ability to pay attention in class.” Additionally Loprinzi stated that this was the first mass study carried out to see the effect of exercise on sleep in which participants were given a regime (rather than relying on self-reports of exercise).

All in all it has been found that being physically active has an immensely positive effect on health, especially for long term health concerns. Furthermore, based on the findings of Professor Raúl Quevedo-Blasco ten years ago, it appears that sleep and physical activity complement each other and the link between them is positively correlated.


About the author

Tara Sud

After living the first seventeen years of my life in India, I travelled to the England to study at the University of York. My undergraduate degree was in English Literature and Linguistics, and I am currently completing my Masters degree in Romantic and Sentimental Literature. Apart from writing, I thoroughly enjoy playing piano and consider myself a commendable Scrabble competitor. I have a keen interest in literature, psychology and biology and love to learn in general.

  • Christopher Watson

    Good article, physical activity is a precursor to a longer and happier life!

    (Would say though, when I read paragraph two of this article, that 150 hours of activity a week (21 hours a day) seems a bit excessive? )