Exercise Improves Sleep and Nighttime Breathing Troubles

Studies: Physically Active People Sleep Longer and More Deeply and Have Less Sleep Apnea

From the WebMD Archives


Exercise Improves Sleep Apnea

For his studies, one that looked at episodes of sleep apnea and another that assessed quality of life, Kline recruited 43 sedentary adults with moderately severe sleep apnea.

Half were assigned to a 12-week exercise program, while the other half were assigned to a low-intensity stretching program for the same length of time. Those in the exercise group walked briskly for 30 to 40 minutes for four days each week and participated in resistance training on two days. Those in the stretching group met twice each week to do 30 minutes of exercises to increase flexibility.

Before and after the exercise programs, researchers evaluated participants by sleep studies in the lab. They also used questionnaires to assess changes to their mood, fatigue, and daytime functioning. And they tested how quickly study participants could solve problems, think, and remember.

After three months, the number of times that participants stopped breathing at night dropped from an average of 32 to 25 in the exercise group. The stretching group saw their breathing problems worsen, going from about 24 episodes a night to 29.

A separate analysis on the same group, found that exercise also improved daytime sleepiness and decreased fatigue. Study participants also reported that exercise sharpened their thinking and improved other aspects of daytime functioning.

Exercise May Improve Other Facets of Sleep

In another small but intriguing study, researchers asked 12 healthy, young adults to wear sensors that monitor movement while they went about their daily lives for about a week.

Researchers then brought them into a lab where they measured how much and how well they slept.

People who were more physically active during the day had better sleep efficiency, which measures how long a person actually sleeps after they’ve gone to bed.

They also spent more time in deep sleep, which is thought to be important for memory and learning. It is also the kind of sleep that helpspeople feel rested and restored the next day.

“The people who do more physical activity during the day, those with the highest energy expenditure, are those who sleep better,” says study researcher Rebecca Robillard, a neuropsychologist and PhD candidate at the Center for Advanced Research in Sleep Medicine at the University of Montreal in Canada.