"Sleep and Exercise Work Together to Improve Health" Sleep Experts Announce

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Sleep Right Australia and Renowned Sleep Physician Dr Cunnington have released information on the important interplay between sleep and exercise.

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"What we are continually finding is that if we can improve people’s sleep, we give people a better opportunity to take positive steps with their diet and exercise habits."

It is widely known that good health and exercise go hand in hand, but what relationship does sleep and exercise have?

In a recently released article by Sleep Physician Dr David Cunnington, it is suggested that “Exercise is proven to improve sleep in both fit and unfit individuals. Chronic exercise appears to increase the amount of time slept, quality of sleep and decrease the amount of awakenings throughout the evening.”

Dr Cunnington, who has only recently joned forces with Sleep RIght Australia, also acknowledges that people who exercise generally “lead a healthier lifestyle avoiding tobacco, caffeine and alcohol in high quantities – factors all proven to affect sleep.”

“It comes back to the cycle diagram we often refer too with our patients,” said Biomedical Scientist Mr Nunn. “It is quite difficult to pinpoint one issue with people but what we are continually finding is that if we can improve people’s sleep, we give them a better opportunity at taking positive steps to improve their diet and exercise habits. This eventually leads to people feeling better about their whole life situation – which in turn helps physical performance.”

Dr Dement who is seen as the “Godfather of Sleep Medicine” uses a model called the “Triumvirate of health”. In most instances people are aware that healthy diet and exercise are important factors in health but Sleep is another essential ingredient to throw into the healthy lifestyle mix.

It is another chicken and egg argument about whether improved sleep increases likelihood to exercise of if exercise equates to sleep better. “It is probably best to think of it as a mutually beneficial relationship,” explains Mr Nunn. “I would probably be more inclined to start with exercise helping sleep as it is a voluntary procedure as opposed to sleep which is relatively involuntary. By exercising and being active during the day we are able to increase our demand for sleep.”

Once sleep demand is matched with our circadian rhythm, sleep issues seem to reduce which leads to a more refreshing slumber. After a more refreshing sleep motivation levels are higher and the likelihood of exercise improves. Once exercise starts, the demand for sleep increases. “You can start to see the mutually beneficial relationship here.” Nunn points out. “Furthermore, and what is probably less known is that when we are in Slow Wave Sleep or NREM it is thought that we secrete Human Growth Hormone and other metabolic hormones which help with muscle regeneration and energy replenishment.”

Dougal Allen, an Elite MultiSport athlete in New Zealand who trains up to 30 hours a week will frequently nap after a workout to allow the secretion of Human Growth Hormone to help with this muscle tissue re-generation and recovery.

“In a nutshell, sleep gives us the opportunity to be more motivated and offers replenishment for our muscles and energy stores, giving our bodies a chance to prepare for our next work out session.”

"When to sleep?, or how do I improve my sleep?" are both interesting questions. Each person's sleep need's are unique. If having significant trouble, seeking professional help from a Sleep Physician is a good idea.

Some things that are worth considering are:

  •     Humans are programmed (circadian rhythm) to sleep when the environment is darker and cooler (night as opposed to day)

o    Set a wake-up time for EVERY morning (including weekends and holidays) as opposed to a bedtime to help reschedule the body clock (bedtimes will be naturally selected due to demand for sleep).
o    Only go to bed when tired

  •     If lying awake in bed for extended periods, spend less time in bed. This allows association to occur between bed and sleep.
  •     Ensure the sleeping environment is comfortable is of vital importance
  •     Limit light exposure in your bedroom at night
  •     Exercise can help with sleep as it elevates body temperature allowing for an exaggerated drop of temperature. Exercising to close to bed time can be non beneficial as it can stimulate people and can leave the body temperature too high to fall into sleep
  •     A hot shower before bed can be good for an artificial spike in temperature to allow for that exaggerated temperature drop
  •     Limit noise and other distractions in the room

o    Ear plugs are a good option

  •     Limit technologies in the room

o    Some studies suggest electrical currents interfere with sleep

  •     If worrying occurs:

o    Pick a ‘worry half hour’ long before bed where to write down concerns. If an action can rectify this worry do it or plan to do it. When worries come at bed time simply say "I've taken care of this issue"
o    Don’t have the time visible in the room – checking the alarm clock is stressful. Does it really matter what the time is anyway???

Exercise, good diet and sleep are all involved in the positive health cycle. Exercise being voluntary is a good place to start. Why not start every day with a walk at say 7:30 AM? This will allow exercise time, exposure to sunlight to help reset the body clock and a chance of exposure to some of those addictive exercise endorphins before going about business during the day.

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Andrew Nunn
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