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National Sleep Foundation Poll Finds Exercise Key To Good Sleep

"Sometimes we might feel tired, and that's normal," says Matthew Buman, PhD, poll task force member, "but if excessive sleepiness is your normal state, it warrants a conversation with your doctor. It could be a red flag that something is wrong with your health."

Indeed, non-exercisers have more symptoms of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a serious medical condition in which a person stops breathing during sleep. Its symptoms often include tiredness, snoring, and high blood pressure. It also increases the risk for heart disease and stroke. More than four in ten non-exercisers (44%) exhibit a moderate risk of sleep apnea, compared to between one in four and one in five of light exercisers (26%), moderate exercisers (22%) and vigorous exercisers (19%).

"The poll data suggest that the risk of sleep apnea in exercisers is half that of non-exercisers," says Christopher Kline, PhD, poll task force member. "People with sleep apnea are often overweight. Exercise can be part of the treatment."

Less time sitting is associated with better sleep and healthSeparate from exercise, spending less time sitting may improve sleep quality and health. Those who sit for less than eight hours per day sitting are significantly more likely to say they have "very good" sleep quality than those who sit for eight hours or more (22%-25% compared to 12%-15%). Furthermore, significantly more of those who spend less than 10 hours per day sitting mention excellent health, compared to those who spend 10 hours or more sitting (25-30% compared to 16%).

"This poll is the first to show that simply spending too much time sitting might negatively affect our sleep quality," says Prof. Marco Tulio de Mello, poll task force member. "In addition to exercise, standing at your desk, getting up for short breaks, and moving around as much as possible are important healthy behaviors to include in our lives."

Exercise at any time of day appears to be good for sleepThose who report exercising close to bedtime and earlier in the day do not demonstrate a difference in self-reported sleep quality. In fact, for most people exercise at any time seems to be better for sleep than no exercise at all.

This finding contradicts long-standing "sleep hygiene" tips that advise everyone not to exercise close to bedtime. The National Sleep Foundation has amended its sleep recommendations for "normal" sleepers to encourage exercise without any caveat to time of day as long as it's not at the expense of sleep. (However, people with chronic insomnia should continue to restrict late evening and night exercise, if this is part of their treatment regimen.)

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