Sleeping badly? Jump straight out of bed and get exercising

Poor sleep quality could shorten your life, but research finds strenuous physical activity may undo some of the damage

Name: Regular exercise.

Age: It’s always been available, but it’s never been less popular.

Appearance: Periodic bouts of strenuous activity: swimming, cycling, pilates, fleeing from predators – take your choice.

What about it? It’s good for you.

Is that right? It is correct, yes, according to the results of an 11-year study published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

What else did this research find? It found that over the course of the study the middle-aged people who did the least exercise and had the poorest sleep quality were 57% more likely to die than those who exercised most and slept best.

Tell me more. And also that physically active, young, thin, rich non-smokers with no mental health issues who eat lots of vegetables and drink little alcohol tend to sleep quite well at night.

Did they really need an 11-year study to find this out? However, people who exercised a lot and also slept poorly managed to counteract the negative effects of the latter with the benefits of the former.

I don’t understand. Poor sleep quality is, it turns out, really bad for you: those with the worst sleep scores were 67% more likely to die from a heart attack or stroke, and 45% more likely to die from cancer.

That’s exactly the sort of news that keeps me up at night. But the study found that a high level of physical activity “appeared to eliminate most of the deleterious associations of poor sleep and mortality”.

Surely the cure for not enough sleep is more sleep? Or loads of strenuous exercise.

But I’m tired! They all say that – get on that rowing machine.

How is this counteracting effect explained? The study was observational, didn’t get into causality, and its authors accept there are no widely established explanations for the association between low sleep quality and ill-health. But there may be some biological mechanism at work.

Such as? “Poor sleep has been linked with metabolic effects such as disturbed glucose control,” said Prof Mark Hamer, one of the study’s authors. “We know that physical activity has favourable effects on many metabolic pathways.”

How much exercise do I have to do to for this to work? More than the World Health Organization-recommended threshold of 600 metabolic-equivalent minutes a week.

Can I do that in bed? It’s the equivalent of 150 minutes of brisk walking or 75 minutes of running, so no.

Do say: “I couldn’t sleep, so I did press-ups all night instead.”

Don’t say: “Which is why I won’t be coming in to work today.”

The GuardianTramp

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