Moderate and Intense Physical Activity Favors Good Sleep

Summary: Physical activity improves sleep quality, especially for women, a new study reports.

Source: Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology

An adequate amount of good-quality sleep is essential for the physical and emotional well-being of humans.

For instance, good-quality sleep helps improve the outcomes of various diseases, including cardiovascular and metabolic disorders, mental diseases, and dementia. On the other hand, sleep disorders such as insomnia, narcolepsy, and excessive sleepiness may lead to serious health issues and are quite prevalent the world over.

In the USA, 50–70 million adults suffer from sleep disorders, primarily insomnia. Meanwhile, a meta-analysis of 17 studies suggested that in China, insomnia is present in 15% of the population. To better understand such ailments, it is important to study the factors that promote good-quality sleep.

Previous studies have indicated that a proper lifestyle, including a healthy diet and regular physical activity, is beneficial for good sleep. However, a systematic comprehensive study is lacking in this area of research.

To this end, a team of researchers from Japan, Canada, and Taiwan—led by Associate Professor Javad Koohsari from the School of Knowledge Science at Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (JAIST), who is also an adjunct researcher at the Faculty of Sport Sciences at Waseda University,—has probed the inter-relationship between sedentary behaviour, physical activity, and sleep quality in a sample of middle-aged Japanese population.

The research group, comprising Professor Yukari Nagai, also from JAIST; Professor Akitomo Yasunaga from Bunka Gakuen University; Associate Professor Ai Shibata from University of Tsukuba; Professor Yung Liao from National Taiwan Normal University; Associate Professor Gavin R. McCormack from University of Calgary, and Professor Koichiro Oka and Professor Kaori Ishii from Waseda University, based their study on Japanese adults between 40 and 64 years of age—a crucial time window which often marks the onset of various health issues.

Their work has been recently published in Scientific Reports.

The researchers used an isotemporal substitution approach, which estimates the effect of replacing one activity type with another for the same amount of time.

Says Dr. Koohsari, “We replaced 60 minutes of sedentary behaviour or light-intensity physical activity with moderate-to-vigorous physical activity in the participants’ schedules.”

This shows a woman sleeping
Previous studies have indicated that a proper lifestyle, including a healthy diet and regular physical activity, is beneficial for good sleep. Image is in the public domain

An accelerometer monitored the participants’ level of physical activity for seven consecutive days. A questionnaire was then used to assess the participants’ quality of sleep and rest.

The replacement of sedentary behaviour with moderate-to-intense exercise indeed improved sleep quality. Interestingly, this association was seen to be gender-based, and was only found in women. This is in agreement with reports that have shed light on gender-based differences in sleep disorders. More studies are, however, required to understand why these gender-based dissimilarities occur.

In summary, this study contributes to the existing pool of studies that provide empirical evidence of the importance of physical activity in promoting good-quality sleep. Hopefully, these studies will serve as a useful platform for further research on the prevention of sleep-related disorders. Surely, we now have enough motivation for regularizing our workout schedules!


Dr. Gavin R. McCormack is supported by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Foundations Scheme Grant (FDN-154331).

Prof. Koichiro Oka is supported by a Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (No. 20H04113) from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.

About this exercise and sleep research news

Author: Mohammad Javad Koohsari
Source: Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology
Contact: Mohammad Javad Koohsari – Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Open access.
Sedentary behaviour and sleep quality” by Mohammad Javad Koohsari et al. Scientific Reports


Sedentary behaviour and sleep quality

High-quality sleep is an important factor in sustaining health and improving well-being. Previous evidence has demonstrated the positive associations between increased physical activity and reduced sedentary behaviour (SB) with sleep quality.

The substitutional relationships between SB, light-intensity physical activity (LPA), and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) need to be considered when examining how a particular behaviour may impact sleep quality.

No studies, to our knowledge, have explored these substitutional relationships in middle-aged adulthood.

Using an isotemporal substitution approach, this study examined the associations of replacing sedentary time with physical activity on sleep quality measures in a sample of middle-aged adults in Japan. Data from 683 adults aged 40–64 living in Japan were used. The average daily time spent in SB, LPA, and MVPA was objectively assessed by accelerometers.

Two self-reported sleep quality measures were obtained using questionnaires, including rest by sleep and sleep quality. Multivariable linear regression models were used to assess the associations of SB, LPA, and MVPA with the sleep quality measures stratified by gender.

We found that each 60 min unit of SB or LPA replaced with MVPA was favourably associated with rest by sleep among women (β = 0.16, 95% CI 0.07, 0.28, p < 0.001; β = 0.18, 95% CI 0.07, 0.32, p < 0.05, respectively). There were no significant associations between SB, LPA, and MVPA with sleep measures in men across all three models.

These findings indicate that higher MVPA has a positive association with sleep quality in middle-aged women.

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