Match made in heaven: Exercise and sleep

“Sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together” – Thomas Dekker

Nothing can beat a good night sleep, but at times I feel like they are few and far between. Why is it that sometimes we can sleep like babies and other times our mind and body cannot switch off?

The number of clients coming in tired and fatigued is only increasing and one of the main reasons is they cannot fall asleep or stay asleep. Throughout the night whilst we sleep we actually go through a number of cycles of sleep. Each night the amount of cycles varies as well as the duration whilst we sleep (or at least attempt to). A cycle generally lasts between 1-2 hours and consists of a light sleep at the start, also known as slow wave (NREM) and a deeper, heavier sleep towards the end of the cycle, known as Rapid Eye Movement (REM). It is very important that we reach both stages of sleep to maintain a healthy sleep pattern.

One other important process that happens whilst we are in our cycles of sleep is hormone regulation. The major hormones that are regulated play big roles in our body. The first hormone is Renin, which regulates our blood pressure. Now considering nearly 40% of our population suffers with Hypertension as stated on the Heart Foundation website, making sure Renin is regulated can be one way of keeping our heart healthy. Second is our Growth Hormone, which stimulates growth in our body and stimulates cell reproduction and regeneration. Thirdly is Prolactin, which plays a crucial role for our metabolism, the regulation of our immune system and pancreatic development.

So, you can see how important it is to regulate these hormones and the best time these are regulated is while we are asleep. Without enough sleep and the regulation of our hormones, many issues and health concerns can arise. 

A study completed by E. Van Cauter et el, on the metabolic consequences of sleep and sleep loss stated, short sleep (4 hours) compared with long sleep (10 hours), is associated with significantly increased hunger and global appetite. Also, another interesting fact they found was that the hunger was especially for carbohydrate-rich foods. So next time you have a terrible sleep, take note of the foods you are craving the next day.

Now, not only are we tired and cranky but we also hungry and craving all the foods we should be limiting. The same study from above, found that short sleep duration appears independently associated with weight gain. If your sitting here going yes, I know, that’s me or tell me something I didn’t know, I guess your also asking the question “Well tell me what to do about it”?

And here is my answer and hopefully some information on how you can improve your sleep to ensure your risk factors are not increased. A study by Yang, Pei-Yu et al that investigated if exercise training improves sleep quality in middle-aged and older adults with sleep problems found that participation in exercise training has a beneficial effect on sleep quality and decreased both sleep latency and use of sleep medications. Considering this research, exercise can be used as an alternative therapy or complementary therapy for sleep problems.

I can already here your next question, “Well how much and how often”? The study above researched several trials and the average amount, duration and intensity the participants were completing was four times weekly for 40-minute sessions at a moderate intensity. The Australian government also recommends a minimum of 2.5 hours a week of moderate intensity exercise. Another recommendation is also to include at least 2 days a week of resistance training to ensure muscle strength and bone health.

What does this mean to for you? All you need to do is make half an hour of “you time” at least 5 days a week to either go for a moderate to vigorous walk to achieve this. Other options may be an hour exercise class 2 – 3 times a week which also lets you engage in your community and meet new people. Exercise is not a one shoe fits all therapy and people who do suffer with Chronic conditions are suggested to speak with an Accredited Exercise Physiologist for safe options.


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