As fitness professionals, our expertise extends far beyond the gym floor. We have the power to positively impact not only physical fitness but also overall wellbeing, and one vital aspect of wellbeing is sleep quality. Recent studies have shed light on the undeniable connection between exercise and improved sleep. This article explores the findings of these studies and offers actionable tips on how we can guide our clients toward better sleep.
The Exercise-Sleep Nexus
It’s no secret that exercise is a cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle. What’s becoming increasingly clear is that regular physical activity can play a pivotal role in enhancing sleep quality. Studies have delved into this relationship, showcasing compelling evidence of the benefits exercise can offer for a restful night’s sleep.
In a study published in the Journal of Sleep Research (Goldberg et al. 2023) researchers investigated the influence of exercise timing on sleep quality and found that moderate exercise promoted better sleep quality. Notably, engaging in late-evening vigorous exercise had a potential negative impact on both objective and subjective sleep markers. This insight highlights the importance of considering the timing and intensity of exercise when aiming to optimise sleep patterns.
Pilates: A Sleep Quality and Fatigue Game Changer
Another study published in BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation (Amzajerdi et al. 2023) focused on female college students residing in dormitories examined the impact of Pilates exercises on sleep quality and fatigue levels. The results were remarkable, demonstrating that after eight weeks of Pilates intervention, sleep quality significantly improved. Participants experienced better subjective sleep quality, reduced daytime dysfunction, and increased sleep duration. Notably, improvements in sleep quality were observed after the four-week mark, showcasing the potential for swift positive changes in sleep patterns.
A study published by the Frontiers of Immunology (You et al. 2023) aimed to investigate the relationships between sedentary behaviour, exercise, and sleep disturbance by analysing blood cell-based inflammatory biomarkers. The researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), including 22,599 participants. Sleep disturbance was assessed through a questionnaire, while exercise participation and sedentary behaviour were evaluated using the global physical activity questionnaire. Inflammatory biomarkers measured included white blood cell (WBC) count, neutrophil count (NEU), neutrophil-to-lymphocyte ratio (NLR), and systemic immune inflammation index (SII).
Key findings of the study are as follows:
- Prevalence and Associations: The prevalence of sleep disturbance was around 24.17%. After adjusting for various factors, sedentary behaviour was positively associated with sleep disturbance (OR: 1.261, 95% CI: 1.154-1.377), while exercise showed a negative association (OR: 0.849, 95% CI: 0.757-0.953). This means that sedentary behaviour increased the odds of sleep disturbance, while exercise decreased the odds.
- Mitigating Effect of Exercise: In participants with severe sedentary behaviour, exercise had a mitigating effect on sleep disturbance. The odds of sleep disturbance were reduced in this group when they engaged in exercise (OR: 0.687, 95% CI: 0.551-0.857).
- Inflammatory Biomarkers and Sleep Disturbance: Inflammatory biomarkers like WBC, NEU, NLR, and SII were strongly associated with sleep disturbance. This indicates that increased levels of these biomarkers were related to a higher likelihood of experiencing sleep disturbance.
- Mediating Role of Inflammatory Biomarkers: The study found that inflammatory biomarkers acted as mediators in the relationship between sedentary behaviour and sleep disturbance. WBC, NEU, NLR, and SII collectively mediated this association, accounting for proportions of 2.09%, 2.27%, 1.76%, and 0.82%, respectively. This suggests that these biomarkers partly explained how sedentary behaviour influenced sleep disturbance.
- Exercise as a Strategy: Exercise was shown to be effective in improving sleep disturbance symptoms, especially in individuals with severe sedentary behaviour. However, the exact mechanism behind this improvement requires further investigation.
The study suggests that sedentary behaviour is a risk factor for sleep disturbance, and engaging in exercise can help mitigate this risk, especially in those with severe sedentary behaviour. Additionally, inflammatory biomarkers play a role in mediating the relationship between sedentary behaviour and sleep disturbance, highlighting their potential as accessible indicators for sleep-related health issues. Further research is needed to better understand the underlying mechanisms of how exercise affects sleep in individuals with different levels of sedentary behaviour.
Assisting Clients in Achieving Better Sleep
In our position as fitness professionals, we are uniquely positioned to guide our clients not just in their physical pursuits, but also toward holistic wellbeing. Here are some practical tips we can use to assist our clients in achieving better sleep:
- Tailor Exercise Timing: Counsel clients on the optimal timing of their workouts. Suggest moderate exercises earlier in the day to promote better sleep quality, while advising against intense workouts close to bedtime.
- Incorporate Pilates: Draw inspiration from the Pilates study and consider incorporating Pilates routines into clients’ programmes. These exercises may contribute to enhanced sleep quality and reduced fatigue levels.
- Stress Management: Emphasise stress management techniques, as stress is a major contributor to poor sleep. Incorporate relaxation exercises, such as deep breathing and mindfulness, to help clients unwind and prepare for restful sleep.
- Consistent Routine: Encourage clients to establish a consistent sleep routine. Consistency reinforces the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, making it easier to fall asleep and wake up at desired times.
- Hydration and Nutrition: Educate clients about the impact of hydration and nutrition on sleep. Advise them to avoid heavy meals and excessive caffeine close to bedtime.
- Technology Break: Suggest a digital detox before bed. The blue light emitted by screens can disrupt the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep.
- Create a Sleep-Friendly Environment: Provide tips on creating a conducive sleep environment, including keeping the bedroom cool, dark, and quiet.
The symbiotic relationship between exercise and sleep quality underscores the multidimensional role we play in our clients’ lives. Armed with evidence from studies on exercise and sleep, we can educate our clients on how to achieve restorative sleep and better overall wellbeing. By imparting practical strategies and personalised advice, we can guide them on a path toward improved sleep quality and a healthier, happier life.
- Mathias Goldberg, Benoit Pairot de Fontenay, Yoann Blache, Ursula Debarnot (2023) Effects of morning and evening physical exercise on subjective and objective sleep quality: an ecological study, Journal of Sleep Research. Click here to review the full research study
- Amzajerdi, A., Keshavarz, M., Ezati, M. et al. The effect of Pilates exercises on sleep quality and fatigue among female students dormitory residents. BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation 15, 67 (2023). Click here to review the full research study
- You Y, Chen Y, Fang W, Li X, Wang R, Liu J and Ma X (2023) The association between sedentary behavior, exercise, and sleep disturbance: A mediation analysis of inflammatory biomarkers. Frontiers of Immunology. 13:1080782. doi: Click here to review the full research study
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