Getting more exercise than normal or being more sedentary than usual for even one day may be enough to affect sleep later that night, according to a new study led by Penn State.
In a one-week micro-longitudinal study, the researchers found that when teenagers got more physical activity than they usually did, they got to sleep earlier, slept longer and slept better that night.
Specifically, the team found that for every extra hour of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, the teens fell asleep 18 minutes earlier, slept 10 minutes longer and had about one percent greater sleep maintenance efficiency that night.
“Adolescence is a critical period to obtain adequate sleep, as sleep can affect cognitive and classroom performance, stress, and eating behaviors,” said Lindsay Master, data scientist at Penn State. “Our research suggests that encouraging adolescents to spend more time exercising during the day may help their sleep health later that night.”
In contrast, the researchers also found that being sedentary more during the day was associated with worse sleep health. When participants were sedentary for more minutes during the day, they fell asleep and woke up later but slept for a shorter amount of time overall.
Orfeu Buxton, professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State, said the findings — published today (May 22) in Scientific Reports — help illuminate the complex relationship between physical activity and sleep.
“You can think of these relationships between physical activity and sleep almost like a teeter totter,” said Orfeu Buxton, professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State. “When you’re getting more steps, essentially, your sleep begins earlier, expands in duration, and is more efficient. Whereas if you’re spending more time sedentary, it’s like sitting on your sleep health: sleep length and quality goes down.”
While previous research suggests that adolescents need eight to ten hours of sleep a night, recent estimates suggest that as many as 73 percent of adolescents are getting less than eight.