Exercising twice a week linked to significantly lower risk of insomnia

People in Norway were most likely to be persistently active while those in Spain and Estonia were most likely to be continually inactive

Exercise leads to a much better chance of a good night's sleep, a study says.
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People who exercise twice a week or more have been found to have a significantly lower risk of insomnia, new research shows.

Those who exercise regularly are 42 per cent less likely to have difficulty falling asleep than those who are inactive and are 22 per cent less likely to report any symptoms of insomnia.

And people who kept exercising in the long term are significantly (55 per cent) more likely to be normal sleepers (six to nine hours a night) than those who do not exercise, research published in the journal BMJ Open shows.

They were also significantly less likely (29 per cent) to be short sleepers (six hours a night or less) and 52 per cent less likely to sleep for a very long time (more than nine hours a night).

Even people who had not exercised previously, but who then took up exercise over the study period, were 21 per cent more likely to be normal sleepers than those who were persistently inactive.

For the research, experts examined data from nine European countries involving 4,339 people, about half of whom were women.

Those in the study were asked questions on their exercise levels at the start, then asked again a decade later.

They were also quizzed on insomnia symptoms, such as how often they had difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or waking too early – and how long they slept for on average.

People who exercised two or more times a week, for at least one hour a week, were classed as physically active.

If they were still exercising at this level a decade later, they were classed as persistently active (25 per cent of people), while 37 per cent of people were persistently non-active, 18 per cent became active and 20 per cent became inactive.

Analysis of the data showed that “physically active people have a lower risk of some insomnia symptoms and extreme sleep durations, both long and short”.

But the researchers, including from Imperial College London and Reykjavik University in Iceland, warned that the benefits could be lost if people stopped exercising.

"Physical activity has a huge role to play in our physical and mental health, with benefits such as better sleep, reduced stress and anxiety, and improved productivity, social connection and well-being," said Huw Edwards, chief executive of ukactive, the UK’s trade body for the physical activity sector.

“This study shows the essential role that physical activity can play in lowering the risk of insomnia and we know that a good night’s sleep helps us to feel better and be more productive the following day.

“Our own research shows that one of the main motivations for exercising in the UK today is to help people sleep better, so it is essential that everyone feels supported to be physically active in their daily lives.

“We want to make the UK the most active nation in Europe, which would bring savings of up to £1 billion ($1.3 billion) a year in healthcare spending linked to physical inactivity, and an additional £3.6 billion in GDP through increased productivity.”

The study found that people in Norway were most likely to be persistently active, while those in Spain, then Estonia, were most likely to be continually inactive.

People who exercised the most were likely to be men, younger, and weigh slightly less.

They were also less likely to be current smokers and more likely to be currently working.

Updated: April 08, 2024, 8:52 AM