Another Reason To Work Out: Get More Zzz's

Megan Ray  |  July 22, 2014

Exercise has been proven time and again to be the best defense against disease, injury and depression, and a recent study may have found yet another healthful boon of working out - it makes you sleep better. A poll by the National Sleep Foundation found that people who exercise sleep better than those who do not, even though they get the same amount of rest each night.

The poll showed that 56 to 67 percent of self-described light, moderate and vigorous exercisers said they slept "well" on a work night, compared with only 39 percent of non-exercisers. The results led researchers to conclude that exercise, and the way it promotes sleep, is critical for well-being.

"Our poll data certainly finds strong relationships between good sleep and exercise," said Dr. Max Hirshkowitz, task force chair of the poll. "While cause and effect can be tricky, I don't think having good sleep necessarily compels us to exercise. I think it is much more likely that exercising improves sleep. And good sleep is fundamental for good health, productivity, and happiness."

These findings are important for adults of all ages, since about 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, the data may be particularly interesting for seniors receiving Alzheimer's care. The Alzheimer's Association reports that one of the best ways to address sleeplessness, a common Alzheimer's behavior, is for caregivers to plan more challenging activities during the day, whether that means a trip to the doctor or a walk outdoors. The recent poll also found that less sitting time is associated with better sleep and health, encouraging a more active lifestyle for those who need help sleeping.

Caregivers may also want to take note of these findings. Sleeplessness is a common symptom of caregiver burnout, which is caused by stress from the caregiving role. Those who seek respite senior care to help them with some of the responsibilities of care may have more time to exercise and keep themselves healthy, which can contribute to better sleep and thus a higher quality of elder care for their loved ones. The Alzheimer's Association adds that many times, sundowning behaviors, in which seniors with Alzheimer's get agitated around sunset, can be triggered when a caregiver is stressed or exhausted by the end of the day. The organization recommends caregivers aim to get plenty of rest so they have enough energy during the day. 

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