Sleep and Well-being: A HealthCentral Explainer

ATsai Editor
  • Poor sleep can drastically affect your quality of life, and in turn, your lifestyle choices can affect your sleep. Relationships, physical fitness, diet and mood are all factors when it comes to sleep and well-being. Here are some ways to improve both.


    Exercise can improve sleep

    According to a 2013 National Sleep Foundation poll, people who exercise sleep better than those who don’t, even if they sleep the same amount each night - six hours and 51 minutes a night, on average, during the week. People who exercise vigorously were twice as likely to report they had a good night’s sleep compared to non-exercisers. More than two-thirds of the exercisers said they rarely or never had symptoms of insomnia. In contrast, 50 percent of the non-exercisers said they woke up during the night and 24 percent said they had difficulty falling asleep every night.

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    In addition, 24 percent of the non-exercisers were excessively sleepy during the day and 61 percent said they never had a good night’s sleep on a work night. Researchers say that poor sleep makes people less inclined to exercise, which turns into a vicious circle.


    Another recent study has found that the benefits of daily exercise for insomnia may take up to four months to appear. The report, published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, looked at data from a previous study of 11 sedentary middle-aged or older women who were diagnosed with insomnia. Rather than looking at the daily pattern of exercise and sleep, researchers looked at a long-term pattern, and found that exercise did affect sleep, and vice versa, but not immediately.


    Researchers say that when people have poor sleep, their perception of exhaustion changes, so they feel more exhausted, even though poor sleep doesn’t actually affect aerobic capacity. Their best advice is to force yourself to exercise, even if you don’t feel like it. It will help in the long run.


                [SLIDESHOW: 5 Ways Sleep and Weight Are Connected]


    A Mediterranean diet may also improve sleep

    The combination of eating a Mediterranean diet and exercising may improve the symptoms of sleep apnea, according to a 2011 study published in the European Respiratory Journal. Researchers looked at 40 obese patients with obstructive sleep apnea, of which 20 followed a prudent diet and the others followed a Mediterranean diet.


    They were also encouraged to exercise more, most walking 30 minutes or more each day. All patients received continuous positive airflow pressure (CPAP) therapy while they slept. Researchers monitored the patients during sleep, looking for several markers for sleep apnea, including electrical activity in the brain, eye movements and snoring.


    They found that the people following the Mediterranean diet had a reduced number of apneas during rapid eye movement, and showed a greater adherence to the diet. They also were more physically active and lost more abdominal fat. Though the results showed an improvement in one stage of sleep, it did not improve the overall severity of the condition.


                 [SLIDESHOW: Healthy Diets Can Mean Healthy Sleep]


    Sleep affects relationships

    A recent study published in the journal PAIN found that when one spouse experiences chronic pain, it affects the other spouse too, creating sleep problems and increasing their risk for other health issues. For the study, researchers looked at couples in which one person had chronic knee pain, as this can often make it difficult to get comfortable in bed at night. Researchers had 138 people with knee osteoarthritis--and their partners--complete interviews and 22-day diaries. Everyone was at least 50 years old and lived with their partner in a long-term relationship or marriage.

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    Results showed that the greater the patient’s knee pain at the end of the day, the worse their spouse slept at night. But the worse sleep for the spouse did not equate to greater knee pain for the patient the following day. Researchers also found that closer relationships created stronger results, meaning the closer emotionally a pair are, the greater the connection between the patient’s knee pain and the spouse’s poor sleep.


    This type of poor sleep can not only lead to grogginess for the spouse, but may put them at risk for other health problems, such as cardiovascular disease. Researchers note that those spouses  at risk may be in need of strategies to maintain their own health and well-being.


    Sleep affects our happiness

    Getting just one more hour of sleep per night could ward off suicide risk, according to a recent study. The May 2013 study published in the journal SLEEP found that every hour increase in sleep duration was associated with a 72 percent decrease in the likelihood of moderate or high suicide risk, compared with low risk.


     Data from two insomnia studies were combined for analysis. Of the 471 participants, 73 indicated suicide risk during an interview; 55 were classified as low risk, and 18 were classified as moderate or high risk. People without suicide risk were excluded from the study. Data were adjusted for age, gender, race/ethnicity, education and age of onset of sleep problems.


    Sleep loss is associated with depression and poor decision-making, and researchers were surprised at the strong association between the one-hour sleep increase and the decrease in suicide risk.



    Foundation, N. (2013, March 6). "Regular Exercise May Be Key To Good Sleep." Medical News Today. Retrieved from


    Paddock, C. (2013, August 18). "Insomnia helped with exercise - eventually." Medical News Today. Retrieved from


    Foundation, E. (2011, November 4). "Sleep Apnea Symptoms Can Be Reduced By Mediterranean Diet And Exercise." Medical News Today. Retrieved from


    Ellis, M. (2013, August 17). "Spouse in pain? Love affects sleep, study shows." Medical News Today. Retrieved from


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    American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2013, May 17). "Relationship Between Sleep Duration And Suicidal Thoughts In People With Insomnia.." Medical News Today. Retrieved from


Published On: August 21, 2013