Exercise can help people sleep better

Physically fit people are less likely to need a prescription for sleeping pills from their doctor. This suggests that being fit can help you sleep better.

The vast majority of people have trouble sleeping from time to time. However, 10-20% of the population struggle more than the rest of us and suffer from serious long-term sleep problems.

Many people who struggle with insomnia sooner or later resort to some form of sleep aid. However, a study of more than 34,000 adults suggests that some of them should exercise instead.

We have observed that people who are in better physical condition are less likely to take prescription sleeping pills. »

Linda Ernstsen, Associate Professor, Department of Public Health and Nursing, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

The results of the recent study were published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Link health data to prescriptions

Researchers looked at data from participants in the Large Norwegian Trøndelag Health Survey (the HUNT study). A total of 240,000 people in Trondheim have taken part in the survey since it was launched in 1984. Four rounds of the survey have been conducted to date.

The health survey allows researchers to follow changes in people’s health over several years. This time, they combined data from HUNT with information from the Norwegian Prescription Database. Participants in the third HUNT study (2006-2008) were followed until January 1, 2018.

“Nearly 5,800 of the participants received their first prescription for sleeping pills during the study period,” Ernstsen explains.

This means that about 17% of the participants’ sleep problems were severe enough to warrant a prescription from their doctor. But participants who were in the best condition used fewer of these prescription drugs.

Men benefit the most

“These results suggest that being physically fit may also help you sleep better,” Ernstsen says.

Unfortunately, the beneficial effect of exercise is stronger in men than in women. The results show that fitter men were 15% less likely to need medication for sleep problems.

“The corresponding risk percentage for the fittest women was much lower. But women who struggle with sleep can still benefit from better physical fitness,” says Ernstsen.

The extensive study follows the adult population over a long period of time. The researchers therefore conclude that these results should influence the sleep advice that doctors give to their patients.

“Our results support the idea that improving or maintaining physical fitness can be an effective alternative to preventing sleep problems,” Ernstsen says.

Source :

norwegian university of science and technology

Journal reference:

Ernstsen, L., et al. (2022) Association between cardiorespiratory fitness and accidental purchase of hypnotic drugs in adults: The HUNT study. Proceedings of the Mayo Clinic. doi.org/10.1016/j.mayocp.2022.08.013.

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