A study has found that active midlifers who get less than 6 hours sleep a night could see the positive effects from their physical exercise efforts undermined within a span of 10 years.
Researchers followed nearly 9,000 adults for over 10 years who were part of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, a longitudinal study on people older than age 50 funded by the UK government and the US National Institute on Aging. The takeaway from the study is that the number of hours you sleep is crucial to unlocking the benefits which flow from doing regular exercise.
A good night’s sleep, in other words, allows you to get the full benefits of physical activity which, in turn, enables good cognitive ability.
Getting a consistent pattern of a good night’s sleep lasting at least 7 hours sounds like a dream doesn’t it if you, like me, struggle with sleep in midlife?
Menopause, midlife stress and modern living doesn’t exactly make for a good night’s sleep. The menopause gives me the night sweats. My midlife stress over the pension pot, work demands, worrying about whether I will sleep while lying in bed, AI making me redundant in the workplace and an active mind mulling over what I need to do the next day keeps me awake for too many nights in a week.
Occasionally I take a herbal sleeping tablet, such as Nytol, which does help even if it leaves me feeling quite groggy the next morning. I have tried sleep sprays (where you spray lavender on your pillow), night time meditations, eye masks and, even, Yoga. While all of these help they don’t help all of the time.
Are we a nation of sleep strugglers?
A technology company called Simba undertook a study of the sleeping habits of 5.012 adults in England. The results showed that 2 out of 3 people, representing 65% of the study population, get less than 7 hours of sleep a night. Approximately 72% of people in England report waking up in the morning feeling like they have had insufficient sleep, while one in four (26%) regularly feel tired and struggle to concentrate during the day. You aren’t alone in your sleep struggles.
In our fast-paced modern world, it’s easy for middle-aged adults to find themselves caught in the constant demands of work, family, and various responsibilities. Often, in this hustle and bustle, sleep and exercise take a back seat, leading to a decline in overall mental health.
The Sleep-Exercise-Mental Health Connection: We have long known that both sleep and exercise independently contribute to improved mental health. Quality sleep is essential for cognitive functioning, emotional regulation, and overall well-being. Similarly, exercise has been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, enhance mood, boost self-esteem, and even alleviate stress. However, the groundbreaking study, as reported in The Guardian, reveals that the benefits of exercise on mental health are twinned with getting sufficient sleep in middle-aged adults.
The Link Explained: Several factors contribute to the profound connection between sleep, exercise, and mental well-being. Firstly, sleep deprivation negatively affects the brain’s prefrontal cortex, impairing decision-making, emotional regulation, and attention span. This, in turn, can heighten stress levels and exacerbate symptoms of anxiety and depression. On the other hand, exercise promotes the release of endorphins, serotonin, and other neurotransmitters that foster positive emotions, reduce stress, and enhance overall well-being. When combined with sufficient sleep, these benefits are further amplified, leading to improved mental health outcomes.
Tips for Incorporating Sleep and Exercise into Your Routine:
- Prioritize Sleep: Aim for 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. Establish a consistent sleep schedule, create a calm sleep environment, and practice relaxation techniques to improve sleep quality. I personally find a regular sleeping pattern beneficial even if it’s not always doable.
- Engage in Regular Exercise: Find physical activities you enjoy and aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week. This can include brisk walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, or any other form of aerobic exercise that gets your heart rate up. Walking after dinner is a calming but effective exercise to undertake.
- Establish a Routine: Set aside specific times for both sleep and exercise in your daily routine. By treating them as non-negotiable appointments, you are more likely to prioritize them.
- Wind Down Before Bed: Create a bedtime routine that includes relaxation techniques such as reading a book, taking a warm bath, or practicing mindfulness meditation. These activities can help signal to your body that it’s time to unwind and prepare for sleep. Turning on to watch Newsnight or something similar is not sleep inducing. I regularly do this and beat myself up the next morning for not having turned off the TV at 10.30pm.
- Seek Support: If you are struggling with sleep or mental health issues, don’t hesitate to reach out to healthcare professionals or seek guidance from a therapist.
Prioritizing both sleep and exercise in your daily routine can significantly enhance your overall well-being, boost mood, reduce stress, and improve cognitive functioning. Remember, it’s not just about fitting exercise into your schedule but also ensuring you get adequate restorative sleep. By taking steps to integrate both into your lifestyle, you can unlock the full mental health benefits and lead a happier, healthier life.