I’ve had trouble sleeping since 2013. That was a very difficult year. A series of traumatic experiences made it much harder than usual for my brain and body to fall asleep and stay asleep.
As life improved, and I got support to help me heal from the things that had happened, my sleep got better. It never went back to “normal”, though. Midlife hormonal shifts likely contributed to that as well.
In 2021, I got an Apple Watch. I thought it might be handy to have, but never imagined how much I’d learn about my physiology, especially sleep. I quickly discovered an app called SleepWatch, which I’ve used daily for almost two years.
I learned two main things about my sleep: 1) alcohol decimates it and 2) exercise is everything.
Move more to sleep better.
My watch tracks my daily caloric expenditure related to movement, and my daily step count. Both directly impact my sleep.
The more I move, the better my sleep gets. Since insomnia and poor sleep are deeply frustrating and stressful, it’s empowering to know that something as simple as getting 10,000 steps in can make a significant difference.
Studies support my experience. A paper published in 2019 in Sleep Health, aptly titled “Walk to a Better Night of Sleep: Testing the Relationship Between Physical Activity and Sleep” found that daily active minutes were related to sleep quality. On days that people were more active than average, both genders reported better sleep quality and duration (this is my experience as well). Women who took more steps and were more active slept better than those who were less active.
An earlier paper in Sleep Health, published in 2016, looked specifically at the relationship between daily physical activity and sleep in midlife women. They found that as activity levels increased, so did “total sleep time”.
That’s what I struggle with the most these days. I’m much better at falling asleep and staying asleep, but my brain and body find it difficult to get eight hours. On those days after a full night’s sleep, I wake feeling like I can take on the world. And yes, I probably did something really physical the day before.
Sleep, movement, and aging are all related.
Another study, published in 2020 in PLoS One, highlighted a very important point about both physical inactivity and sleep disturbances: they both are “major problems in an aging society”. How wonderful then, that being active can help us to sleep better as we age. These Japanese researchers found that the number of daily walking steps showed a positive correlation with sleep efficiency, and an inverse correlation with time spent awake after initially falling asleep.
There are all kinds of mental and physical health benefits to staying active and getting lots of steps every day. And we can add better sleep to the list. Writing this article has helped me to strengthen my own determination to move more and sleep better every day. I hope you’ll join me in that commitment.
In my new book, The Resilient Life: Manage Stress, Prevent Burnout, and Strengthen Your Mental and Physical Health, there’s an entire chapter on “How to Sleep Better”. It also comes with a free downloadable workbook, complete with a sleep log template, to help you analyze and improve the quality of your sleep.
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