How to sleep: Resistance exercise best exercise for promoting sleep concludes large trial

Two thirds of UK adults suffer from disrupted sleep and that a quarter only manage around five hours per night. Eating the right kinds of food has been shown to directly impact your sleep quality. A new study has revealed the best type of exercise to increase sleep efficiency.

The key for better sleep is through resistance exercise rather than aerobic workouts, says a new study.

Resistance exercise “significantly” improves the quality and duration people sleep according to the year-long research.

Resistance exercise or strength training uses weights, compared to aerobic exercise which includes walking, running and swimming.

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Researchers recommended adding two or more resistance exercise training sessions a week to your workout routine for better sleep.

The study said improving sleep also improves your heart health, which would help prevent heart disease and stroke.

The findings are a result of a study funded by the US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health.

For the study, researchers enrolled 386 adults who met the criteria for overweight or obesity, which was a body mass index from 25-40 kg/m².

Participants were inactive and had elevated blood pressure, measuring from 120-139 mm Hg systolic (top number) and 80-89 mm Hg diastolic (bottom number). Participants were randomly assigned to a no-exercise group (for comparison) or one of three exercise groups (aerobic only, resistance only, or combined aerobic and resistance) for 12 months.

Everyone in the exercise groups participated in supervised 60-minute sessions, three times a week, with the combination exercise group doing 30 minutes of aerobic and 30 minutes of resistance exercise.

Study participants completed a variety of assessments at the start and at 12 months including the self-reported Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), which measures sleep quality.

Researchers also measured sleep duration; sleep efficiency (how much time one is actually asleep divided by the total amount of time the individual is in bed); sleep latency (how much time it takes to fall asleep after getting into bed); and sleep disturbances (how frequently sleep is disturbed by things like being too hot or too cold, snoring or coughing, having to use the bathroom or having pain). Scores on the PSQI indicate better quality sleep, ranging from 0 for the best sleep to 21 as the worst possible sleep. Scores greater than five are considered “poor quality sleep”.

Key findings included:

  • More than one third (35 percent) of study participants had poor quality sleep at the beginning of the study
  • Among the 42 percent of participants who were not getting at least seven hours of sleep at the study’s start, sleep duration increased by an average of 40 minutes in 12 months for the resistance exercise group, compared to an increase of about 23 minutes in the aerobic exercise group, about 17 minutes in the combined exercise group and about 15 minutes in the control group
  • Sleep efficiency increased in the resistance exercise and combined exercise groups, but not in the aerobic exercise or no exercise group
  • Sleep latency decreased slightly, by three minutes, in the group assigned to resistance exercise only, with no notable change in latency in the other participant groups
  • Sleep quality and sleep disturbances improved some in all groups including the group that did not exercise.

“It is increasingly recognised that getting enough sleep, particularly high-quality sleep, is important for health including cardiovascular health,” said study author Doctor Angelique Brellenthin, assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.

She continued: “Aerobic activity is often recommended to improve sleep, yet very little is known about the effects of resistance exercise versus aerobic exercise on sleep.

“Our study is one of the largest and longest exercise trials in a general adult population to directly compare the effects of different types of exercise on multiple sleep parameters.”

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