Study shows walking more leads to better sleep

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January 17, 2020

Increasing the number of steps an individual walks every day has been linked to deeper sleep, Alycia Sullivan Bisson (GRAD) found in a recent Brandeis study that looked at the effects of exercise on a person’s sleep quality. The study, published in the National Sleep Foundation Journal, looked at the correlation between a person’s amount of steps during the day and his or her quality of sleep. 

Prior studies with specialized populations have shown that walking can “improve sleep quality, depressive symptoms, and sleep efficiency, while decreasing nighttime wakefulness and next-day fatigue,” according to the study. 

The participants were monitored for four weeks with the intent to increase their physical activity as well as examine the relationship between their activity and their quality of sleep.  

The results from the study demonstrated a partial relationship where “those who spent more time active, on average, across the month reported better sleep quality,” according to the study. Women who were more active were found to have better sleep than those who were not active. Activity levels were found to not affect sleep quality in men. 

The study involved 59 participants averaging 49.43 years old. All participants had to be “healthy enough to walk briskly, work full-time, have access to an Internet-connected computer or smartphone, and self reported walking less than 60 minutes per day.” 

Physical activity was measured by the number of steps taken per day and minutes spent active, which was recorded with a Fitbit Zip. The total daily active minutes were found by adding together the number of minutes spent in light, moderate and vigorous activity. The study found that the number of daily steps ranged between 2,269 and 18,314, with an average of 7,258.64 steps. The average number of daily active minutes was 184.10 minutes, with a range of 86.30 to 343.18 minutes. 

The participants’ sleep was measured before and after the intervention using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), according to the study. The PSQI global score and raw scores for sleep were compared by the researchers to determine duration and efficiency of the patients’ sleep. Participants had to answer a daily question, selected by the researchers due to its straightforwardness, which required them to rate their quality of sleep on a scale from 1-10. Sleep duration was also measured daily by asking the participants two questions: “When did you go to bed last night?” and “What time did you wake up this morning?” 

Participants were split into two groups: Control Group and Intervention Group. The intervention group was asked to take an additional 2,000 steps each day for the duration of the study. Each week, the step goals increased by 2,000 steps. By the end of the study, the intervention group participants had increased their step count by 8,000 steps from the baseline value. Participants in the intervention group also received additional materials helping them to increase their step count. Individuals in the control group were not given any weekly step goals or extra materials. 

“‘I think it’s fair to say’ that these results indicate that people who move more also sleep better,” Bisson told The New York Times in an interview. She added that we should “incorporate more activity into our daily lives” if we want a better night of sleep. 

The study was funded through a grant by the National Institute on Aging. Bisson is a graduate student in the psychology department and did her research under advisor Margie Lachman (PSYCH).

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