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Why a good exercise session can counteract the effects of patchy sleep

4 Apr 2023

What is most important is that your musculoskeletal structure gets challenged in a calibrated manner over an extended period of 45 minutes to an hour every day so that the body demands sleep

Last week, a new Chinese study found that exercise could help counteract the health consequences of not getting enough sleep. The researchers found that people who exercised a lot did not have an increased risk of death, even when they only slept less than six hours each night. So how does this work? According to the researchers, working out might help balance out the effects of unhealthy sleep by combating inflammation or possibly helping to regulate metabolism and sympathetic nervous system activity. That’s because exercising produces a chemical called adenosine, which functions as a natural sleep aid. The more adenosine we generate throughout the day, the more restful and restorative our sleep becomes, which could help counteract a night or two of patchy sleep.

Indian holistic systems have always emphasised the direct relationship between your quotient of physical activity and the quality (deep) rather than quantity (hours) of sleep.

People who do a good amount of pranayama, yoga and functional training are certainly bound to get good quality sleep. But mind you, intense exercises shouldn’t be done in the evening. Otherwise, they will inhibit the hormone called melatonin, which is responsible for the sleep-wake cycle and maintaining the circadian rhythm or the body clock.

So, what kind of exercises work best in the evening? Stretch workouts or walks, after which you take a long warm shower, can help you get better sleep. Slow stair-climbing, between three to seven storeys as per your stamina, is known to induce a good night’s sleep. Sub-maximal swims in the evening ensure a good night’s sleep, especially when you calm yourself down with chamomile tea infused with jaggery, saffron and a little nutmeg.

Playing recreational sports in the evening like badminton, volleyball, tennis, football have similar effects on your sleep cycle. What is most important is that your musculoskeletal structure gets challenged in a calibrated manner over an extended period of 45 minutes to an hour every day so that the body demands sleep.

Diet and weight play an equally important role in sleep management. Early and light dinners work best. One scientific study has shown that short-sleepers – people who sleep less than seven hours per day – tend to eat 300 more calories per day than people who get enough sleep. This is because lack of sleep elevates the hunger hormones, which seek satiety in high fat and heavy foods. Over a long period of time, this daily increase is enough to raise the risk of obesity.

Circadian rhythms tightly regulate sleep-wake cycles and have a significant impact on circulating levels of the hormones ghrelin and leptin, which control appetite and calorie intake. Low sleep duration may be linked to, among other possible reasons, an increase in the orogenic hormone ghrelin, which promotes hunger, and a decrease in the saturating hormone leptin, which causes an increase in food intake to battle fatigue or stress. By changing the levels of hormones that control appetite, lack of sleep inhibits efforts to lose weight through diet by lowering dietary compliance. A better balance of the hormones that control hunger, improved glucose tolerance and a decrease in cortisol levels may occur along with an increase in sleep duration and the correction of sleep disturbances.

Other than exercise, massages or what we call passive exercises, also help in maximising sleep quality. Follow that up with a hot bucket bath with salt water. This removes your fatigue, cleanses your aura and removes negativity besides lulling you into deep sleep.

Uploaded to Indian Express

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