Sleep is essential for good health, just like breathing and water. A good night’s sleep helps you recharge and feel energised to tackle the day ahead and be physically active (1-4). In Australia, how long you should sleep depends on your age. The Sleep Health Foundation recommends people aged 18–64 get between 7–9 hours each night, and for people aged 65 years or older to sleep between 7–8 hours each night (5).

But healthy sleep is more than just the amount you sleep. Healthy sleep is also about the quality, timing and how satisfied you are with your sleep (6). You can think about the quality of your sleep as how 'well' you slept, and how satisfied you are with your overall sleep. In terms of timing it is about trying to sleep at the same time each day and being asleep between 2-4am (6) – this is what you should aim for even on weekends.


How can being active help your sleep?

Being regularly active is great for your sleep and is proven to be effective in many studies (7-9). People who are more active have better overall quality sleep (7), tend to sleep a little longer and take less time to fall asleep (10).

“Research shows that it doesn’t seem to matter what type of activity you do, whether that is walking, running, or muscle strengthening activities, or when you do your activity (7). What matters is that you are active.”

So what if you are having trouble sleeping? You’re not alone. About 1 in 5 adults (22%) report a common sleep condition such as insomnia, sleep apnoea or restless legs syndrome (11). Also, about 15% of Australian adults report troubles sleeping such as difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep (12).

So how can you improve your sleep?

There are a few things you can do during the day, just before, or in bed to try to set yourself up for sleep. It’s important to know that sleep isn’t just something you can switch on, you need to let sleep come naturally (13). However, making some simple changes can maximise your chances of getting good quality sleep.

Some helpful tips to get you on track (13-17):

1. Be consistent

Waking up at a similar time each day, even on weekends, is key to keeping your body clock in sync and eventually means you will be sleepy and ready for bed at similar times of the day. This regular sleep pattern is important for your sleep.

2. Make sleep a priority

Prioritising your sleep means not staying up late to work or to watch that last episode on TV/Netflix, or telling your friends you are heading home to get some sleep.

3. Be physically active

As we said above, get physically active and aim for this to be at least moderate intensity activity.

4. Give yourself ‘wind down’ time

If you are having trouble switching off your mind while in bed you can try some relaxation techniques. There are lots of options including brief relaxation strategies, or practicing mindfulness and meditation. Smiling Mind have a dedicated meditation app which allows you to set yourself a reminder, say 45 minutes before your bed time, to ensure you give yourself time to start winding down and get ready for bed.

5. Only go to bed when you are sleepy

It may sound silly but many people go to bed because its bed time not because they are sleepy. Going to bed when you are sleepy helps you to fall asleep more easily. And by keeping your wake up time regular, eventually you will start to feel sleepy at similar times of the day.

6. Keep the bed only for sleep and intimacy

Netflix or gaming are not for bed. Also, if you find yourself trying to get to sleep or you’ve woken up are awake for more than 15 minutes (18), leave bed and do something quiet that doesn’t stimulate your mind.

If you are a shift worker, the Sleep Health Foundation has information specifically designed to help shift workers improve their sleep.

Be aware the above aren’t a magic fix. Everyone is different in terms of how much sleep they need to wake up feeling refreshed in the morning. Think of these tips more as a starting place to improve your chances of getting good quality sleep. Getting regular good quality sleep can help you feel refreshed, and be physically active.

Ultimately, the relationship between sleep and physical activity is a symbiotic one, and improvements made in either area will support the other. Take steps to be more physically active and you're likely to enjoy improved sleep. Sleep better and you'll have more energy for all your activities throughout the day.

About the Author

Mitch Duncan is a Professor at the University of Newcastle.

He is a researcher with a interest in how physical activity and sleep influence physical and mental health, and testing interventions to improve these behaviours. This work is mainly focussed on adult populations and has been funded by several organisations including the Australian Research Council, National Heart Foundation and the National Health and Medical Research Council.



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