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.
- Sampasa-Kanyinga H, Chaput JP, Huang B-H, Duncan MJ, Hamer M, Stamatakis E. Bidirectional associations of sleep and discretionary screen time in adults: longitudinal analysis of the UK Biobank. Journal of sleep research. 2022;32(e13727)(2)doi:10.1111/jsr.13727
- Rayward AT, Burton NW, Brown WJ, Holliday EG, Plotnikoff RC, Duncan MJ. Associations between Changes in Activity and Sleep Quality and Duration over Two Years. Medicine and science in sports and exercise. Jul 11 2018;50(12):2425-2432. doi:10.1249/mss.0000000000001715
- Haario P, Rahkonen O, Laaksonen M, Lahelma E, Lallukka T. Bidirectional associations between insomnia symptoms and unhealthy behaviours. J Sleep Res. Feb 2013;22(1):89-95. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2869.2012.01043.x
- Holfeld B, Ruthig JC. A longitudinal examination of sleep quality and physical activity in older adults. Journal of applied gerontology : the official journal of the Southern Gerontological Society. Oct 2014;33(7):791-807. doi:10.1177/0733464812455097
- Foundation SH. How much sleep do you really need? 20/04/2023, 2023. Updated 23/06/2020. Accessed 20/04, 2023. https://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au/how-much-sleep-do-you-really-need.html
- Buysse DJ. Sleep health: can we define It? does it matter? Sleep. 2014;37(1):9-17. doi:10.5665/sleep.3298
- Kline CE, Hillman CH, Bloodgood Sheppard B, et al. Physical activity and sleep: An updated umbrella review of the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee report. Sleep Med Rev. Aug 2021;58:101489. doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2021.101489
- Xie Y, Liu S, Chen XJ, Yu HH, Yang Y, Wang W. Effects of Exercise on Sleep Quality and Insomnia in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Front Psychiatry. 2021;12:664499. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2021.664499
- Lowe H, Haddock G, Mulligan LD, et al. Does exercise improve sleep for adults with insomnia? A systematic review with quality appraisal. Clin Psychol Rev. Mar 2019;68:1-12. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2018.11.002
- Kredlow MA, Capozzoli MC, Hearon BA, Calkins AW, Otto MW. The effects of physical activity on sleep: a meta-analytic review. Journal of Behavioral Medicine. 2015/06/01 2015;38(3):427-449. doi:10.1007/s10865-015-9617-6
- Health AIo, Welfare. Sleep problems as a risk factor for chronic conditions. 2021. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/risk-factors/sleep-problems-as-a-risk-factor
- Duncan MJ, Holliday EG, Burton NW, Glozier N, Oftedal S. Prospective associations between joint categories of physical activity and insomnia symptoms with onset of poor mental health in a population-based cohort. J Sport Health Sci. Feb 19 2022;doi:10.1016/j.jshs.2022.02.002
- Espie CA. The ‘5 principles’ of good sleep health. Journal of Sleep Research. 2022;31(3):e13502. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/jsr.13502
- Perlis ML, Jungquist C, Smith MT, Posner D. Cognitive Behavioral Treatment of Insomnia: A Session-by-Session Guide. Springer-Verlag 2005.
- Murawski B, Wade L, Plotnikoff RC, Lubans DR, Duncan MJ. A systematic review and meta-analysis of cognitive and behavioral interventions to improve sleep health in adults without sleep disorders. Sleep Medicine Reviews. 2018/08/01/ 2018;40:160-169. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.smrv.2017.12.003
- Murawski B, Plotnikoff RC, Rayward AT, et al. Efficacy of an m-Health Physical Activity and Sleep Health Intervention for Adults: A Randomized Waitlist-Controlled Trial. Am J Prev Med. Oct 2019;57(4):503-514. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2019.05.009
- Edinger JD, Arnedt JT, Bertisch SM, et al. Behavioral and psychological treatments for chronic insomnia disorder in adults: an American Academy of Sleep Medicine clinical practice guideline. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. 2021;17(2):255-262. doi:doi:10.5664/jcsm.8986
- Sharma MP, Andrade C. Behavioral interventions for insomnia: Theory and practice. Indian J Psychiatry. Oct 2012;54(4):359-66. doi:10.4103/0019-5545.104825
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.
The Activate Your Everyday Series is proudly supported by the Queensland Government and Health and Wellbeing Queensland through ActiveKIT Round 2