As providers, we stress the importance of exercise to control weight and to improve health. But do you explain to your patients that exercise also improves sleep? Part of my workup for sleep disorders includes asking patients about the amount of exercise they are getting weekly.

If you have the opportunity, check out the National Sleep Foundation’s 2013 Sleep in America Poll. This year’s poll focuses on exercise and sleep, and offers lots of good information you can share with patients.

Participants were divided into four activity levels. Vigorous exercise was described as running, cycling, swimming and competitive sports. Moderate exercise was described as activities like yoga, tai chi and weight lifting. Light activity was defined as walking for exercise. Those who said they did not exercise were described as the no activity group.

Continue Reading

Among the 1,000 adults surveyed, 51% said that they slept better after exercise regardless of workout intensity. Those who exercised also felt that their length of sleep increased on days they exercised. Those that exercised on a regular basis reported fewer sleep problems overall.

Non-exercisers had the highest number of sleep disorders and the highest risk for sleep apnea. The study found that 6% of non-exercisers are at a high risk of sleep apnea compared to 0% to 1% of exercisers.

One interesting finding for me was that it didn’t matter how close to bedtime the patients exercised. As a sleep provider, I was taught to educate people not to exercise within three to four hours of bedtime as the stimulation may keep them awake. But study results showed sleep improved regardless of when participants exercised. Only 3% said their sleep worsened.

Based on this information, I am now more likely to tell patients to exercise whenever they can. We can make changes accordingly if the exercise ends up interrupting their ability to sleep.

Non-exercisers were also more likely to take sleep aids. This makes sense as this group was more likely to report troubled falling asleep and waking unrefreshed. On average, 22% of non-exercisers took sleep aids three or more times a week compared with just 7% of those in the vigorous exercise group. The use of sleep aids declined as people exercised more, and the time it took to fall asleep was shorter among the vigorous exercise group compared with the non-exercise group – 16.6 minutes vs. 26.3 minutes.

Not surprisingly, participants reported better health if they exercised. About 58% of non-exercisers reported good or excellent health compared with 79% to 91% of exercisers. Approximately, half of the non-exercisers rated their health as poor or fair.

I hope you will take the time to look at this report and encourage your patients to as well. This survey provides great data showing that exercise can improve sleep!

Sharon M. O’Brien, MPAS, PA-C, works at Presbyterian Sleep Health in Charlotte, N.C. Her main interest is helping patients understand the importance of sleep hygiene and the impact of sleep on health.


  1. National Sleep Foundation. 2013 Sleep In America Poll Exercise and Sleep. 20 Feb 2013. Available at