Can't sleep? Don't worry, it won't kill you
A new study suggests exercise may counteract the much-trumpeted negative impact of not sleeping.
This week’s newsletter goes out to all my NPB athlete homies who have trouble sleeping.
Of course, it’s important to shoot for seven to eight hours of ZZZZs per night. Practice good sleep hygiene, create a dark, pleasant sleep space, avoid electronics and alcohol, reserve your bed for sleeping and the other “S” word, all the fancy things.
But even after that, some folks just can’t fall or stay asleep—including me. According to the National Institutes of Health, one in three adults don’t get the “recommended amount of uninterrupted sleep they need to protect their health.”
I get the sentiment, but even this statement chafes my hide a little, as does the advice of those podcasters who mistake their PhD for omniscience and declare certain death to anyone not clocking eight hours of shuteye.
For those of us with sleep issues, slumber isn’t always something we can schedule into our lives. Telling some people to sleep is like saying “calm down” or “say something funny” or “don’t think about a pink Stormtrooper.” The recommendation usually just makes things worse.
When you wake up at 2am to involuntarily spin the ol’ neurotic angst roulette wheel, if it lands on “You will die sooner because you’re awake right now,” you are not lulled back to slumber.
I’m going rogue here and telling you not to worry about it. If you have trouble sleeping, take all the precautions, but if it doesn’t work out and you spend a bunch of time lying there, science does not have conclusive evidence that this is a death sentence.
Case in point, here’s a new study from the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology suggesting that exercise may help counter the negative effects of under (and over) sleeping.
The UK study looked at 92,221 adults aged between 40 and 73 who tracked their activity using an accelerometer wristband for a week between 2013 and 2015 (back when that was a fancy thing to do).
They checked in seven years later. (“Dear study participant: Are you dead? If so, how did you die?”) They crunched a bunch of data and concluded that following the World Health Organization’s recommendations for moderate to vigorous physical activity cancelled out cancer and cardiovascular-related mortality risks associated with sleeping too little or too much.
Before you ask, here are those WHO recos:
Adults aged 18–64 years
should do at least 150–300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity;
or at least 75–150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity; or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity throughout the week
should also do muscle-strengthening activities at moderate or greater intensity that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, as these provide additional health benefits.
Admittedly, making a sweeping claim based on one week of Fitbit data feels like a stretch, but even if it’s not rock solid, it illustrates that the awake=death data is up for debate.
Sleep is super important, but so are exercise, diet, and stress reduction. Just do the best you can with all four and you’ll be as okay as you’re going to be.
That’s how I handle it so if I’m wrong, you and I can have a lengthy discussion on the elevator ride to the Pearly Gates.
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