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29-09-2013 | Sleep medicine | Article

Sport helps women ward off midlife sleep disturbances


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medwireNews: Women can protect against midlife sleep disturbances by regularly exercising, findings from the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN) Sleep study show.

Consistently high levels of recreational activity or sports significantly improved sleep quality and increased sleep continuity, efficiency, and depth, the researchers report. And the benefits gained increased if such activity was sustained over multiple years.

Indeed, high levels of recent recreational activity or sports reduced a woman’s risk for insomnia by 32%, while high levels maintained over 5 to 6 years reduced the odds by 74%.

“Based upon our results, focusing on recreational physical activity for sleep improvement seems warranted,” say researcher Martica Hall (University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pennsylvania) and colleagues.

As reported in Sleep, 93 (27.4%) of 339 participants of the SWAN Sleep Study showed consistently high levels of sports or exercise activity. This was based on having Kaiser Physical Activity Survey domain scores in the top tertile.

These women had significantly better sleep quality than women with inconsistent or moderate activity patterns and those with consistently low activity patterns, scoring an average 4.5 on the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index versus 5.7 and 6.6, respectively.

Their sleep efficiency – both subjective and objective – was also significantly better, with average scores of 94.0% according to sleep diary entries and 87.2% according to polysomnography versus a corresponding 90.9% and 82.9% for those with consistently low activity patterns. Other significant improvements included sleep continuity and depth.

The researchers note, however, that the sleep benefits associated with consistently high recreational activity did not extend to high levels of active living or household activity.

It may be that “these domains of physical activity are of insufficient intensity to affect sleep,” they suggest, whereas the “adoption and/or maintenance of adequate recreational physical activity may help to improve sleep and protect against sleep disturbances that arise during midlife in women.”

medwireNews ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2013

By Lucy Piper, Senior medwireNews Reporter