Exercise and Sleep-Disordered Breathing

I don’t know about you, but if I don’t get my sleep, things get ugly.  It is well-known that sleep quality can have an effect on hormone regulation, mood, and even overall well-being.  When it comes to sleep, sleep-disordered breathing is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality.  Obesity is one of the most powerful risk factors for the development of sleep-disordered breathing. Although weight loss through nutritional changes has been shown to decrease the severity of sleep disordered breathing, it’s not clear whether or not exercise alone has a beneficial effect on reducing sleep-disordered breathing severity.  Studies have shown that an increase in physical activity can reduce sleep disturbances.

A recent study published in The American Journal of Medicine set out to use long-term longitudinal data to determine whether or not changes in physical activity affect the severity and incidence of sleep-disordered breathing in a large general population cohort.  The study included 1,521 randomly selected adults aged 30-60 years old who were employees of state agencies in the year 1988.  Participants completed polysomnographs (also known as sleep studies) in 1988 and 2000 as well as filled out surveys every 4 years over the course of the 12 year study.  Additional data collected included quantity of exercise in an average week, medical history, and body mas index.  The polysomnographs measured the average number of apneas and hypopneas (AHI) per hour of measured sleep.

Results indicated that participants were generally overweight at baseline and obese at follow-up.  Approximately 75% had no clinically sleep disordered breathing at baseline, but did worsen over time. For both mild and moderate cases, the incidence of sleep-disordered breathing declined with increasing exercise.  These findings suggest that exercise is associated with reduced incidence of sleep disordered breathing, highlighting the importance of exercise as an important component of a treatment plan for sleep-disordered breathing.

More practically, I look at the results this way.  When working with clients, it is important to focus on overall health and well-being, not just body weight and appearance.  Success in achieving health goals can be measured in many ways beyond just the scale and body composition.  Sleep quality and duration are a vital piece to well-being and can serve as another element in monitoring and tracking progress towards achieving a healthier and improved quality of life.

References and sources are available upon request via my contact button.

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