Stay Active, Keep Sleeping

How sleep and even light activity elevate mood and contribute to better health

Even though some states may have begun reopening, we are still in the midst of a pandemic and many people are continuing to limit their activities outside the home—and many gyms, yoga studios and other exercise venues have remained closed. Increasingly, our time is spent being sedentary and many people are continuing to struggle to get adequate rest. But studies routinely show that activity and movement as well as regular sleep both aid in restoration and overall well being. We looked into the data behind this, along with trends in consumer behavior right now, and considered some tips for working both exercise and rest into staying-at-home routines.

According to a working paper released back in May, researchers have found that even typically active adults are seeing serious declines in activity under lockdown—they have become 32% less active. A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine shows that most adults in the US spend nearly 72% of their time being sedentary (even before lockdown). The aim of the study overall was to see if by changing very minor aspects of one's day from a sedentary activity like watching TV to a more active one like walking while talking on the phone or doing the dishes standing up, participants would feel better. The study also considered what would happen if someone cut off a sedentary activity earlier in order to get more sleep.

The researchers were right. The study results correlated long periods of sedentary time with lower mood and poorer health—and medium to high activity levels with elevated mood and health benefits. That said, the study also concluded that low-impact exercise was not only also worthwhile, but had long-lasting positive effects as well. The other outcome of the study suggests that if you intend to lay around and watch TV in the evening, you might as well use that time to get real rest. And there’s more scientific evidence to back that idea up as well, because while exercise can feel restorative and benefit the brain, so can sleep.

As we continue to be inundated with COVID-19 updates and political turmoil with little socializing (in person at least) to give us a break, deep sleep as a time to process and consolidate stress, memories and emotions is more essential than ever. Rest offers so many brain benefits that we often overlook.

Years ago, MIT researchers measured brain activity in mice while they went through a maze. Later, when the mice were asleep, they measured their brain activity again only to find them repeating similar patterns—mulling over and consolidating the memories of the maze from earlier in the day. And, when our brains process memories in sleep we are much more likely to remember them months and years later. While we aren’t creating memories in the same way that we normally might when we are not continually at home, our brains do need to process our experiences and consolidate information we learn through work and school so we can retain it. Sleep aids in this process.

Additionally, our amygdalae also need sleep to process the emotions we feel. And the final stage of sleep, REM sleep, is the part where this happens. That is why poor sleep can make it hard for us to handle emotional or stressful situations—if we aren’t sleeping well and deeply, we are skipping the step where we process them.

So what are some small ways to tweak our staying home routines to help bring in more sleep and more activity? You don’t have to budget time for high-powered cardio or weight training to give your brain a break and reap long-term health benefits! You can integrate low-impact activities and time for more rest into your day without skipping leisurely activities.

Take A Walk Around The Block

It seems so simple, but for your next work call or family Zoom session, take your phone for a walk around the block. You don’t have to skip social hour or neglect any career obligations to get some fresh air and your blood flowing. If it’s a rainy day, walk the halls of your home or do a few quick laps up and down your stairs. That little bit of movement can go a long way and doesn’t have to disrupt your day.

Listen To Your Next Read

Instead of watching the news or reading a book from your couch, you can take your current event updates and leisure time reading with you on a walk. Again, it can be a walk around your house, a walk around the block or a hike in your favorite park.

Stretch Or Fold Laundry While You Watch TV

You also don’t have to skip TV watching; it’s still a nice way to unwind sometimes. But instead of sitting on the couch the whole time, spend a portion of your watch time folding laundry, doing your dishes or dusting around your house. If you don’t want it to feel like chores, you can also just do some light yoga stretches while you watch TV to keep yourself moving.

Turn Off The Lights Early

Instead of laying in front of the TV to watch that one more episode late into the night, consider calling it a day early and focusing on really getting a deep sleep. Aiming to go to bed at 10:30 PM? Start pampering yourself an hour earlier so that by the time your head hits the pillow your brain knows it's time to snooze.

Want more tips for creating your nighttime routine? Check out this article.

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This story originally appeared in eNews. Click here to get Sleep Retailer eNews delivered straight to your inbox.