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Short Sleep Negates Benefits of Exercise for the Brain, Study Reveals

Short Sleep Negates Benefits of Exercise for the Brain, Study Reveals


The Tug-of-War between Sleep and Exercise

Don’t let short sleep rob you of your brain gains! Exercise is undoubtedly a potent antidote for chronic diseases, an elixir for longevity, and a shield against dementia.

But, adequate sleep – the overlooked superhero of health – can significantly impact the beneficial effects of exercise on cognitive function as we age.

A recent study suggests the importance of both physical activity and ample sleep to maintain brain health in older adults.

Sleep and Exercise: A Symbiotic Relationship for Brain Health

A team of researchers led by Dr. Mikaela Bloomberg, a research fellow at the Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care at University College London, found an intriguing correlation between sleep, exercise, and cognitive health.

Those with a higher level of physical activity who slept fewer than six hours a night experienced a faster cognitive decline compared to less active short-sleepers.

“Sufficient sleep appears crucial for reaping the full cognitive benefits of physical activity,” Dr. Bloomberg emphasizes, highlighting the interconnectedness of sleep and physical activity for optimal cognitive health.

A Decade in the Life of Brain Health

The researchers meticulously tracked the lifestyle habits and cognitive health of approximately 9,000 adults over a decade as part of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.

The participants, all over 50, underwent cognitive tests and interviews every two years, creating a robust data set to study cognitive aging’s trajectory.

Those with a higher level of physical activity who also clocked between six to eight hours of sleep every night demonstrated better cognitive function as they aged.

However, participants who were less active and had poor sleep quality experienced worsening cognitive performance over time. Furthermore, sleeping less than six hours was associated with a more rapid cognitive decline.

Interestingly, the study’s most active group – despite their numerous lifestyle advantages – showed more rapid cognitive decline when they slept less than six hours.

This finding shows that even high physical activity may not be enough to counteract the long-term impact of sleep deprivation on cognitive health.

Preserving Cognitive Health Beyond the 60s

Notably, the detrimental effects of short sleep combined with physical activity were less pronounced in people aged 70 and older.

They maintained the brain benefits of exercise despite their lack of sleep. This intriguing observation led the authors to emphasize the need to view physical activity and sleep as interconnected factors that influence cognitive health from age 50 onwards.

The Non-negotiables of Optimal Sleep

Contrary to the popular notion that six hours or less of sleep can suffice, only people with a genetic predisposition for short sleep can manage without experiencing harmful effects.

For most, less sleep equates to more harm, increasing the risk of stroke fivefold and doubling the risk of heart disease when combined with other conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes.

If you’ve been compromising on sleep voluntarily or struggling with sleep disorders like insomnia or sleep apnea, consider adopting healthier sleep habits.

Create a sleep-friendly environment, maintain a consistent sleep schedule, and avoid sleep-disrupting habits like using electronic devices close to bedtime or consuming caffeine or alcohol.

Wrapping Up: The Golden Rule of Sleep and Cognitive Health

Lastly, here’s a golden rule to remember – if you’re unable to fall asleep within 15-20 minutes, leave your bedroom and engage in a calm activity in a dimly lit room.

Keep your brain’s association with your bedroom purely sleep-focused. And remember, stress won’t lead to sleep – so keep calm, and train your brain for some well-deserved rest.

In conclusion, exercise is invaluable, but without adequate sleep, you might be missing out on the full cognitive benefits. So, don’t skimp on your Z’s and move more for optimal brain health.



  1. English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA)
  2. National Institute on Aging
  3. Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care, UCL
  4. Healthy Sleep Habits
  5. Sleep and Brain Health

Source: CNN Health

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