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Fitness and Exercise as Correlates of Sleep Complaints: Is It All in Our Minds?


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: May 2010 - Volume 42 - Issue 5 - p 893-901
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181c0ea8c
Basic Sciences

Purpose: Restoring sleep is associated with psychological well-being. In contrast, poor sleep leads to impaired daily cognitive, emotional, and social functioning. Both commonplace and expert opinion hold that exercise has a favorable impact on preventing poor sleep and improving its quality. However, the scientific basis for this opinion remains limited, and results are mixed. The aim of the present study, therefore, was to explore the impact of perceived physical fitness, exercise, and a perceived lack of activity on sleep in early adulthood. Gender-related patterns were also examined.

Methods: A total of 862 participants (639 females and 223 males; mean ± SD = 24.67 ± 5.91 yr) took part in the study. Respondents completed a series of self-report questionnaires assessing perceived physical fitness, exercise, perceived lack of physical activity, insomnia (Insomnia Severity Index), dysfunctional sleep-related thoughts (Fragebogen zur Erfassung allgemeiner Persönlichkeitsmerkmale Schlafgestörter), and quality of sleep (Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index).

Results: High perceived physical fitness, but not exercise, was associated with favorable scores for various sleep indicators. A perceived lack of physical activity was associated with poor sleep. Perceived physical fitness and exercise were moderately correlated. Compared with males, females reported more sleep difficulties and also more dysfunctional sleep-related thoughts.

Conclusions: For early adulthood, findings did not support commonplace or expert opinion that exercise behavior has a favorable influence on sleep. Rather, the findings lend support to the importance of cognitive processes in the onset and maintenance of sleep complaints.

1Institute of Exercise and Health Sciences, University of Basel, SWITZERLAND; and 2Psychiatric Hospital of the University of Basel, Depression and Sleep Research Unit, SWITZERLAND

Address for correspondence: Markus Gerber, Ph.D., Institute of Exercise and Health Sciences, University of Basel, St. Jakobsturm, Birsstrasse 320B, CH-4052 Basel; E-mail:

Submitted for publication May 2009.

Accepted for publication September 2009.

©2010The American College of Sports Medicine