Humans need sleep for mental and physical regeneration. If we don’t get enough sleep, our regular cognitive function can be impaired and our body won’t get a chance to recover from the day’s exertions.
New research shows that skipping your ride frequently could make it a lot harder to sleep at night. Over the span of 35 years, University of Georgia researchers analyzed the health habits of more than 8,000 men and women between the ages of 20 and 85 and found that when study participants became less fit over time, they had more trouble getting an uninterrupted night of rest.
This study found that as little as a 2 percent decline in fitness for men and a 4 percent loss for women led to sleep problems. “The steepest decline in cardiorespiratory fitness happens between ages 40 and 60,” says Rodney Dishman, PhD, a professor of exercise science at UGA and one of the lead authors of the study. “This is also when problems of sleep duration and quality are elevated.”
How exactly physical activity contributes to restful sleep is unclear, but researchers suspect that the results have to do with your brain and your body. “Exercise can calm anxiety, which is one key cause of insomnia,” says Dishman. He hypothesizes that a positive effect on brain serotonin circuits—which occur naturally with exercise and are mimicked in some long-term sleep aids—could be another reason fitness improves sleep. Plus, exercise can help protect against excess weight gain with age, which is a risk factor for sleep apnea, another issue that can make it harder for you—and your partner—to wake up rested.
But fixing the issue is pretty straightforward: Just get back on the bike! According to Dishman, “[the amount of fitness decline described above] is easily reversed in most people by meeting current guidelines for health, such as exercising vigorously at least 75 minutes each week.”