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A woman resting on a bed with a pair of tennis shoes on the floor next to it.

We spend about one-third of our lives asleep, yet many of us don’t sleep well. Recent research suggests that the solution to some sleep problems may be just a short walk away.

Although previous studies have indicated that physical activity improves sleep quality and increases its duration, much of the research has involved planned exercise in specific populations. To fill the gaps, the new study used data from a Boston-area initiative to determine whether simple, everyday physical activity may affect overall sleep patterns.

For the study, researchers recruited 59 adults — 72 percent of whom were female — who didn’t participate in a structured exercise regimen. Each individual received a wearable device to record the number of steps and amount of time spent in physical activity every day; they were also asked to report on the quality and duration of their sleep throughout the study, including prior to and at the end of the monthlong trial.

Researchers from Brandeis University and other institutions reviewed the data and detected a link between activity and sleep quality.

Female participants who had taken more steps or moved more reported better sleep overall. This was less true for men, although researchers believe this result may have been due to the small pool of male participants.

Moreover, the association held on a smaller scale for both sexes. When volunteers were more active than usual, they reported sleeping better at night.

You don’t need to walk miles to reap the benefits: Even the least-active volunteers slept better after taking more steps on some days.

The researchers acknowledge that the relationship requires further study, but integrating more activity into your life may be worth trying. It could lead to some better z’s.

This originally appeared as “Steps to Better Slumber” in the June 2020 print issue of Experience Life.

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