New research reveals that many working Americans are conflicted about whether to spend time exercising or sleeping. University of Pennsylvania investigators analyzed data from 48,000 adults who participated in the American Time Use Survey between 2003 and 2016. The researchers found that for most individuals sleep duration decreased as exercise duration increased, which led to the conclusion that exercise and sleep compete with each other for time.

“Losing minor amounts of sleep due to exercise should be fine, as sleep itself benefits from exercise—shorter time needed to fall asleep, more efficient sleep,” said principal investigator Mathias Basner, MD, PhD, associate professor of sleep and chronobiology in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. Basner recommends that fitness professionals talk with clients about how much sleep they’re getting and notes that the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society suggest adults get at least 7 hours of sleep per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote health.

“The goal should really be to find a balance that allows regular exercise and sufficient sleep,” says Basner. “For morning types, it may make more sense to exercise in the morning, while the opposite is true for evening types. As with everything in life, there is a golden middle. Excessive exercise or sleep are very likely unhealthy behaviors.”

The research was reported in the October 2018 issue of Sleep Health.

Shirley Archer-Eichenberger, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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