Engaging in a daily run might just be the remedy for banishing those nighttime “boogeyman” dreams, suggests a study from the University of Texas. The research reveals that dedicating at least 60 minutes to physical activity during the day significantly improves sleep quality at night.

Moreover, the study demonstrates that exercise reduces the time spent in the rapid eye movement (REM) phase of sleep, where dreams occur. These findings, published in Scientific Reports in early March, highlight the diverse range of physical activities—from intense workouts like running and cycling to gentler options like walking or household chores—that contribute to achieving daily exercise goals.

Past studies have already underscored the positive impact of physical activity on sleep quality, with exercise shown to diminish the duration of REM sleep. To delve deeper into this relationship, researchers enlisted 82 participants to wear Fitbits over a six-month period, tracking both sleep metrics and daily physical activity levels. By analyzing heart rate and body movement data, they were able to pinpoint the sleep stages experienced by participants each night and correlate these with their exercise routines.

Sleep comprises distinct stages characterized by physiological changes in heart rate and brain activity. In this study, researchers closely monitored participants’ heart rates to identify transitions between sleep stages. Typically, heart rate decelerates during initial sleep phases before revving up during REM sleep.

Every night, the human body cycles through five stages of sleep, beginning with lighter stages and progressing to deeper, more restorative sleep. The final stage, REM sleep, is synonymous with dreaming. These sleep stages, each marked by unique physiological markers, can be broadly categorized as REM and non-REM sleep.

Notably, participants who engaged in physical activity exhibited reduced REM sleep duration. Instead, they spent more time in the preceding stages of deep sleep, believed to be crucial for bodily recovery and regeneration.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), this deep sleep stage facilitates tissue repair, muscle and bone growth, and immune system reinforcement. Consequently, participants reported feeling more energized and less stressed or melancholic on mornings following exercise sessions, reflecting an overall improvement in sleep quality.

Utilizing Fitbit technology enabled researchers to conduct observations within participants’ natural environments, avoiding the constraints and potential disruptions associated with lab-based studies.

By harnessing Fitbit’s heart rate monitoring capabilities, researchers gained valuable insights into participants’ activity levels. This approach stands in contrast to traditional sleep studies, which typically confine participants to lab settings for short durations due to logistical constraints and potential sleep disturbances.

“Investigating sleep patterns over longer periods in natural settings provides a more comprehensive understanding of individual sleep behaviors,” noted Benjamin Baird, co-author of the study. “The versatility of this technology allows for extensive exploration of sleep architecture, lifestyle factors, and mood disorders, offering insights previously deemed unattainable,” added David Schnyer, another co-author.

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