Ask the Doctors: Resistance training helps sleep, study suggests

Participants who engaged in resistance training saw an increase of 40 minutes of sleep a night, the best results in the study.

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Resistance training has a positive effect on sleep, which can help improve your overall health, according to a new study. 

Resistance training has a positive effect on sleep, which can help improve your overall health, according to a new study.

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Dear Doctors: I sometimes have trouble sleeping. I’ve tried running, which helps with stress but not sleep. My husband says he heard news that weightlifting is good for sleep. Is this true?

Dear Reader: Preliminary results of a new study, presented earlier this year at an American Heart Association conference, found that resistance training such as lifting weights can have a beneficial effect on sleep.

The findings affirm previous research that also found resistance training can offer sleep benefits.

This latest study — which hasn’t yet completed peer review, in which other experts in the same field evaluate research or scholarly work — looked at 386 sedentary adults who were overweight and had high blood pressure. More than one-third reported having trouble getting adequate, high-quality sleep.

The participants were divided into four groups. One group, which acted as the control, did no exercise. The remaining groups completed three 60-minute exercise sessions a week. One was assigned resistance training only consisting of working the major muscle groups by using 12 weight and resistance machines. One did only aerobic exercise, choosing from stationary bikes, treadmills or elliptical machines. The third did a combination of the two — 30 minutes each of resistance training and aerobic activity.

After one year, the participants were evaluated for factors that included sleep duration, sleep quality, how long it took to fall asleep and how often their sleep was interrupted. Each group, including the control group, saw improvements in sleep duration. But the resistance training group, with an increase in 40 minutes of sleep a night, had the best results.

The aerobics-only group saw sleep increase an average of 23 minutes a night. The mixed exercise group got an additional 17 minutes.

The study participants in the control group, who did not exercise, reported a gain of 15 minutes of sleep a night.

As for sleep efficiency, the percentage of time someone spends asleep while in bed, only the resistance exercise and combined exercise groups saw improvements.

It’s important to remember these findings are preliminary. We would hate to cause anyone to give up aerobic activities, which improve lung function, cardiovascular health, mood and stamina.

The weight machines used in the study aren’t the only option. Resistance exercise also can be done with free weights and elastic resistance bands. Or you can do pushups, squats, lunges and chin-ups.

Not only do resistance exercises build strength, they also improve bone health. If your sleep improves, consider that a bonus.

Dr. Eve Glazier and Dr. Elizabeth Ko are internists at UCLA Health.

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