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Resistance training may be the best kind of exercise for improving sleep, study suggests

Participants who performed this kind of training improved their sleep quality and duration

Lifting weights concept
Photo (c) Mike Harrington - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from the American Heart Association explored how different kinds of exercise may impact consumers’ sleeping habits. According to their findings, resistance training may be better than aerobic exercise for improving overall sleep quality. 

“It is increasingly recognized that getting enough sleep, particularly high-quality sleep, is important for health including cardiovascular health,” said researcher Angelique Brellenthin, Ph.D. “Unfortunately, more than a third of Americans don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis. 

“Aerobic activity is often recommended to improve sleep, yet very little is known about the effects of resistance exercise versus aerobic exercise on sleep. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report identified the need for more research into resistance training and sleep outcomes. Our study is one of the largest and longest exercise trials in a general adult population to directly compare the effects of different types of exercise on multiple sleep parameters.” 

Resistance training and sleep outcomes

The researchers divided nearly 400 overweight study participants into four groups for one year. Each group focused on aerobic exercise, resistance exercise, aerobic and resistance exercise, or no exercise. The groups exercised three times per week for an hour, and over the course of the study, they completed questionnaires that assessed their sleep quality and duration.

The researchers learned that the participants performing the resistance exercise had the most improved sleep in nearly every category that was tracked. In terms of sleep duration, those in the resistance exercise group slept an average of 40 extra minutes per night. Comparatively, those in the aerobic group saw a 23-minute increase, those doing both kinds of exercise had a 17-minute increase in sleep, and those who didn't exercise had a 15-minute increase. 

Participants in the resistance exercise group were the only ones to see improvements in how long it took them to fall asleep. This group was falling asleep around three minutes faster by the end of the study. 

The researchers also observed improvements for both the resistance exercise and the aerobic exercise groups in sleep efficiency. This is the total amount of time someone is asleep compared to how long they’re in bed. 

Moving forward, the team hopes these findings are used to encourage consumers to incorporate more resistance-based exercises into their routines to improve their sleep. 

“While both aerobic and resistance exercise are important for overall health, our results suggest that resistance exercise may be superior when it comes to getting better ZZZs at night,” Dr. Brellenthin said. 

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