Can A Walk Help You Sleep?

I’ve just got back from a brisk walk over the fields near where I live. You might wonder why I am troubling to tell you this. Read on, and all will become clear. A couple of days ago I was listening to the radio and the estimable Michael Mosely came on, telling us about a proposal that if you wanted to sleep well you should go for a walk early in the morning. There is something about being exposed to full daylight early on in the day that triggers off getting better sleep later on in that same day.

By his standards it was a very speculative claim. He didn’t quote any research to back it up or even give any reasons why it should work. He just claimed that there was something special about daylight.

This wasn’t very satisfying but as it happens I have had a lot of trouble sleeping during the recent lockdown. And in fact going back a couple of decades I’m aware that I don’t sleep as well now as I used to. When I thought about it, it occured to me that the point in time this started to be a problem was around the time I changed jobs. And one of the things that changed was that I stopped cycling 10 miles to work early in the morning to take advantage of the flexible hours and instead drove to work. Could there be something in Dr Mosely’s suggestion.

There is not much to lose by giving it a try. So yesterday morning I set out before doing anything else – it was 8:30am and it was a very pleasant start to the day. And I did indeed get off to sleep early and slept very well. So well that I woke up at six. It was still dark, so I did some work and set out at 7:00am when the sun had come up. So far so good!

Now I have to say that one night’s sleep is insufficient data to support a hypothesis. My pleasant slumber may well have had nothing to do with my walk. Biology is a complicated business. This means that you shouldn’t dismiss a possible association between early morning sunlight and good sleeping. It is well within the bounds of possibility. But equally, you need to be cautious about drawing such an apparently far fetched conclusion. I’ve noticed that the question of the number of genders we have has become a political issue lately. I’ll be honest and admit that this isn’t something that has ever troubled me so far. Two seems a perfectly adequate number to explain my life to date. But it is a biogical question, and presumably it can at some point be answered. I don’t know anything about the research in the area, or even if there is any. I think the proposal is that there are in fact around 6 genders. On the whole, from a biological perspective I’d probably say that if offered the choice between n=2 and n=6, the wisest response is to reply ‘are you sure 6 is a high enough number?’.

I’ll keep up going for early morning walks for a while and see what effect it has on my sleep patterns, if any. Unfortunately with n=1 there isn’t going to be much data that is of any use to science. But if I enjoy, why not?

5 thoughts on “Can A Walk Help You Sleep?”

  1. Dr Mosely is spot on.
    I couldn’t work out why I wasn’t sleeping whilst on furlough – I had never had any trouble sleeping before. But of course I wasn’t walking to work for 45 mins every morning! Now I go for a walk every morning and I am out like a light.

  2. Indeed, the body needs it’s routines. The gut biome, the neurotransmitters, hormones, they all need a good light schedule to set the body clock.
    There is a lot of research out there saying this now.
    It also helps prevent S.A.D (seasonal affective disorder) by giving the body the hormones it creates from light.
    Boosts immune function too.

    Plus, the motion of walking itself apparently calms the amygdala (the fear centre in the brain) and the nervous system.
    It’s very helpful to go for a walk after upset of some kind, or when feeling a bit tense. Really does help.

  3. Hi Colin, an interesting experiment, especially as the seasons change – and the mornings are less inviting than they are now. I do recall falling asleep faster when I was younger, so perhaps there is an age element involved in all this too? Keep us posted.

  4. I’ve kept up the habit for nearly a week now, and I haven’t noticed any improvement in sleep yet. But it is a great way to start the day and I’ve got a lot more done in the morning – so I think I’ll stick to it.

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