We’re a world gripped by sleeplessness, with research carried out this year indicating that 39 per cent of people in the US have suffered some form of sleep disorder over the last 12 months. In Italy, that percentage rises to 43 per cent. If you’ve ever experienced a bad night’s sleep you’ll know that it’s not just hell during the twilight hours, the next day can be a monumental struggle, too. Whether it’s feeling sluggish or suffering with brain fog, it’s impossible to thrive when your Zs are low.
A new study by the University of Portsmouth might have the answer. The research found that doing 20 minutes of moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise (cycling, in this case) can improve cognitive performance the day after a sleepless night before. “We know from existing research that exercise improves or maintains our cognitive performance,” says Dr Joe Costello, from the university’s School of Sport, Health & Exercise Science, “but this is the first study to suggest it also improves cognitive performance after both full and partial sleep deprivation.”
While it was a small study, examining 24 participants, the findings still offer hope to those battling with the many short-term impacts that failing to get enough sleep can have on both the body and mind. Whether you’re a new parent or a longtime insomniac, it is thought that getting a sweat on can change the amount of “brain regulating hormones” we produce, as well as helping with cerebral blood flow, arousal and motivation. This means that our cognitive prowess – including our emotional state, our attention span and our judgement – doesn’t have to suffer.
What does 20 minutes of moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise actually look like? The study had participants cycle for the experiment, but other good activities include hiking, swimming, dancing, brisk walking, water aerobics, rollerblading or even pushing a lawn mower. Yes, more rigorous forms of gardening counts.
If recent scientific research is anything to go by, the sweet spot for a successful workout is around 20 minutes. As well as helping with cognitive performance, another study by the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that 22 minutes of moderate to physical activity each day may be enough to counteract the negative health effects of a sedentary lifestyle on physical and mental health.
The moral of the tale? 20 minutes is all it takes – prioritise it.
This article was originally published on British Vogue.