The Link Between Sleep and Wellbeing

While recommendations state that adults should get 7-8 hours of good quality sleep a night, within a contemporary society, this can seem like a luxury. No doubt amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many would have only seen their sleep quality decline – making the idea of achieving a good night’s sleep seem far out of reach.

Poor sleep quality can be represented in different ways – through sleeping either too little or too much (less than 7 hours or more than 9 hours per night respectively), or through consistently feeling fatigued or simply not refreshed upon waking in the morning. Unfortunately, poor sleep has been shown to have many negative health effects, including:

  • Increased risk of cardiovascular disease 
  • Causing or increasing inflammation
  • Slowing down of our metabolism and increasing the risk of obesity
  • Impairment of memory and problem-solving skills
  • Larger fluctuations in mood and emotions – with chronic poor sleep increasing risk of depression and anxiety
  • Increased risk of early death

In positive news, a recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine has found that engaging in physical activity can counteract some of the negative health effects of poor sleep quality. This observational study found many correlations and associations:

  • People with poor sleep had a 23% higher risk of premature death
  • People with poor sleep had a 39% higher risk of dying from heart disease
  • People with poor sleep had a 13% higher risk of dying from cancer

Furthermore, the study found that people who had the highest risk of dying from heart disease and cancer were those who both had poor sleep and didn’t meet the WHO physical activity guidelines of 300 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week.  

However, those people who did have poor sleep but also did enough physical activity to either meet the WHO guidelines of 300 minutes of moderate intensity per week – or even half of this (150 minutes per week) – didn’t have as high a risk of dying from cancer or heart disease in comparison to those who had poor sleep and didn’t exercise regularly.

While some of the statistics that are outlined in this study can seem scary, it ultimately offers a positive narrative: one that suggests even if you have poor sleep, you can still counteract the harmful health effects of this by regularly engaging in physical activity. Improving sleep quality is clearly ideal in improving your health and reducing your risk of developing illnesses; however, it is not always achievable in our modern world, making exercise a great tool in improving your wellbeing and overall health. 


Huang, Bo-Huei. (2021). Sleep and physical activity in relation to all-cause, cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality risk. British Journal of Sports Medicine.

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