Doing a short session of physical activity helps improve brain performance, even after poor sleep.
- Lack of sleep generally leads to decreased cognitive performance, which impacts our attention span, judgment, and emotional state.
- Researchers found that 20 minutes of physical exercise first thing in bed could counteract the negative effects of sleep deprivation on cognition.
- This association could be “related to increased cerebral blood flow and oxygenation, changes in the amount of regulatory hormones in the brain, as well as a number of psychophysiological factors such as arousal and motivation”.
This is not new: poor sleep is the bedrock of many health problems, such as cardiovascular diseases, obesity, neurodegenerative disorders and even depression. In the short term, it mainly causes a reduction in cognitive performance, which has an impact on our attention span, our ability to judge and our emotional state.
But, good news, it would be possible to counterbalance the effects of lack of sleep with a brief session of physical activity after getting out of bed, according to a new study published in the journal Physiology and Behavior.
What impact does sleep deprivation have on brain capacity?
To reach this conclusion, researchers from the University of Portsmouth (United Kingdom) carried out two experiments, each involving 12 young and healthy people. The first studied the impact of partial sleep deprivation on their cognitive performance: five hours per night for three days, then mental tasks to complete each morning. The second looked at the impact of total sleep deprivation and hypoxia: a whole night without sleep, in a low oxygen environment, and then having to complete tasks.
In the morning, all participants had to carry out, while they were completing the tasks or not, 20 minutes of physical exercise (in this case cycling). “moderate intensity” – and no more, so that the activity remains fun and does not become “a stressor” in itself. The objective was to determine whether sport reduced the negative effects of lack of sleep on the brain.
Physical exercise improves cognitive performance first thing in the morning
Result, whatever the level of sleep (and incidentally the level of oxygen), “physical exercise improved performance in all tasks”can we read in a communicated. According to researchers, the reason why morning exercise boosts cognition may be “linked to increased cerebral blood flow and oxygenation […] to changes in the amount of regulatory hormones in the brain, as well as a number of psychophysiological factors such as arousal and motivation”.
“We knew from previous research that exercise improves or maintains our cognitive performance, even when oxygen levels are reduced. But this is the first study to suggest that it also improves it after complete deprivation or partial sleepnotes Dr Joe Costello, from the School of Sport, Health and Exercise Sciences (SHES) at the University of Portsmouth.
And to conclude: “Our results reinforce the message that movement is medicine for the body and the brain.”