University students have low levels of physical activity and report disturbances to sleep, which are independently associated with poor health outcomes. Some research suggests that there is a bi-directional relationship between sleep and physical activity in adults. However, the relationship between sleep and physical activity in university students has not yet been evaluated. Therefore, the aim of this systematic review and meta-analysis was to qualitatively synthesise and quantitatively evaluate the evidence for the association between sleep and physical activity in university students. Twenty-nine eligible studies were included, with a total of 141,035 participants (43% men and 57% women). Only four studies used device-based measures of sleep and/or physical activity, with the remainder including self-report measures. Qualitative synthesis found that the majority of studies did not find any association between sleep and physical activity in university students. However, random-effects meta-analysis showed that moderate-to-high intensity physical activity was associated with lower PSQI scores (e.g., better sleep quality) [r = -0.18, 95% CI (-0.37, 0.03), p = 0.100]. Further, a weak negative association between moderate-to-vigorous physical activity level and sleep duration was also found [r = -0.02, 95% CI (-0.16, 0.12), p = 0.760]. As the findings of this review are predominantly derived from cross-sectional investigations, with limited use of device-based measurement tools, further research is needed to investigate the relationship between sleep and physical activity in university students. Future studies should employ longitudinal designs, with self-report and device-based measures, and consider the intensity and time of physical activity as well as records of napping behaviour.
Keywords: Activity behaviours; Exercise; Physically active; Siesta; Sleep; Somnolence; Systematic review; Young adults; Youth.
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