The effects of acute exercise on sleep: a quantitative synthesis

Sleep. 1997 Mar;20(3):203-14. doi: 10.1093/sleep/20.3.203.


We used meta-analytic methods to examine the influence of acute exercise on sleep. Thirty-eight studies were reviewed yielding 211 effects on 401 subjects. Mean effect sizes were calculated for sleep onset latency (SOL), stage 2, slow-wave sleep (SWS), rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, REM latency (REM-L), total sleep time (TST), and wakefulness after sleep onset (WASO). Moderating influences of subject fitness, heat load, exercise duration, time of day, associated light environment (i.e. indoor or outdoor), sleep schedule, and the scientific quality of the studies were examined. Effect sizes for SWS, REM, REM-L, and TST were moderate [0.18-0.52 standard deviation (SD)] and their associated 95% confidence intervals did not include zero. Exercise duration and time of day were the most consistent moderator variables. In contrast with previous hypotheses, heat load had little influence on sleep. The results of our quantitative synthesis of the literature are inconsistent with previous narrative reviews (1,2) which suggested that exercise elicits larger changes in sleep than those quantified in this meta-analysis. A major delimitation of published studies on the effects of acute exercise has been an exclusive focus on good sleepers. Hence, the effects we report herein may be underestimates of the efficacy of exercise for enhancing sleep among people with sleep disturbances.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Body Temperature
  • Epidemiologic Factors
  • Exercise*
  • Humans
  • Light
  • Physical Fitness
  • Polysomnography
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Sleep Stages / physiology
  • Time Factors