Physical exercise may ease nocturnal leg movement

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Exercise may improve sleep patterns in people with insomnia or sleep disruptions related to periodic leg movements, according to study findings reported by Brazilian researchers.

Dr. Marco Tulio de Mello and colleagues at Federal University of Sao Paulo-UNIFESP assessed the effects of acute intensive exercise on sleep patterns in 22 volunteers with periodic leg movements, which are often associated with restless legs syndrome. Eleven subjects continued with 72 physical training sessions for roughly the next 6 months.

Reductions in periodic leg movements were observed after both intensive and regular physical exercise. Intensive exercise increased sleep efficiency (actual time asleep) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, and reduced wake time after sleep onset. Chronic physical exercise increased sleep efficiency and REM sleep and reduced sleep latency (time to takes to fall asleep). The release of beta-endorphins, opioid compounds that provide a feeling of well-being, after acute intensive exercise corresponded with reduced periodic leg movements levels.

The improvements were particularly pronounced in the patients with milder periodic leg movements, the authors in their report, published in the January issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Medicine.

In a statement from the American College of Sports Medicine, the journal publisher, lead author Dr. Andrea Maculano Esteves comments, “The ability of have restful and uninterrupted sleep is often taken for granted, but not usually by people with periodic leg movements or restless leg syndrome.”

“Exercise restores that ability, and quickly, too, as we see in the improvements in the acute exercise sessions. An added benefit here is that exercise is an alternative to a pharmacologic treatment, in terms of both outcome and cost.”

Med Sci Sports Exerc 2009;41:237-242.

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