Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Attention students! Sleep and exercise may predict a healthy & successful life!

If you’re a university student and you’ve chosen to read this blog, you’re probably one of two things: tired or stressed.  Everyone experiences various stressors in their everyday life. Some aspects of a person’s life might make them more susceptible to frequent, high-intensity stressful situations.  Students, for example, are one of these populations.  As students, we receive a tremendous amount of pressure to manage deadlines, keep up with our readings, and maintain that 3.7 GPA we need to get into grad school.  How are we supposed to do it all?  

So, we’re stressed: Who cares?
There are heaps of literature supporting stress having negative effects on one’s life.  Stress can be associated with depressive-like symptoms such as anxiety and lack of motivation, and poorer health-related outcomes such as increased blood pressure and heart disease.  If we don’t learn how to manage our stress, we may experience a host of short-term and long-term side effects.  Luckily, with the help of research, we can discover certain behaviours or actions that can help protect us from the negative aspects that might be associated with a high-stress life. 

German researchers investigated this issue.  It’s safe to say that physical activity is beneficial in managing stress.  However, many other variables could be protective, as well.  The researchers were interested in confirming the benefits of physical activity in relation to stress, as well as investigating the usefulness of sleep quality and snacking to manage stress.  To do this, they followed 304 students over an entire academic year.  They evaluated their levels of physical activity, quality of sleep, snacking, mood, and of course… stress!  Any guesses what they found?
More physical activity = lower chance of bad mood following stress.

Do you love going to the gym & getting your 8-hours every night?  Good news for you!
Fortunately, the researchers found some promising results.  As expected, days where a stressful event was experienced were associated with lower positive affect (good mood) and higher negative affect (bad mood).  The good news: these associations were weaker on more physically active days, and days following a good night’s rest.  In fact, the more physically active you are, you have a better chance at experiencing less negative affect following a stressor! 

But, wait! There’s more good news!  One of the researcher’s studies was successful in demonstrating sleep quality having the same relationship with stress.  That is, the association between stress and positive and negative affect was weakened with the presence of a good sleep.  What does this mean in plain English?   Those who get a good sleep are less likely to experience negative affect following a stressor, and are less likely to have a decrease of positive affect following a stressor. 

Are you a snacker?  In the past, there have been mixed reviews in the role of snacking and experiencing stress.  The rationale is that snacking can make you feel good in the moment, but can be followed by feelings of regret, as well as poorer health down the road.  In line with this, there was no observable benefit to snacking when experiencing stress.  However, everything in moderation is key!  If you are the type to control your snacking, and feel better after a little nibble, then go ahead!  Indulge yourself.  I won’t tell anyone. 
Take it with a grain of salt. 

Keep in mind, not all stress is bad stress.  In the context of this article, we are talking about unhealthy, prolonged periods of stress that are associated with negative outcomes.  However, moderate levels of stress can keep you alert, focused, and performing at your best.  Be honest with yourself in how much stress you can handle so you can minimize harm and maximize benefits.  Hopefully what you’ve learned here is that physical activity and a good night’s sleep are important to our overall health.  So go on… get walkin’, get snoozin’, and handle that stress like a champ!


Flueckiger, L., Lieb, R., Meyer, A. H., Witthauer, C., & Mata, J. (2016). The importance of physical activity and sleep for affect on stressful days: Two intensive longitudinal studies. Emotion, 16, 488-497. doi:10.1037/emo0000143

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