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Just 20 minutes of exercise can help boost brain function after a poor night’s sleep, according to a new study.
Scientists found that mental performance improves during moderately intensive exercise, regardless of a person’s sleep status or oxygen levels.
Recent research shows that 40 percent of the population don’t get enough sleep.
Consequences of this chronic sleep deprivation include cardiovascular disease, obesity, neurodegenerative disorders, and depression.
In the short term, a lack of sleep can reduce cognitive performance (CP), which takes a toll on your attention span, judgment, and emotional state.
This new study explored how sleep, oxygen levels, and exercise affect our ability to perform mental tasks.
Dr. Joe Costello, of the University of Portsmouth, said: “We know from existing research that exercise improves or maintains our cognitive performance, even when oxygen levels are reduced.
“But this is the first study to suggest it also improves CP after both full and partial sleep deprivation, and when combined with hypoxia.
“The findings significantly adds to what we know about the relationship between exercise and these stressors, and helps to reinforce the message that movement is medicine for the body and the brain.”
To get their results the team conducted two experiments, each involving 12 participants.
In the first experiment, individuals were only allowed five hours of sleep a night, over three days.
Each morning they would be given seven tasks to perform at rest, and then while cycling. They were also asked to rate their sleepiness and mood before completing the tasks. Ex // Top Stories
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This was done so the team could rule out oxygenation as the cause.
Dr. Thomas Williams said: “Sleep deprivation is often experienced in combination with other stressors. For example, people who travel to high altitude are also likely to experience a disruption to their sleep pattern.
“One potential hypothesis for why exercise improves cognitive performance is related to the increase in cerebral blood flow and oxygenation, however, our findings suggest that even when exercise is performed in an environment with low levels of oxygen, participants were still able to perform cognitive tasks better than when at rest in the same conditions.”
In both experiments, all participants experienced an improvement in cognitive performance after just 20 minutes of cycling.
Dr. Costello added: “Because we were looking at exercise as a positive intervention, we decided to use a moderate intensity program as recommended in existing literature.
“If the exercise was any longer or harder it may have amplified the negative results and became a stressor itself.”
The paper, published in the journal Physiology and Behaviour , suggests that the improvement could be due to changes to the amount of brain-regulating hormones, as well as a number of psychophysiological factors including cerebral blood flow, arousal and motivation.
It suggests that cognitive performance is not solely dependent upon the Prefrontal Cortex (PFC) area of the brain, despite it playing an integral role in the performance of tasks.
Co-lead author Juan Ignacio Badariotti added: “The PFC is highly sensitive to its neurochemical environment and is highly susceptible to stress.
“It regulates our thoughts, actions and emotions and is considered to be the primary part of the brain associated with executive functions.
“But our findings suggest the mechanisms behind CP may not be isolated to this area, and instead we should consider it being the product of a series of coordinated processes widely distributed across different cortical and subcortical regions.”