Just 20 Minutes of Exercise Can Boost Brain Function After Poor Night’s Sleep

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By Study Finds

Just 20 minutes of exercise can help restore brain function after suffering the impact of a poor night’s sleep, a new study reveals. Scientists in the U.K. have 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 each night. The consequences of this can increase the risks of developing cardiovascular disease, obesity, neurodegenerative disorders, and even depression.

In the short term, researchers from the University of Portsmouth say a lack of sleep can reduce cognitive performance (CP), which takes a toll on your attention span, judgement, and emotional state. Their new study explored how sleep, oxygen levels, and exercise affects our ability to perform mental tasks.

“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,” says Dr. Joe Costello, from the University’s School of Sport, Health & Exercise Science (SHES), in a media release.

“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.”

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To get their results the team conducted two experiments, each involving 12 participants. In the first experiment, each person was only allowed to sleep for five hours each night for three days. The next morning, they performed seven tasks to perform at rest, before doing them aging while cycling. Each person also had to rate their sleepiness and mood before completing the tasks.

In the second experiment, participants went an entire night without sleep and then entered a low-oxygen environment. Researchers did this so they could rule out oxygenation as the cause for these changes.

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,” explains co-lead author Dr. Thomas Williams from the University’s Extreme Environments Research Group.

“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.

“Because we were looking at exercise as a positive intervention, we decided to use a moderate intensity program as recommended in existing literature,” adds Dr Costello. “If the exercise was any longer or harder it may have amplified the negative results and became a stressor itself.”

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The paper, published in the journal Physiology and Behavior, 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.

The findings also suggest 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.

“The PFC is highly sensitive to its neurochemical environment and is highly susceptible to stress,” explains co-lead author Juan Ignacio Badariotti from the University’s Department of Psychology. “It regulates our thoughts, actions and emotions and is considered to be the primary part of the brain associated with executive functions.”

“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.”

South West News Service writer Isobel Williams contributed to this report.


Source: Study Finds

Image: Pixabay

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