Sleep Has Major Impact on Balance: New Study Shows

A team of researchers from the University of Warwick, in the UK, has  published research showing that poor quality sleep reduces a person’s ability to balance the next day.

The research was conducted on healthy adults with no history of sleep problems, and ranging in age from 24-34. They were monitored over two days in their own homes using latests sensors to measure their quality of sleep. Their balance was measured in a gait lab, and other information was gathered in the form of sleep diaries and questionnaires.

The researchers say the results are very clear:

Subjects with a day-to-day deterioration in sleep quantity and quality … exhibited significant changes in balance. Conversely, subjects with no significant alterations in sleep quantity and quality showed no significant changes in [balance measurements].

The study has some limitations as there were only 20 participants, and did not include a very wide age range, but the team hypothesize that if young, healthy adults suffer poorer balance after sleep disruption, then the effect on older adults is likely to be even greater.

When tired, the study participants showed significantly worse balance when tested with eyes closed vs eyes open, compared to those who had rested well, meaning that we rely on vision even more when fatigued, and vision is typically worse in older adults than in younger people, exacerbating the effect on stability and balance.

This research demonstrates something many people can identify with – a feeling of wobbliness after a wakeful or disturbed night. Being tired really does put you at greater risk of falling, because your ability to balance, and react to outside events, is lower when tired.

How to Sleep Better

Daily habits have an effect on our sleep, and experts recommend keeping a sleep diary for a couple of weeks to help work out where improvements can be made.

Improvement advice falls into 3 areas:

  • What you put into your body
  • Your sleep environment
  • Your mental state

It’s best to avoid heavy meals, alcohol or caffeine before bed, and also to reduce any liquid consumption in the evening, to avoid late night bathroom visits.

Keep work and other electronic devices away from your bedroom, make it a peaceful, cool environment that you use only for sleeping and intimacy.

Set an alarm to help you get 7 hours of sleep, and try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Make sleep a priority, but don’t get anxious about it. If you can’t sleep after 20 minutes, get up and read a book. Allow yourself to simply rest. Practise mindfulness or meditative breathing.

Making sure that you get some exercise every day is another way of improving your quality of sleep.

Click here to read the original research, published in Nature