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People who spend more time gardening tend to have fewer sleep problems

People who spend more time gardening tend to have fewer sleep problems



A new study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders has found that individuals who engage in gardening are less likely to suffer from multiple sleep complaints compared to those who do not exercise. The research highlights gardening as a beneficial activity potentially leading to better sleep quality, including fewer instances of insomnia, daytime sleepiness, and sleep apnea.

The interest in sleep health has grown significantly due to its crucial role in overall wellbeing. Previous research has connected poor sleep with an array of serious health issues, such as heart diseases, neurodegenerative disorders, and even an increased risk of death. Recognizing the need for effective strategies to combat sleep-related problems, researchers turned their attention to gardening—previously noted for its low injury risk and beneficial impacts on health—as a potential aid to improve sleep patterns.

“According to the Physical Activity Guideline for Americans (2nd edition), gardening is a muscle-strengthening and multicomponent physical activity with one of the lowest injury risks, which is appropriate and recommended for older adults,” said study author Xiang Gao, a dean and distinguished professor at Fudan University.

“The benefits of gardening for physical and psychological health was well-established. However, the gardening-sleep association among the community population remained unrevealed. Therefore, this study aimed to explore whether gardening was associated with sleep complaints.”

For their study, the researchers analyzed data from the 2017 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), a comprehensive health-related telephone survey that gathers data annually across the United States. The survey included a wide range of questions on health behaviors, chronic diseases, and preventive measures, with specific modules on physical activity and sleep complaints examined for this study. The initial sample consisted of 85,148 adults from ten different states. However, due to incomplete information on physical activity and sleep outcomes, the final sample size was narrowed down to 62,098 adults.

Participants were categorized based on their engagement in physical activities, specifically distinguishing between non-exercisers, gardeners, and other exercisers. Gardeners were identified based on their responses to the physical activity module, where gardening needed to be listed as one of the two most time-consuming exercises they engaged in. This group was further divided into tertiles based on the duration of gardening per week, which allowed the researchers to analyze the effects of varying intensities of gardening on sleep health.

The analysis revealed that both gardeners and other exercisers showed a lower likelihood of experiencing multiple sleep complaints compared to non-exercisers. The odds ratios adjusted for potential confounders (like demographics, lifestyle, and chronic health conditions) highlighted that gardeners had a 42% lower likelihood of having multiple sleep complaints compared to non-exercisers. Other exercisers had a slightly less pronounced benefit, showing a 33% lower likelihood compared to non-exercisers.

Furthermore, the study uncovered a dose-response relationship between the amount of time spent gardening and sleep complaints. As the duration of gardening per week increased, the likelihood of having multiple sleep complaints progressively decreased. This trend remained significant even when controlling for various confounding factors.

On the level of individual sleep complaints, gardeners reported lower incidences of short sleep duration, probable insomnia, and daytime sleepiness compared to non-exercisers. The effects on sleep apnea were less clear, with no significant improvements observed for gardeners or other exercisers over non-exercisers. This pattern suggests that while gardening can positively impact several aspects of sleep, its effects may vary depending on the specific sleep issue considered.

These findings suggest that gardening has potential health benefits that extend into improving sleep quality and reducing the prevalence of common sleep disorders.

“As a valuable non-pharmaceutical intervention and an aerobic physical activity, gardening could be more strongly recommended for adults to minimize their likelihood of sleep complaints,” Gao told PsyPost. “The findings encourage the adults to participate in gardening activity, such as watering the field and growing vegetables.”

While the study provides compelling evidence supporting the benefits of gardening on sleep health, there are limitations due to its cross-sectional nature—mainly, the inability to definitively establish causality. The reliance on self-reported data could also introduce bias.

The study’s authors recommend further prospective studies to confirm these findings and to explore the mechanisms through which gardening could influence sleep health. Understanding these pathways can help in developing targeted interventions to harness the therapeutic benefits of gardening.

“We are committed to exploring the associations between gardening and health,” Gao said, adding that his research team has also found a positive link between gardening and cardiovascular health. “Additionally, we will continue to examine the associations between gardening and odds of subjective cognitive decline, and explore the potential pathways underlying the gardening-cognition relationship.”

The study, “Association between gardening and multiple sleep complaints: A nationwide study of 62,098 adults,” was authored by Kaiyue Wang, Yaqi Li, Muzi Na, Chen Wang, Djibril M. Ba, Liang Sun, and Xiang Gao.



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