How Exercise Can Help You Sleep Better

By Sanchita Sen
Last Updated On May 21st, 2020

If you are struggling to sleep, consider including workouts in your daily routine. Exercise has several health advantages. It keeps you fit, reduces the risk of diseases, and helps you…

How Exercise Can Help You Sleep Better

If you are struggling to sleep, consider including workouts in your daily routine. Exercise has several health advantages. It keeps you fit, reduces the risk of diseases, and helps you sleep better. Physical exercises tire you out enough for a good night’s sleep, and better sleep boosts your physical and mental health.

Exercise may not always be a quick-fix solution to sleep. You have to be consistent with your exercise regimen to feel its impact on your sleep. It’s also crucial to know when and how much to exercise to avoid the chances of disturbed sleep. In this article, we discuss how exercises can help you sleep better, and the best time to work out for adequate sleep.

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How Exercise Affects Sleep

Regular physical exercise can promote sleep quality in various ways. It minimizes disruptions, by inducing deeper and more restful sleep phases. Exercise can also prepare your body for early-onset and rejuvenating sleep.

Improves Sleep Duration and Quality

Intense physical activity requires you to expend energy. It fatigues your body, reducing your sleep latency. Sleep latency refers to the time it takes you to fall asleep once you are in bed and the lights are off. When you exercise consistently, you usually get sleep as soon as you lie down, and you get a much needed 7 to 8 hours of rest.

Exercise also promotes deep sleep phases, the most restorative sleep stages. During these slow-wave sleep phases, you are less likely to wake up due to disruptions. This improves your sleep quality. The deep sleep phases boost your immune system, cardiac health, and muscle repair and regeneration.

Reduces Stress and Anxiety

Stress and anxiety may cause sleep deprivation. They delay sleep onset and may even wake you up in the middle of the night. Studies show regular exercises equip you to better handle stress. They build your resilience to stress and protect you from its negative effects.

Even light exercises such as a morning jog or 10 minutes of biking trigger your body to release endorphins. Endorphins, also called happy hormones, interact with the receptors in your brain to reduce the perception of pain and stress. They evoke a positive feeling in your mind and body. You fall asleep quickly when your mind is calm and stress-free.

Syncs Your Body to Its Natural Circadian Rhythm

The circadian rhythm is your body’s internal clock, and it regulates a healthy sleep-wake cycle. During a period of 24 hours, your body experiences changes in core body temperature, influencing your feeling of wakefulness and sleepiness.

As part of your natural circadian rhythm, the core body temperature increases during morning hours, dips in the evening, and drops to its lowest when you are asleep. Exercising increases your core body temperature, signaling your body it’s time to be awake. After about 30 to 90 minutes, your body temperature starts to drop, facilitating sleep.

To further boost sleep, exercise outdoors to get some exposure to natural light. Sunlight keeps daytime sleepiness at bay, promoting better sleep at night.

Tackles Sleep Disorders

Working out consistently can help tackle some sleep disorders such as insomnia, Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), and Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). Studies show the therapeutic effect exercise has on poor or disturbed sleep due to sleep disorders.

Before taking medicines for sleeplessness, try out a regular exercise routine.  Exercise is often included in sleep hygiene practices as part of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Sleep hygiene involves implementing certain behaviors and practices for boosting a good night’s sleep.

Insomnia

Insomnia is one of the most common sleep disorders affecting millions of middle-aged and older adults in the country. According to a study by Northwestern University, aerobic exercises relieve insomnia. Participants who rode a stationary bicycle, exercised on a treadmill, or walked could sleep better than the control group. Their sleep duration increased by 1.25 hours compared to the control group.

The study included sedentary adults, primarily older women who have been diagnosed with insomnia. Symptoms of insomnia increase with age and are more common in women, so the study included mostly older women. They worked out for 30 to 40 minutes, four days a week for 16 weeks, and experienced noticeable improvements in their sleep quality.

A consistent routine can improve poor sleep to good sleep. This study also highlighted the importance of consistency, because the participants did not feel any improvement in sleep quality or sleep duration during the initial few weeks of exercise. Instead, sleep affected their exercise routine. They could not exercise for the usual 30 or 40 minutes if they did not sleep well the night before. Gradually with a consistent exercise routine, their sleep pattern, vitality, and positivity increased, improving their overall well-being.

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a neurological sleep disorder associated with an overwhelming urge to move your legs. RLS makes it difficult to get comfortable enough to fall asleep, as the symptoms flare up at night. Studies show exercise training reduces the severity of RLS symptoms. Aerobic exercises and lower body resistance training promotes circulation in your legs, easing symptoms of RLS.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is caused by the soft tissues of the throat collapsing and obstructing airways. As a result, patients with OSA experience breathing difficulties and sometimes even stop breathing for a few seconds. Poor sleep increases the risk of cardiac problems and diabetes. Studies show exercises can be effective in reducing several harmful consequences of OSA, including cardiovascular disorders, glucose intolerance, and fatigue.

Endurance exercises can activate your upper airway muscles, making way for smoother airflow, which makes it easier to breathe, tackling the cause of OSA. Endurance exercises include activities such as walking, jogging, swimming, and biking. These activities increase your breathing and heart rate keeping your heart and lungs healthy.

How Much Exercise is Needed for a Good Night’s Sleep?

There’s no clear-cut rule on this, but the American Heart Association and the National Institute of Health recommend at least 150 minutes of exercise a week for healthy adults. Working out for 30 minutes a day, five days a week helps you achieve the recommended target.

Depending on your age and personal preference, you may opt for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of high-intensity workouts. Be careful about the timing and intensity of exercises. Sometimes, wrong timing or vigorous exercise can cause sleep deprivation.

Best Time of Day for Exercise

You can work out at any time of the day except for 2 to 3 hours before sleep. Avoid high-intensity exercises before bedtime because they increase your heart rate and core body temperature. It takes some time for your temperature and heart rate to stabilize, delaying sleep onset.  To reap the maximum benefits of workouts, exercise outside in the morning.

FAQs

Do you need more sleep if you exercise?

Regular physical exercise increases the demand for sleep, enhancing your sleep quality. Engaging in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week improves sleep quality. It gives you 7 to 8 hours of uninterrupted nighttime sleep, which is good for your overall health.

Why does exercise keep me awake at night?

Exercise increases your core body temperature, making it difficult to sleep. As part of our body’s natural circadian rhythm, we are used to a lowered temperature in the evening hours. Exercising in the late evening hours goes against this natural order, keeping us awake at night.

Does exercising for at least 30 minutes daily improve sleep quality?

Yes, moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes daily improves sleep quality. Simple exercises such as brisk walking, biking, jogging, or swimming promote sleep. Choose an exercise you enjoy, because you are more likely to be consistent about it. Consistency is key in reaping the benefits of exercises.

Do your muscles grow if you don’t get adequate sleep?

Your muscles repair, regrow, and regenerate during the deep sleep phase. If you don’t sleep well then you miss out on this restorative sleep phase. Without adequate restorative sleep, your muscle mass decreases. We need about 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, but the ideal amount of sleep changes for different people. You know you have got adequate sleep when you wake up feeling refreshed in the morning, but less than 7 hours can never be enough for good quality sleep.

How late is too late to exercise?

You should avoid exercise at least 2 to 3 hours before your bedtime. Exercises increase your core body temperature, delaying sleep onset. It also makes you feel thirsty. You may wake up in between sleep to get a drink or go to the bathroom if you had more water before sleeping.

Conclusion

Exercises tackle the cause of many health and mental problems and promote better sleep. Eliminating stressors and pain points pave the way for sound sleep. Be mindful of the time you choose to work out and how much you exert yourself. High-intensity exercises close to bedtime may interfere with sleep, but light stretches at bedtime relax your muscles and boost sleep.

This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.


About the author

Sanchita Sen is a full-time writer focusing on the sleep health and mattress industry. She is a former journalist who has written numerous articles on the healthcare sector. Some of the topics she has covered include how to lucid dream, fever dreams, melatonin for sleep, and best gel memory foam mattress. Sanchita holds a Master of Arts in Communications from Convergence Institute of Mass Media and Information Technology Studies. She is also a published author, who seeks inspiration from both real life and the world of fiction.

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