Exercise….we all know we should do it. And we all know that it is good for mental health, physical health and weight loss. But did you know it was also good for sleep?
Specifically, there is a connection between exercise and the ability to sleep well and be more alert during the day. If you want to be more energized and have a productive day at work or home, research shows that you need to get adequate sleep. It’s essential to help you feel at the top of your game and ready to take on whatever task is at hand. It will help you be an efficient person at work that can also run errands afterward and still have energy for the evening out or at home. Quality sleep improves your mood and keeps you from feeling like “that tired person”.
So how does exercise help you sleep better?
Studies have shown that physical activity can improve sleep quality. Research based on 2,600 men and women has shown that 65% of them have had better sleep when participating in 150 minutes of physical activity. The National Sleep Foundation defines “quality sleep” as:
- Sleeping more time while in bed (at least 85 percent of the total time)
- Falling asleep in 30 minutes or less
- Waking up no more than once per night; and
- Being awake for 20 minutes or less after initially falling asleep
Exercise is actually considered as a non-pharmaceutical way to relieve stress and enhance the quality of sleep, as it resets the sleep cycle and raises your body temperature. After your body temperature rises, it then starts to drop and triggers drowsiness a few hours later, which is why most people who exercise tend to fall asleep faster at bedtime. So exercise can energize you throughout the day and make you sleepy during the night.
It can be especially helpful if you are able to exercise outdoors and let your body absorb natural sunlight during the daytime hours. Since almost 50% of the population suffers from a vitamin D deficiency – and this vitamin is manufactured in the skin from exposure to sunlight – outdoor exercise provides even more exciting benefits.
Exercising for better sleep – where to start
When it comes to getting the right exercise, how do you know where to begin? It’s best to start slowly, especially if you are used to a sedentary lifestyle. Even ten minutes of aerobic exercise a day will already make a big difference in both your sleeping habits and lifestyle! Anyone can start with walking, add a short yoga session and eventually work your way up until you get the recommended amount and intensity of exercise you and your body needs.
20-30 minutes of cardio and strength training several times a week will get your health on point and improve your sleep over time. If you’ve been having sleep challenges, try changing your level of physical activity a bit and go for a walk with your dog, do a dance workout online or visit a workout class as a guest… and start to sleep soundly during the night.
In terms of timing, exercise during the morning has a benefit of energizing you for the rest of your day. As well, experts used to have concerns that vigorous exercise too close to bedtime could rev you up and actually be counterproductive to inducing sleep. It turns out that exercising in the evening doesn’t impact everyone the same. If you don’t go early, a good rule of thumb is to exercise three to six hours before you go to bed. But it all depends on your preference – so if you feel like you are able to sleep better with a good workout session closer to sleeping, keep at it.
Improving your sleep…with sports?
General exercise is not the only kind of physical activity that can positively impact your sleep. Playing a high-intensity sport can provide some of the same benefits to sleep as walking, running or taking a yoga class. To get the sleep benefit, the sport should be of the aerobic variety, meaning a type that provides cardio exercise. These are typically activities that involve continuous physical activity lasting over ten minutes that causes you to breathe harder, sweat more and increase your heart rate. Swimming, basketball, soccer, volleyball, lacrosse, cycling, hockey….all of these sports provide excellent aerobic activity that can give your body the boost it needs for great sleep later in the evening.
Better sleep with time
A final note on the relationship between exercise and sleep: the positive impact may happen gradually. Some studies suggest that exercise may not have an immediate impact on sleep but actually take several weeks or months to change a person’s sleep in a significant way. While disappointing if you had hoped that exercise could be a quick fix for your sleep problems, don’t be disheartened. As with a diet, you can’t expect all the positive changes at once. In the end, exercise can have a dramatic effect on sleep. And if you’re not a regular exerciser and you’re looking for a way to improve your sleep, starting a routine of moderate physical activity is a great strategy.
Just know that exercising for better sleep works. It’s one more tool in your toolbox for creating a better night’s sleep – and a more satisfying, productive lifestyle.