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How Exercise Helps You Sleep

Tyler Joseph (TJ) Thomas

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We all know the obvious benefits of strenuous physical activity: fat loss, muscle gain, burned calories. But did you know that exercise has a fringe benefit of helping you sleep?

Virtually all bodily systems are impacted by poor or inadequate sleep. If you don’t get your recommended seven to nine hours of sleep on a consistent basis, your body will suffer. You’ll experience fatigue, loss of fine motor control, and more. This can become frustrating for people who, through no fault of their own, have sleep problems through the night.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly one-third of adults get less than 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. If you happen to fall in that demographic and are not exercising, you may want to consider developing a workout routine. Of course, in order to properly take advantage of the combined restorative powers of sleep and exercise, you’re going to have to follow a couple of rules.

When and How to Work Out

Firstly, you’ll need to pick the right exercise. There are two types of workouts: aerobic and anaerobic.

  • Aerobic exercise means “with air” and usually refers to exercise training that happens continuously, like running.
  • Anaerobic is “without air” and is usually a high-intensity workout such as weight training and strength training.

We suggest keeping a daily routine of at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise for four or more days a week to see the maximum benefit to your sleep routine. Take a brisk jog, use a treadmill, or go for a bike ride to get your blood pumping and elevate your heart rate. These aerobic workouts for deeper sleep are simple and straightforward, so they’re a go-to for many.

An important thing to note is that your workouts lose their efficacy based on the time of day you work out. We recommend that you don’t work out too late in the evening, since working out raises your core body temperature. Physical exercise too close to bedtime slows your body from cooling down in preparation for bed.

Why It Works

Regular exercise, when done properly, tires you out and serves as a stress reliever. Stress is a large contributing factor to poor sleep quality, so by channeling those anxieties and negative emotions into a workout, you’ll find it easier to relax and go to sleep.

As mentioned earlier, working out raises core body temperature. Your core body temperature is part of a system known as your circadian rhythm, otherwise known as your internal clock. Your body clock regulates when you feel tired and awake.

Your core body temperature rises with the sun during the day—which promotes wakefulness and activity—and cools to its lowest point in the dead of night. Because exercise raises your core body temperature significantly, you’ll start to feel tired after a workout due to your core body temperature dropping.

Working Out With Sleep Disorders

Studies show that working out may also help those who suffer from chronic insomnia or other sleep disorders such as Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS). The results of recent research—specifically aimed at insomniacs—showed conclusive evidence of better sleep quality after four months of consistent moderate exercise.

A study done on the association between exercise and sleep apnea showed that 12 weeks of consistent exercise, both aerobic and anaerobic, contributed to up to a 32 percent decrease in obstructive sleep apnea, despite experiencing virtually no weight loss over the course of the study. Studies of this sort have also shown increased performance during waking hours, as well.

FAQs

Where should I work out?

You should work out wherever you feel comfortable. Ideally, you should do aerobic exercises outside in the sun, as sunlight promotes wakefulness and bolsters the natural sleep-wake cycle. If that’s not possible, you can still work out in a gym, your garage, backyard, or even in your living room. The important part isn’t where you work out, it’s that you work out.

Does better sleep promote better workouts?

We don’t have sufficient evidence to say whether or not sleeping better helps you work out. The current body of evidence suggests there is not a direct link between a good night’s sleep resulting in better exercise, though sleeping better through the night does have its own set of benefits that should not be ignored.

A study did note, however, that poor sleep habits, more often than not, limit the amount of exercise a person does. While the study didn’t mention a precise cause of this correlation, it noted that habits such as not getting enough sleep every night could be a potential factor in that it leads to daytime sleepiness.

You’re more likely to skip workouts and perform poorly after a bad night of sleep, but poor sleep doesn’t always guarantee a bad workout, just as good sleep doesn’t guarantee a good workout.

What exercise should I do?

Pick an exercise that you enjoy doing so that you’re more likely to stick with your workouts. If you like running, run! If you feel like riding a bike is more your style, then do that. The important thing is that you pick an activity that you are comfortable with and enjoy.

How much exercise is required for better sleep?

To reap the full benefits of working out and sleep better at night, we suggest working out 3 to 5 times per week at moderate to high intensity. That said, it’s important not to overexert yourself, as this can lead to discomfort and even injury.

With any workout, the goal is to simply increase your heart rate, get your blood pumping, and increase your core body temperature. What your workout looks like depends on your body type and how frequently you work out.

If you haven’t exercised in a while, or only do so sporadically, keep it light when first starting and increase the intensity of your workouts as you become more accustomed to regular physical activity.

Will changing my diet help as well?

Eating a balanced diet, in addition to regularly exercising, is not only a great way to become a healthier individual and prevent disorders like heart disease, but it also improves the quality of your sleep. Unhealthy, greasy, and heavy foods—as well as eating too much before bed—can cause digestive discomforts and hinder deep sleep. If your body is at work processing a day’s worth of junk food while you sleep, it won’t have as much energy to recover and restore itself for a new day.

Conclusion

Although we don’t have all the answers when it comes to sleep and exercise. We do know that better sleep is key to better overall health, and that exercise leads to the same thing. When used in conjunction, a solid workout plan and good sleep hygiene can lead to a more productive time spent in waking hours. If you want to improve your nightly sleep habits, a good place to start is wherever you want to call the gym!

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