More and more of us are exercising to keep our body and mind in top condition, but have you ever thought about how this affects your sleep? You probably already know about how it benefits your life when you’re awake, but it can also bring considerable benefits to your sleep.
We’ll guide you through the main positives and what you can do to make the results even better.
How does exercise benefit sleep?
Improves Sleep Quality
Exercising regularly can lead to a more comfortable and higher quality sleep due to allowing you to spend longer in the REM sleep phase. It’s during this phase that you’re in the most restful state allowing for optimal rest and repair.
This deep sleep works to improve the functioning of your immune system and boost cardiac health. When you exercise, this causes your internal body temperature to increase, which then falls several hours later. This fall in body temperature makes it easier to fall asleep when you’re ready to go to bed.
Improves Sleep Volume
Not only does exercise improve the quality of your sleep, but it also enhances the length of your sleep to add more time to your rest.
When you exercise, your body uses energy from its reserves which then makes you feel more tired and ready for rest. This makes it easier for you to fall asleep, and most importantly, stay asleep.
It has the most significant effect when you consistently exercise and make it part of your routine. The amount that you feel tired will be affected by how vigorous your exercise has been, so the more energy you use, the more tired you will feel and the easier it will be to fall asleep.
Having a routine where you exercise regularly can help to decrease your stress levels. Stress is a vital sleep factor because it can cause sleep problems which can make it hard to fall asleep.
Exercise can reduce the effects of many disorders including anxiety because when you exercise this creates signals to the brain to trigger anti-anxiety responses. To minimise stress anxiety, you aren’t just limited to vigorous activities, as yoga and meditation can also have similar effects.
This decrease in stress makes it easier to remain calm and relaxed when you’re trying to sleep which means that you can get to sleep in a shorter amount of time.
Reduces Effects of Sleep Disorders
Insomnia is a sleep disorder where sufferers find it difficult to fall asleep. However, exercise can be an effective natural remedy for insomnia. Studies have proven that performing aerobic exercise can help to reduce the effects of insomnia and other sleep disorders.
If insomnia is the main problem preventing you from sleeping optimally, then the best time is to exercise later in the day either in the late afternoon or evening. Exercising any earlier than this may not adequately reduce your insomnia compared to exercising later in the day.
However, you should refrain from exercising right before bed because the temperature of your body will still be high and won’t be given adequate time to reduce.
When your body prepares itself to go to sleep, your temperature falls which begins several hours before you go to sleep. This falling temperature is one of the main factors that make you feel tired and drowsy. If you exercise to close to this, then you can reverse the effects of this which will then keep you awake.
If this is the only time that you can exercise, then it’s advised that you keep it light without being too rigorous. To experience the maximum benefits you should exercise between three and six hours before you plan on sleeping.
Best Time To exercise
Exercising at different times has different effects on the human body but the time you exercise will also be determined by your schedule such as work and other responsibilities.
If you work a regular 9-5, then this will require you to be an early riser, but studies have proven that exercising before work has positive effects on sleep, even if you don’t go to sleep until night time.
Exercising in the morning effectively regulates blood pressure which naturally rises in the morning. When you exercise it decreases, and the effects remain until the evening when you’re ready to sleep.
This lower blood pressure means that you’re calmer and more relaxed making to it easier to fall asleep.
Waking up early to exercise can be difficult at first, but after a few days, it becomes part of your routine. If you do struggle to wake up early then, it’d be best to move your workout to another time that’s more convenient for you.
Exercising in the afternoon is also beneficial for your sleep especially for those people who regularly suffer from the post-lunch slump. Many people also find it easier to exercise in the afternoon because in the morning they find it harder to warm up their muscles and get the body going.
Because your muscles are warmer this leads to better performance, while also expending energy from your body which will make you tired. This means that when you reach the evening, you’ll be more tired and ready for sleep.
As previously mentioned, unless you’re exercising in the very early evening you should avoid working out at this time especially if you’re looking to experience sleep benefits.
High-intensity exercise causes your heart rate to increase as well as your core temperature, which leaves you feeling alert and energetic when you get into bed to sleep.
It does depend on the type of exercise because light intensity exercise will have less of an adverse effect on your sleep compared to vigorous exercise.
The European Journal of Applied Physiology conducted a study which showed that after intense activity participants took around 14 minutes longer to fall asleep compared to when no exercise had been performed, however, there was no difference in time when exercise was moderate.