We all want to be healthy – but sometimes the thought of going for a walk or heading to the gym just makes us want to curl up on the sofa and flick through the TV. It can be hard to motivate ourselves to exercise, especially if we convince ourselves that we’ll just not eat any chocolate instead of walking. However, there’s more to exercising than just losing a bit of weight. If you’re exercising regularly, you may find that not only do you feel better during the day, but you’re sleeping better during the night, too. This is because exercise can massively improve the quality of your sleep – it’s not just a myth.

How Can Exercise Affect Your Sleep?

There are many benefits of exercise when it comes to your sleep – especially regular exercise. Exercise can …

Improve Your Sleep Quality

Exercising regularly can contribute to a more restful and restorative sleep, which you always need at the end of each day. Physical activity increases the time you spend in deep sleep, the most restorative sleep phase. Deep sleep helps to boost your immune system, support cardiac health, and can also help to control stress and anxiety levels.1

Increase the Length of Your Sleep

Exercise can also help you to increase how long you sleep for. Being physically active during the day requires you to expend energy, so you’ll feel more tired in the evening. This means that you’ll be ready to sleep when you go to bed – no more tossing and turning while you watch the clock tick. Going to sleep easily also means you’ll feel more refreshed in the morning.

Reduce Levels of Stress and Anxiety

Stress and anxiety are common causes of sleep problems, including trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. When you’re stressed or anxious, you’re less likely to fall into a deep sleep that restores your body after a long day, making you more tired and irritable. This in turn can keep you awake at night. However, exercise is a natural remedy for both stress and anxiety. Just five minutes of exercise can trigger anti-anxiety responses in the body, such as reducing fatigue and improving your alertness and concentration.2

Plus, it doesn’t have to be vigorous exercise – even mind-body exercises can help, like yoga. Yoga can help to quiet the parasympathetic nervous system, which can encourage you to relax. Yoga will also lower your cortisol levels and reduce blood pressure, as well as having a positive affect on your mood.3 If you’re feeling better, you’re more likely to want to go outside and exercise – and this will help you sleep well at night-time.

Help with Insomnia and Other Sleep Disorders

Scientific evidence suggests that exercise can also be an effective natural remedy for insomnia.4 Insomnia is a sleeping disorder in which someone has trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, and getting up in the morning. As insomnia is largely due to stress and anxiety, exercising regularly helps ease these symptoms so that you can enjoy a restful snooze. Exercise can also help lower the severity of sleep apnoea, a breathing disorder which interrupts your breathing and sleep, and Restless Leg Syndrome.

You can read more about these sleep disorders in our topics, ‘Insomnia’ and ‘Restless Leg Syndrome’, and our article about sleep apnoea here.

Improve Your Sleep-Wake Cycle

Exercising in the early morning and afternoon may also help to reset your sleep-wake cycle to improve your sleep. This is because exercising will raise your body temperature. If you exercise in the earlier parts of the day, your body temperature will drop and trigger sleepiness in the evening. This encourages you to sleep when you go to bed. Also, exercising outdoors when the sun is out will let your body absorb natural sunlight. This is important for your circadian rhythm – an inner clock that dictates when you’ll feel tired and when you’ll be alert. As the circadian rhythm is influenced by sunlight, exercising outdoors when the sun is out is a great way to help the quality of your sleep. Read more about the circadian rhythm here.

Watch the Clock

When you’re exercising, make sure you’re not doing it too close to bedtime. Exercising in the evening or within a few hours of going to bed could actually keep you awake. This is because exercise will leave you feeling energised and stimulated. You don’t want to feel like this when you’re trying to get to sleep, so avoid exercising within five hours of going to bed.

How Much Exercise Do You Need to Sleep Well?

According to the NHS, adults aged between 19 and 64 should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate activity a week – or thirty-minute sessions, five days a week. This could be walking, dancing, riding a bike, or even pushing a lawnmower. If you’re doing more vigorous exercising, like strengthening activities (lifting weights, push ups, etc.), then you should be doing these on at least two days of the week.5

You don’t have to be lifting weights at the gym to sleep well – a walk is just as effective. It’s up to you what kind of exercise you want to do. Talking to your doctor is a good way to find out what kind of exercise is right for you. Whether it’s lifting weights or a casual walk with a furry friend, regular exercise will help you get the sleep you need at the end of each day.

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Footnotes

  1. https://thesleepdoctor.com/2017/05/22/benefits-exercise-sleep/
  2. https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/stress/physical-activity-reduces-st
  3. https://thesleepdoctor.com/2017/05/22/benefits-exercise-sleep/
  4. https://thesleepdoctor.com/2017/05/22/benefits-exercise-sleep/
  5. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/
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