How Exercise Affects Your Sleep (and What to Do About It)

How Exercise Affects Your Sleep (and What to Do About It)

When it comes to living a healthy life, you most likely already know that sleep and exercise are two of the key factors that you should be focusing on, thanks to all of the data that has been shared over the years by health professionals. But did you know that feeling the burn and catching quality shut-eye actually go hand-in-hand? Yep, it’s been proven that those that get more physical activity achieve better sleep patterns than more sedentary folks and that the converse is also true, with the athletic and active making high-quality sleep a priority to make sure that they’re performing at their peak. Seems pretty straightforward, right? But it’s not, according to a recent scientific review article published by researchers from the Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, alongside the Greater Healthcare System of Los Angeles, between the years of 2013 and 2017. According to an analysis of more than thirty separate studies conducted by the research team, it was discovered that exercise did affect sleep quality, but only when age, type of physical activity, and the reason for being active were taken into consideration. In short, exercise and sleep do influence one another, but not always in expected or consistent ways. So what does all of this mean to you, your sleep schedule, your workout routine, and making sure that you’re getting the most out of your time in bed and the gym? Check out these pieces of vital info that will help you to understand how working up a sweat can equal sweet dreams

Better sleep comes to those who enjoy a good workout

One of the biggest studies found that those who are looking to cash in on a better night’s sleep by spending more time in the gym must examine not only how much they exercise but also why they’re doing it. Study participants that reported getting the best sleep quality were also found to be the ones that got the most physical activity from enjoyable activities, such as hiking and surfing, versus those that were active due to work demands or simply chugging away on a treadmill. What’s the bottom line? If you want to sleep better by getting more active, you need to make sure that you’re taking part in a type of exercise that you actually enjoy.

Timing is not everything, after all

For years, people have debated over whether or not when you exercise plays a vital part in the benefits you might or might not get from working up a sweat. We’ve all wanted to know whether exercising too close to bedtime is a good excuse to skip the gym since it’s been a tried and true piece of wisdom that working out too close to turning in for the night can disturb sleep patterns. Studies showed that both morning and evening exercise actually improved sleep for participants, just in varying ways. Researchers looked at the physiological measurements that were taken from study participants, such as body temperature, brain wave activity, and melatonin levels. And what they discovered based on that data was that morning exercise definitely improved the quality of sleep during the night. But in another set of participants, it was found that getting in some physical activity as little as ninety minutes before bedtime actually increased the amount of time that was spent in deep sleep. There was also yet another study that showed that resistance training increased sleep quality, no matter what time of the day participants took part in the exercise or fell asleep. In short, don’t let worrying about being able to fall (or stay) asleep keep you away from feeling the burn in ways that you find to be enjoyable, like running with your dog, biking around the neighborhood, or taking part in a mall walking group – even if you take part in the activities close to bedtime.

It’s all about mind over matter at the gym

You might not be breaking any fitness records or have washboard abs and that’s okay! The sleep and exercise studies showed that it’s not actually what you’re doing at the gym but what you believe you’re doing that matters when it comes to helping you fall asleep faster and sleep deeper. If you feel as if you’ve been pushing yourself to the limit, you’ll cash in on the same benefits as those that have been turning the burn up to eleven – when it comes to getting better sleep through exercise, perception is key.

More sweating, more sleeping

Although we don’t fully understand the reasons that exercise improves sleep just quite yet, all of the related studies and literature point to the fact that it’s mostly a beneficial relationship due to the fact that sleep enhances fitness levels and wards against metabolic diseases. It’s also been found that the link between sleep and exercise is stronger and more noticeable amongst people that get active on a regular basis, which indicates that the long-term health benefits from regular exercise are what leads to improved sleep pattern changes. Simply put, if you want to sleep better on a regular basis, you need to get out there and get active on just as regularly.

Adding more reps won’t help the already ripped

If you’re already a star athlete, chances are that adding more exercise to your already killer regimen will help you get better sleep each night. Instead, athletes that are struggling with getting high-quality sleep should take a look at what they’re fueling their body with, in order to sleep better. Look into adding more protein to your diet and avoid fatty foods, as well as snacking on meals that are rich in tryptophan, such as turkey and pumpkin seeds.

Age plays a key role

In many ways, we all improve with age, and getting the biggest benefits at night from feeling the burn during the day is one more thing that proves it. Studies on mature adults have shown a link between both regular exercise regimens and single workout sessions that are a bit more on the intense side when it comes to getting better sleep afterward.

And so does your thinking

While physical fitness plays a critical role in getting better sleep, we shouldn’t discount the mental side of the sleep-exercise equation. One study in older adults showed that workouts made up of mindful exercises like yoga and Tai Chi resulted in just as large of an improvement in their sleep quality as more physical activities such as walking or jogging. And the mindful exercisers also reported improvements in mood and a reduction in anxiety, as well, although the purely physical exercisers did not. Bottom line? To get the most benefits out of your workout routine, be sure to include some mind-body regimens in the mix, as well, if you want to ward off poor sleep and stressful days.

How to Get Better Sleep with Exercise

If you’re looking to get better sleep on a regular basis, fitting some exercise into your day is definitely a great way to go. You should look to include 15 to 45 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity into your daily routine – even if it’s not done all at the same time.

Best Physical Exercises for Better Sleep

Aerobic (which means “with oxygen”) exercise has been shown to drastically improve sleep quality in adults that take part in it on a regular basis. Some of the most effective types of aerobic exercise for improved sleep include:
  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Bicycling
  • Jumping Rope
  • Dancing
If you’re recovering from an injury or have other physical limitations, you can still cash in on better sleep through an exercise routine, you just need to use anaerobic (“without oxygen”) exercises. Some of the best anaerobic exercises for improved sleep include:
  • Strolling
  • Bowling
  • Light Weightlifting
  • Toe Touches
  • Seated Squats
If you’re just getting started with an exercise routine, your best bet is to build up your level of physical activity gradually, taking part in low-intensity workouts for a short period a few times a week, and then slowly increasing the frequency and duration. Please remember that those that are suffering from chronic health or sleep issues should definitely consult with a doctor before starting any vigorous exercise regimens. And don’t forget that mental exercise has been proven to be just as important to your sleep health as physical exercise – a lack of mental activity can contribute to insomnia in the same way that a lack of physical activity can. Yikes! Boredom can create anxiety and stress, both of which are enemies of sleep. Taking part in some mental stimulation before bedtime can help to address this issue and ward off boredom (and the problems it brings with it) and encourage you to fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply.

Best Mental Exercises for Better Sleep

Luckily, mental stimulation can easily be done anytime during your day with just a few changes in your normal routine. Try these simple mental exercises to help you sleep better:
  • Change the route you travel to work
  • Engage in conversations with different people
  • Do your grocery shopping in a different store
  • Try an activity (big or small) that you’ve never tried before
Making these small changes to your physical and mental routines will help your body relax and gain you better sleep sooner than you’d ever think possible – so get sweating and sweet dreaming!
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