It's that time of year again... New Year's resolutions have been made and for many exercise will make the top of those lists. The good news is regular exercise can also help improve your overall wellbeing and sleep!
Exercise and sleep are two things a lot of us unfortunately aren’t getting enough off. There is a significant link between exercise and sleep. On one hand, regular exercise will help improve your sleep and on the other hand if you’re sleeping well you are more likely to exercise.
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that regular exercise considerably improves your quality of sleep and sleeping better through the night. The study examined a group of 55 years or older, who suffered from insomnia and didn’t exercise regularly. The group was split in two. One group kept their routine of no exercise and the other group began exercising regularly. The results from the study found the subjects that exercised regularly had significantly improved their sleep; including duration, quality and daytime sleepiness.
When we sleep many important functions take place to help the body recover and repair physically. This is where the different stages of sleep come into play. Each stage is uniquely important in getting quality sleep. Researchers have found that being physically active helps increase the time you spend in deep sleep, which is the most physically restorative sleep phase.
Many people struggle to sleep due to stress and anxiety keeping them awake at night. We frequently hear about the physical benefits of exercise but often the psychological benefits get overlooked. Did you know that many mental health professionals are now even prescribing exercise as part of treatment plans for specific mental illnesses? The study mentioned above also found that physical activity along with sleep hygiene education is an effective treatment approach to not only improve sleep quality, but also mood and quality of life in older adults with chronic insomnia and other sleep related issues. Exercising can also leave you feeling happy, stimulated and energised as it produces endorphins which is the body’s “feel good chemical”, thus helping improve your ability to sleep.
One thing there is much debate on is whether or not exercising before bed is negatively affecting your sleep. The main reason that it is suggested that you don’t exercise before bed is due to body temperature. Exercise raises your core body temperature; when naturally our body temperature starts to decline around bedtime as a signal that it is time to go to sleep. By raising your body temperature right before bedtime, it can then signal the body that it is time to be awake. For this reason, it is suggested, exercise be done at least 2 to 3 hours before going to bed. I can speak from experience that when you’re looking after yourself and exercising regular you will notice you feel better. Most researchers agree that exercising at a time that is most suitable for you is better than not exercising at all. Just be mindful of whether the time of day you exercise is helping or hindering your sleep. It’s about choosing what is right for you!
With all this being said, as little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise; swimming, walking or cycling, will noticeably improve the quality of your sleep. To reap the full benefits, it is recommended that you exercise regularly for 30 minutes a day, 5 times a week. The key word here being regularly. Although exercise does improve your sleep, you will not always see the benefits immediately, so it is best to keep with it. All exercise, big or small, will help you feel better during the day and sleep better at night! So, get moving.
Reid, K. J., Baron, K. G., Lu, B., Naylor, E., Wolfe, L., & Zee, P. C. (2010). Aerobic exercise improves self-reported sleep and quality of life in older adults with insomnia. Sleep medicine, 11(9), 934–940. doi:10.1016/j.sleep.2010.04.014