Do you ever feel like you’d give just about anything to get a good night’s sleep? If so, you’re not alone. In a recent survey* of nearly 1,000 Americans, sleep-deprived participants said they would gladly give up alcohol (#1 on the list) for the rest of their lives if it meant a lifetime of blissful slumber. Other sacrifices they were willing to make included foregoing social media, pizza, and TV.
Before you go clearing out your wine rack or deleting all your social media accounts, consider this: There’s an easier way to get better ZZZs, and it involves something you may already be doing. It’s regular exercise, and it can make all the difference when your head hits the pillow. Here are six ways exercise helps positively impact your slumber:
1. Reduces overall stress and anxiety
The lights might be out, but your brain is still on. As you desperately try to fall asleep, worries of work, money, relationships and other life stresses flood your mind. Instinctively, your body tenses up, creating knots that make it even harder to sleep. The weight of the world seems to be on your shoulders, but exercise can help. Regular physical activity has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, a plus for getting a great night’s sleep. Even if you often have to drag yourself to the gym, think of how positive and relaxed you feel afterwards. That’s because exercise increases your body’s production of endorphins – your “feel-good” neurotransmitters – and can even trigger anti-anxiety responses just five minutes into your workout. Exercise also helps to clear your mind, so your brain is more relaxed come bedtime. Try to squeeze at least 30 minutes of exercise into your day, five times per week, and you’ll see the difference.
2. Helps you drift off to sleep faster
Stress aside, maybe you take a long time to fall asleep but don’t know why. While your partner is already in full-snore mode, you lie there completely awake. This can come down to something as simple as core body temperature. Generally, your body temperature should be lower before bed if you want a more restful sleep. So where does exercise come in? Your sweat session in the gym will trigger a rise in your body temperature, but then cause it to drop post-exercise. This cool-down effect helps regulate your internal clock and prepare your body for bed, making it easier for you to get to sleep. So, while exercise doesn’t make you feel immediately sleepy, it is strongly correlated with helping you fall asleep faster.
3. Improves sleep quality
According to a study featured in Mental Health and Physical Activity, men and women who exercised a minimum of 150 hours per week saw a 65% improvement in sleep quality. This could be because physical activity increases your time in deep sleep, where your body does most of its repair work. Not only does deep sleep fulfill important biological functions in the brain, it also provides the recovery that your muscles need to grow. This is especially important if you do higher-intensity workouts. While the average person might be OK on seven hours of sleep per night, you likely need more – the same way a hard-training athlete would need to consume more calories. The benefits of a deeper, more restful sleep have a variety of other benefits that make for a happier life, like better mood, increased energy, and greater vitality.
4. Improves sleep duration
Getting to a point of deep, quality sleep is one thing, but what about staying there? Nobody wants to be woken up multiple times throughout the night. The goal is to sleep in longer stretches, which exercise can help with. Being physically active requires you to expend more energy, which tires you out. (Anyone who’s done leg day at the gym will know what we mean!). By the time your head hits the pillow at night, you’ll likely feel more fatigued and ready to rest. Not only will you fall asleep faster, but the duration of your sleep (i.e. total sleep time) will be extended too.
5. Reduces your risk of sleep disorders
According to the American Sleep Association, 50 to 70 million US adults suffer from a sleep disorder. Insomnia is a big one – an estimated 30%-50% of the general population is affected by insomnia, and 10% have chronic insomnia. Sleep apnea is another serious sleep disorder that occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted and/or stopped up to hundreds of times throughout the night. While there is no shortage of sleep-aids on the market (Americans spent an estimated $41 billion on sleep remedies in 2015), a more natural treatment may lie in exercise. Those who exercise regularly have a reduced risk for developing troublesome sleep disorders or may experience them to a lesser degree.
6. Reduces daytime fatigue
Do you ever find yourself nodding off at work, and not just because your boss gave you the most boring assignment known to mankind? If you often feel the tugs of daytime sleepiness, getting into a regular exercise routine can help. It might seem counter-intuitive to exercise when you’re feeling tired, but physical activity can act as an instant pick-me-up by elevating your heart rate, increasing your blood flow, and boosting your energy. The great news is the correlation between exercise and increased energy applies to all ages and fitness levels.
7. Lastly…A Word About “When”
While there’s no disputing the positive effects exercise has on sleep, there are differing opinions on when to be active. Some believe that working out too close to bedtime can actually impede the quality of your sleep. The argument here is that vigorous physical activity can over-stimulate the body, making it hard to unwind and get a deep rest. Research from Carolina’s Appalachian State University supports this, showing that individuals who exercised in the morning (versus at lunch or in the evening) woke less during the night. Alternatively, others find that night-time exercise brings them to a better point of exhaustion right before bed, enabling them to fall asleep faster. Whether you choose to hit the gym at the break of dawn or after dusk, you’ll be healthier for it. Happy sleeping!
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Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice, nor is it to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician before starting or changing your diet or exercise program. Any use of this information is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the user.