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Working Out and Sleep Quality

Working Out and Sleep Quality

Good nutrition, regular exercise, and quality sleep are three components to good health. Everyone knows this, but sometimes people don't realize there is a connection between exercise and sleep. People who exercise regularly tend to be more likely to get their prescribed  7 - 9 hours of sleep each night. Is working out before bed the best strategy for improved sleep? Before getting into the details of timing, it is important to understand how exercise affects a person's sleep cycle.

How Regular Exercise Helps People Sleep Better

Exercise helps regulate circadian rhythms to ensure a healthy waking and sleeping cycle. In addition, exercise is well known to reduce stress. These are just a couple reasons why regular exercise seems to improve sleep. While the exact mechanism isn't always clear, repeated studies indicate that regular exercise does have a positive influence on sleep quality. Regular exercise improves insomnia over time, according to a study in The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. People with a history of insomnia who consistently exercise 3-5 times a week sleep better than they did before they made exercise a habit. The effect is cumulative over time so the benefit of exercise might not be immediate, according to the study.

CNN report highlights several studies that indicate regular exercise helps with insomnia, restless leg syndrome, and sleep apnea. All three of these conditions limit a person's ability to sleep well.  This report echoes to Center for Disease Control's (CDC) recommendation that adults strive for a minimum of 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic exercise and two full-body resistance training workouts each week. If exercising three hours a week seems daunting, smaller amounts of exercise may help as well, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Start with as little as 10 - 15 minutes each day. Research indicates that exercise in the morning or afternoon helps reset the body's clock by raising core body temperature. As the body gets ready for sleep, body temperature naturally drops a little and morning or afternoon exercise may enhance this effect. On the flip side, vigorous exercise raises body temperature, so some find it stimulates them too much if they engage in nighttime workouts.

Tips on How to Use Exercise For a Good Night's Sleep

  • Timing is important. Vigorous exercise stimulates many people. Experts frequently allow avoiding exercise within three hours of bedtime. Instead, exercise during the day or early evening. However, feel free to experiment as some people are not as stimulated after exercise as others.
  • Gentle and relaxing exercise before bedtime may help ease the body into sleep. Some people find restorative yoga, light stretching, tai chi, or meditation exercises help relax them for a good night's sleep. This may be an example of when working out before bed may help improve sleep.
  • Many fitness gains happen during recovery from workouts. Sleep is essential to the recovery process. Be sure to prioritize sleep when starting a fitness program.
  • Try exercising outside during daylight if possible. Arizona State University sleep researcher Shawn Youngstedt told CNN that exposure to light helps keep the circadian rhythms or body clock regulated.
In the quest for a good night's sleep daily exercise is one of the most important tools. When combined with good sleep hygiene and a comfortable sleeping environment the effect is even more significant. Sources:

Updated: 09/13/2019

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