Exercise can benefit your sleep in many ways, but knowing what to do and when to do it is key to reaping the greatest rewards
Two components of a healthy lifestyle are undoubtedly sleep and exercise, but not much is known about how they impact each other.
Sleep can help performance and provides you with more energy for exercise, while a sufficient exercise routine contributes to healthy sleep patterns. But what time should we exercise for it to benefit our sleep? And can physical activity ever impede a good night’s kip?
1. Cardio is key for sleep quality
Research found that participants who engaged in aerobic exercise (walking, treadmill, bike) up to four times a week at 75 per cent of their MHR (Maximum Heart Rate) reported better sleep quality, less daytime sleepiness and a greater sense of vitality during the day. The study also found that aerobic exercise improved the time it took to fall asleep by 14 per cent.
✔️ Cardio caution
Intensity counts when it comes to making your aerobic exercise work for your bedtime routine. Shift the tougher puff stuff to earlier in the day (see below) if you’re looking to maximise results on your sleep pattern. A brisk post-dinner walk however should be just fine and add plenty of sleep-inducing bang minus the sleep-disruption buck.
A study undertaken by the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine made an important discovery – the sleep-improving effects of exercise may take a while to kick in. The participants of the study group found their sleep hadn’t changed much following eight weeks of exercise but fast forward to sixteen weeks, however, and their sleep patterns were reported as ‘greatly improved’, with the exercising group sleeping up to 1.25 hours more than their non-exercising counterparts.
✔️ Patience prescription
Try varying your activity so that your exercise regime is easier to stick to while you wait for its sleep-enhancing benefits to kick in. Try that new dance class or break up those cardio sessions with a weekly yoga class. Ensuring you include all components of fitness in your routine will affect sleep in different ways: flexibility sessions will help you unwind, while cardio and lifting weights may help you de-stress.
After a less fitful sleep? Try a morning workout. North Carolina’s Appalachian State University conducted a small study whereby individuals all undertook moderate intensity, 30-minute workouts first thing in the morning at 7am, at lunchtime at 1pm and then at 7pm in the evening.
Researchers monitored their sleep following all exercise times and found that participants woke less during the night following a morning workout than when they’d exercised in the afternoon or evening. The exercisers also experienced a reduction in blood pressure both during the day and at night.
✔️ Early bird word
If you’re keen to try the early morning workout as a means of improving your sleep, make sure you have everything in place to make that exercise session happen. Eat right the night before (not too much so your sleep’s affected by your digestion working overtime; not so little your rumbling tummy wakes you) and plan an easy-to-digest, pre-exercise snack for the morning. Prepare your kit in advance, plan a good playlist to get you in the mood and take a chance on a java jolt as you have the rest of the day for its effects to wear off.
If you often find yourself heading to bed with the weight of the world on your shoulders, a workout may be just the ticket. With exercise increasing your body’s production of endorphins, your feel good neurotransmitters, you’ll invariably finish any exercise session feeling more positive, optimistic and relaxed.
Pretty much all forms of exercise should help ease the day’s stresses and strains but many find the rhythmic, repetitive motion of many types of cardiovascular training (think running, rowing or elliptical) work particularly well, while the slowing of pace that accompanies stretching workouts such as yoga will relax both body and mind.
Taking time out to head to the gym or hit the tarmac may not be the easiest thing in the world when you’re stressed, but try and make it a habit nonetheless. Schedule these sessions in your diary as you would any other appointment and if necessary, get an exercise buddy on board so you have double the resolve.