We live at a relentless pace.
We race around all day at work and then come home only to continue trying to cram everything we need and want to do into the day. We operate at full speed until, at some hour far past when we said we would go to bed, we attempt a full stop – we brush our teeth, collapse into bed, and then wonder why we can’t fall instantly into deep, blissful sleep.
The reality is that, despite our intentions or expectations, our bodies and minds cannot transition seamlessly into sleep. Instead, some preparation is needed to bring the body and mind into a state where deep, restorative sleep is possible. And new research has found that exercise can help you do it!
Exercise and Sleep
The connection between exercise and sleep may seem like an obvious one. When you work out regularly, you experience some degree of physical fatigue that translates into a greater need and desire for sleep, but this is only a small part of this relationship. Everyone’s body temperature naturally increases during the day, your most active period, and decreases at night. This decrease in body temperature is a signal to the body that it is time to sleep, which is why a cool sleeping environment is so important for deep sleep.
Exercise triggers this decrease, giving you a measure of control over when your body is prepared for sleep. Just 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise can elevate your body temperature for as much as 5 hours, after which your body temperature drops lower than if you had not exercised. This means that if you exercise 5 to 6 hours before you go to bed, you will be trying to fall asleep just as your body temperature is at its lowest.
Read also: Common Sleep Problems and Simple Solutions!
Benefits of Exercising in the Day
There is another benefit to exercising earlier in the day. By exposing yourself to natural light during the day, you are not only achieving the benefits that exercise provides, but you are also reinforcing your body’s internal clock and natural rhythm, which will help you regulate your sleep patterns and achieve deep sleep more quickly.
But wait, there’s more!
If you find that sleep is hard to come by because of stress or anxiety, exercise can help you with that, too! Dr. Kelly Glazer Baron, a clinical psychologist and sleep researcher at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, examined this relationship between stress, sweat and sleep, and found that people with insomnia or other sleep disturbances were actually “neurologically different.” Dr. Baron reported, “[People with insomnia] have what we characterize as a hyper-arousal of the stress system.”
In other words, people with insomnia have an over-active stress system that prevents them from easily achieving a state where sleep can be found. However, regular exercise over the course of four months (the span of the study) actually served to subdue the hyper-aroused stress system to the point where study participants were sleeping an average of 45 minutes longer per night, waking less frequently and reporting more energy and less fatigue throughout the day. Though this is not an immediately gratifying solution for the sleep-deprived, the results are huge, as good or better than most current sleep treatment options, including medication, according to Dr. Baron.
Read also: 26 Benefits of Regular Physical Exercise
Is it Good to Exercise Before Going to Sleep?
Does performing sport activities really help you sleep better? Not always! It’s a fact that playing sport is good for the body and mind. Intensive sports activity less than an hour before bedtime can have a negative effect on sleep. A sports session during the day can even help you fall asleep more easily and get a deeper sleep. Physical exercise during the day helps to regulate our body temperature and improve our blood flow, with a beneficial effect on the quantity and quality of sleep.
On the other hand, exercising in the evening, just before going to sleep, is not recommended. Intense exercise in the evening leads to an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. During a sports session, the body warms up to protect itself from muscular damage and injury. The energy produced is converted into heat, raising the body temperature. At the same time, the body makes important hormonal changes by secreting testosterone, adrenaline and endorphins.
These hormones keep the brain in a state of alertness. Naturally, this state is not conducive to falling asleep and recovering from sleep. The body must have time to calm down.
Moderate exercise, on the other hand, is quite possible. Various studies have shown that moderate exercise in the evening, interrupted at least half an hour before bedtime, does not affect sleep quality. In any case, the specialists agree on one fact: sport should preferably be practised in the morning, and if possible in the open air.
So, if you want to sleep more, maybe the secret is to sweat more.