How exercise helps us sleep better

It is widely known that exercise has the potential to help us sleep better. Indeed, countless studies have indicated that regular exercisers tend to sleep better and feel less drowsy during the day. However, exercise doesn’t guarantee immediate improvements. In fact it can take a number of months before you experience the full benefits of regular exercise.  Here are a few tips on how to maximise your chances of using exercise to promote sleep.

Regularity and Patience
Some studies suggest that vigorous exercise is the best way of ensuring good sleep. But recent findings indicate that regularity is one of the most important starting points. Therefore, try to create an exercise program that involves regular weekly exercise. Once your plan is in place try to stick with it – many have found that their sleep improved markedly after a number of months.  With regards to intensity, much depends on timing.

Timing
Try to avoid exercising just before bed. Instead start your routine several hours before bedtime. Exercise can actually stimulate the body, encouraging the secretion of the stress hormone, cortisol which activates an alerting mechanism in the brain. In addition, exercise raises the body temperature which can take as much as 6 hours to drop. Because lower body temperatures are known to encourage sleep onset, it is therefore very important to allow your body time to cool down. With this in mind, be sure to time your workout properly. If you finish work late, consider doing your exercise routine in the morning or perhaps during a lunch break.

Intensity
This is an area often debated by experts. Some research indicates that moderate exercise performed regularly is more effective at promoting sleep than more vigorous workouts. One particular study found that a bout of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise such as walking reduced the time it took for subjects to fall asleep. However, the same study conducted on people who had exercised more vigorously by running or through weight-training, suggested that their sleep wasn’t improved. It is however worth noting that these tests were performed on people with chronic insomnia. Similar tests conducted on people without such symptoms showed that regular exercise, whether intense or moderate, did indeed have obvious benefits to their sleep.

Morning Sessions
As already touched on, morning sessions can offer a neat alternative for those of you who finish work late. For one thing you have much more flexibility when it comes to intensity levels. You’ll be able to have a vigorous workout without having to worry about sleep disruption. In addition, it has been found that morning exercise can prove effective at relieving stress and improving mood. And being exposed to natural light in the morning can be helpful in improving your body’s sleep-wake cycle.
If you take all these things into account, there’s a very good chance that you’ll improve your sleep onset latency and get the most out of those unconscious hours. The biggest challenge is finding the right time to perform your workout.

[Photo by: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License: CC-BY 2.0]

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