Thursday Sleep Tip: Need Another Reason to Exercise – How about Better Sleep?

Person SwimmingIf you add regular exercise to your life you can expect to see an improvement in your sleep in a number of ways.

  1. You will fall asleep faster
  2. A greater percentage of your sleep will be in the deep sleep stages
  3. You will wake up less frequently during the night

Exercise is particularly valuable for older people, as the benefits all counteract the negative effects of aging on sleep. Physically fit older men fall asleep in less than half the time of their sedentary counterparts.

A study at the University of Washington found that even those who already sleep normally benefit from adding exercise. Test subjects saw an increase in the amount of time spent in deep sleep when they added aerobic exercise a few times a week.

Why Does Exercise Benefit Sleep?

No one is really sure of the exact reasons why exercise has such a significant impact on sleep. There are probably a number of factors, which include:

  • Exercise is critical for overall fitness and health.
  • Exercise helps prevent illness, and illnesses disrupt sleep.
  • Numerous studies have verified the value of regular exercise in reducing stress and anxiety.
  • A good workout can leave you feeling relaxed and put you in a good mood.
  • It is believed by some researchers that exercise may increase the brain’s production of serotonin, a chemical that promotes sleep.
  • Another theory is based on thermoregulation, the biological processes of maintaining body temperature. During your workout you raise your body’s temperature, but afterwards the body cools down, which may promote sleep.

The 71st NASA Intracenter Running CompetitionOur bodies are designed to do a certain amount of exercise. It has only been in the last few decades that technological advances have created a lifestyle for many people that requires almost no physical activity. Without regular exercise the body has trouble sleeping. Exercise helps maintain many of our systems, including our circadian rhythms. On the flip side, lack of exercise confuses the body and actually creates problems, including poor sleep.

How Much Exercise is Enough?

Twenty to thirty minutes a few times a week is enough to gain most of the benefits. You don’t have to get all wild and crazy here. You don’t need to rush out and join a gym or start ramping up with a marathon training program. Of course if you want to do these things by all means, do them.

For many, however, adding any exercise routine to the schedule can seem daunting. To make it easy, start by adding in a twenty minute walk every day after work, or after an early dinner. That little bit may be enough to make a huge difference in your sleep.

Is it possible to overdo it?

In a word, sorta. Those engaged in serious, hardcore training, for example, two to three hours a day of exercise including regular bouts of intense exercise such as intervals and weight training may lose some of the benefits of exercise on their sleep. Although the body will certainly be tired at night and it will probably be possible to fall asleep quickly, the deeper sleep will be harder to come by and frequent awakenings may occur.

Also, muscle spasms, restless legs and other sleep disrupting problems can arise from heavy training. However, many of these symptoms can be reduced by ensuring you complete all exercise at least three hours before bedtime and engage in nightly relaxation techniques.

The three hour rule should be observed for all exercisers, whether casual or hardcore. Exercise increases metabolism and revs up the mind and body for a few hours, even after the workout is done. It takes some time for the body to clean out all the hormones that are released and return the body to a normal state.

What Kinds of Exercise are Best?

Aerobic exercise seems to be best for inducing better sleep. Activities such as walking, jogging, running, bicycling, swimming and aerobics can all bring about better sleep. The key is to find something you like and stick with it.

Weight lifting can also benefit you, but make sure to include some aerobic exercise as well. And with weight lifting it is even more critical to finish the workout at least three hours, preferably more, before bedtime.

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