Can exercise improve our sleep

For some, exercise can be a chore; they feel it is something they ‘should’ do because they know it’s good for them.  Others can’t survive without it, and start to get a bit twitchy if they don’t do anything for a couple of days.

I’ve been in both camps, and thankfully, I’m in the latter.  If I skip workouts for more than two days, I begin to feel sluggish and I can definitely sense a difference in the way I think and feel which can affect my sleep.

However, does exercise benefit our sleep?

Sleep is complicated, even though sleep science has unravelled a lot of its mysteries over the past 50 years as to why we do it and what it does, there is still a lot we don’t know.

As to how exercise can benefit your slumbers really depends on the type of exercise you’re doing, when you’re doing it, how much you’ve pushed your body and how you’re sleeping at the time.

Why do we need to exercise?

Humans are basically designed to move, evolution didn’t take sitting on our backsides in an office in to account; which is where the majority of us spend our days.  Our ancestors used to walk or run on average between 5 to 6 miles a day, which adds up to approximately 10,000 steps.  Sitting for long periods of time hunched over a computer isn’t really that good for us; as it affects our posture causing musculoskeletal problems – aches, pains and misalignment in our joints, which could in turn affect our sleep.

Our health is dependent on a balance of exercise, good nutrition, stress management and quality sleep.  When one of these components goes out of balance, it affects the other three.

What kind of exercise do we need to do?

I refer to exercise as being the three ‘S’s:

  1. Sweat (cardio)
  2. Strength (weight)
  3. Stretch (alignment)

These types of exercise will tick all the boxes to keep your fitness levels in check.

What are the benefits of exercise?

  • Boosts your energy levels, reducing that mid-afternoon energy slump and that need for a nap.
  • Strengthens bones and builds muscle.
  • Improves your cardiovascular system.
  • Lowers your blood pressure.
  • Boosts your immune system.
  • Speeds up your metabolism.
  • Reduces your stress levels.
  • Improves your concentration and mood because of the release of endorphins – our feel good chemicals.

When is the best time to work out?

This is dependent on whether you are a lark or an owl, or somewhere in between; meaning, are you up early in the morning or do you struggle to get up because you go to bed later?

I’m a lark; I prefer exercise in the morning and hate the thought of exercising in the evening. If you’re an owl, you’ll prefer exercising later in the day.

Falling asleep easily is dependent on your body temperature being cool; it won’t happen if your body temperature is too high.  If you’ve done a hard workout less than 3 hours before bedtime, your body temperature will still be raised which could give you problems getting to sleep.

You need to give your body at least 6 hours to cool down to be able to easily promote the onset of sleep.  If you’re doing something like a gentle form of yoga, Pilates or stretching, you should be okay.

There has been quite a bit of research on exercise and sleep, however it all seems to be down to your sex, your age, the type of exercise you do and how healthy you are.

My advice on how to keep active to promote a good night’s sleep

  • Do your three ‘S’s – sweat, strength and stretch.  You can do this in as little as 10 minutes with HIIT workouts.
  • If you’re having problems getting to sleep and you’re exercising less than 3 hours before bedtime, make your workouts earlier and see if that makes a difference.
  • Get outside for a walk at lunchtime to get your fix of daylight and vitamin D (Benefits are calcium absorption, healthier bones and lower blood pressure).
  • Set an alarm on your phone to move your body every 25 minutes for 5 minutes, do some stretches, squats, wall press ups, run up and down the stairs – just move!  Why not get the whole office involved.
  • Stand up to work!  See if you can get a ‘sit-stand’ desk, to minimise the amount you’re sitting during the day.
  • Have 30 minute standing meetings, you’ll whizz through your agenda in super quick time!
  • If you’re meeting one to one, have a walk and talk meeting.

Do whatever works for you, but exercise should be an important part of your life, not only to help you sleep, but to keep you healthy.