What You Should Know About Sleep and Exercise

thensfSleep and You


Working out can help you sleep better. Learn more about how exercise can help improve your sleep.


Regular exercise may help you get a good night’s sleep, no matter when you do it. That’s what the National Sleep Foundation poll found among self-described exercisers and non-exercisers. It appears the time of day when you work out can make a difference in certain aspects of your sleep. For instance, morning exercise may help you sleep longer at night, while working out before bed could make it harder to fall asleep quickly. Each person is different, so figuring out the best time to exercise to maximize your sleep quantity and quality can take a little experimenting. These poll findings can point you in the right direction to help you figure out an exercise regimen that fits your sleep health. 


Rise and Exercise

The poll found that morning was an optimal time for aerobic exercise to boost cardiovascular conditioning while enhancing the sleep potential. In fact, people who work out on a treadmill at 7 a.m. sleep longer, have deeper sleep cycles, and spend 75 percent more time in reparative stages of sleep than those who exercise at other times of day. Exercising outdoors in the morning is a good choice, as it exposes people to the bright sunlight that helps regulate sleep/wake rhythms. And if you are lifting weights, doing so in the morning may help you fall asleep faster at night than those who lift later in the day.


Another benefit for early exercise: Your blood pressure naturally drops 10 to 20 percent at night, which helps the body heal, restore, and recover during those crucial periods of deep sleep. A morning workout appears to contribute to achieving that nighttime decline in blood pressure, so you get the most benefits from sleep. You’ll also experience a rush of exercise-induced endorphins first thing in the morning—brain chemicals that help you feel energized for the rest of the day. 


Midday Movement

Not everyone is an early riser, and afternoon workouts also have significant sleep benefits. Body temperatures are naturally a few degrees warmer in the afternoon, which can help overall exercise performance because muscles are more pliant and work more efficiently. And since exercise itself raises your body temperature for four to five hours after you stop working out, an afternoon exercise session means your body temperature will start to lower again close to your bedtime. This is a natural signal to your brain that you are ready to go to sleep and may help you stay asleep during the night.


Exercising at Night

For people who like to exercise close to bedtime, be aware that strenuous cardio workouts raise your body temperature and heart rate, which can disrupt the process of falling asleep. But every person responds to exercise a little differently, and some individuals might not be affected from workouts later in the evening. In addition, the poll found that some people who lift weights in the evening were found to wake up less frequently and have overall better sleep than those who lift in the morning.


For best results, try timing your evening aerobic workout to finish one or two hours before going to sleep to let your body temperature drop and allow some of the energy-raising endorphins to leave your system before bed. You could also consider gentle yoga and other forms of breathing or stretching exercises as a late-evening practice, as they naturally encourage relaxation. 


Regardless of the time of day you choose to work out, the poll found that regular exercise was better for sleep than not exercising at all. Keep experimenting with exercising at different times of day to find a fitness routine that works for you.