We all know that exercise is beneficial for our health. It boosts our energy, helps us shed those extra pounds, and gives us a general sense of well-being. Research shows that regular exercise improves heart health; combats stress through relaxing muscle tension, and can lift your mood through the release of dopamine, the “feel good” hormone. But did you know working a regular fitness routine into you lifestyle can actually improve your sleep? Researchers at Northwestern University conducted a study that shows a positive correlation between exercise and sleep.
The study placed individuals around the age of 55 who led relatively sedimentary lives and reported problems falling asleep and staying asleep, into one of two groups; either in the group that did not change their lifestyle and were only offered activities that stimulated the mind, or in the group that exercised for 20 minutes of aerobic activity 4 times a week. The researchers reported that those individuals in the exercise group raised their sleep quality, had fewer feelings of depression, and had more energy throughout the day. There are, however, a few things to keep in mind before hitting the gym to try and improve your sleep.
Time of Day Matters
Exercising during the 3 hours prior to calling it a night can backfire and leave you more energized and revved up instead of tired and ready to fall asleep. A vigorous workout right before bed will cause your heart rate to increase, stimulate your mind, and raise your body temperature. These are all things that do the exact opposite of what it takes to have a good night sleep. Working out in the morning, coupled with exposure to natural lighting will help reinforce the natural awake/sleep cycle that is innate in all of us. It will get your heart pumping, wake up your mind, and get you ready for the day. However, the effects of the workout on your sleep/wake cycle will probably wear off long before you are ready to go to sleep.
So what’s the answer?
It seems that in order to get the most benefit from your workout in terms of aiding your sleeping pattern, a late afternoon jog, walk, or vigorous activity will help you fall asleep faster and have a better overall night’s sleep. By raising your body temperature in the late afternoon your body has enough time to calm down and have the lower temperature needed facilitate the relaxed state needed to fall asleep.
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