You’ve heard that exercise is good for sleep at night, right? I heard it, too, but never really believed it would improve sleep and it was never something I’d even consider because, well…
I absolutely HATE exercise.
Like, positively cannot stand it and I will go out of my way to avoid it at all costs. It makes me too hot, too sweaty, and way too uncomfortable. Besides, who willingly wants to torture themselves like that?
Well, that was my position up until last year when I hit 40. All of a sudden I was 25 pounds heavier, stiff, achy, and I felt like I was 80.
Ugh…I realized I had to bite the bullet and exercise in order to be healthy again.
So I started going to the gym twice a week and naturally noticed a change. I lost weight and gained muscle (I can now take on my husband in arm wrestling. Okay, he lets me win, but still, I can put up a good fight now. 😆 )
But exercise also had another bonus I wasn’t quite expecting or going for. I found that I had a better quality sleep at night on those two workout days.
So maybe the experts were right after all. Maybe exercise really does have sleep benefits!
Why Does Exercise Make you Sleep Better?
I guess I never thought much about the relationship between exercise and sleep because I didn’t really understand how exercise affected sleep. I just thought doctors and experts said that because if you do heavy exercise activity, then, yeah, your body is naturally going to be worn out and exhausted.
What’s so scientific about that?
But exercise affects your quality of sleep in a whole host of ways, and once I learned that I was like, wow, no wonder I sleep better on workout days!
Here’s just a few ways that exercise can affect and improve sleep:
You sleep better because you’re tired. The more energy you expend, the more time your body requires to repair and re-energize itself.
This usually means you’ll sleep deeper and longer so your body can recover and repair itself. This is really a no brainer, and it’s the only reason I thought I slept better after strenuous exercise.
Exercise alleviates stress and anxiety. Even when you’re working your butt off, exercise actually helps you relax by reducing tension and stress levels.
It also causes your brain to release endorphins, those feel good chemicals that help you cope with stress, boost your mood, and improve sleep naturally.
I’m a big believer that you can’t relax at night before bed if you can’t relax during the day, so exercising regularly has really helped me knock down my stress levels.
Your body temperature drops. In the evening, your body temperature naturally dips a few degrees in order to make you feel drowsy and sleep soundly. Exercising in the afternoons makes your body temperature rise, and then fall a few hours later.
Being outdoors encourages sleep. Not too long ago I went on vacation and took a half day mountain hike. I slept like a log that night, and it wasn’t because I was exhausted. Being outside exposes you to light, which helps regulate your sleep/wake cycle. Negative ions produced by running water helps relieve stress and boost our mood. There’s just something about being in nature that centers and grounds us.
What is the Best Time of Day to Exercise for Good Sleep at Night?
I know a lot of times when you’re trying to get relief from insomnia, you tend to stress over the remedy or sleep tip. You just want to make sure you’re doing everything right because you want it to work, you know?
So if you’re going to start exercising with the idea of improving sleep, you’re probably thinking two things: “Okay, great, how many hours before bed should I exercise,” and “is it good to exercise before I go to bed?”
The great news is exercising for good sleep at night isn’t rocket science. There’s no one magical time of day to exercise since everyone’s internal body clock is going to be a little bit different.
When you first start out, a good rule of thumb is to not do strenuous exercise two hours before bed. It can amp your mind and body up and raise your body temperature too close before you go to bed. Not a good combo when you’re supposed to be exercising for better sleep.
Remember when I said exercise raises your body temperature? Vigorous exercise can actually spike your body temperature to as high as 104 F and it can take your body a few hours to come down to normal. A cool body is a drowsy body, so you want to be sure your body is cooled down before it starts its evening temperature dip.
Plus, if you’re anything like me, you already have problems winding your mind and body down at night, so the last thing you want is to be set on go when you really want to be set on sleep. Exercising right before bed can rev up your body and brain, so it’s probably best to pass on an intense evening workout.
After you’ve been exercising a bit and you get more familiar with your body’s internal clock, you can change up what time you exercise. You may be the type who needs to exercise earlier in the day because being active later keeps you awake, or you may be the lucky type that’s able to exercise right up till you go to bed.
Tips for Exercising for Better Sleep
To get the ultimate sleep benefits from exercise, ideally it’s best to be pretty active. Get your blood pumping, pour sweat, the whole miserable nine yards at least 2 or more times a week.
But you shouldn’t slouch on the other days, either. You don’t have to go in all out workout mode, just get up and move. On these days do things like take a long walk, play in the pool (not lay in the pool 🙂 ) or weight train.
Wondering how long you should exercise to improve your sleep quality?
As an exercise hater, I am happy to tell you it doesn’t take a whole lot of exercise to have an impact on your sleep. The National Sleep Foundation states that as little as 10 minutes a day can have a positive impact on your sleep.
As a matter of fact, if you haven’t been physically active before, it’s probably best to start at 10 minutes and work your way up to 45 minutes or an hour. Speaking from experience here, exercise does anything but help me sleep when I’ve pushed myself too hard and soreness keeps me up.
What Kind of Exercises Should I Do?
One of the best things about using exercise for good sleep at night is it doesn’t really have to be a workout you do at the gym. If it gets your heart rate up, it counts as exercise. That means you can do things that you actually enjoy!
Here’s some fun activities that can be considered exercise:
- Play active games like tennis, basketball, or volleyball
- Take dance classes, like ballroom, Latin or even Zumba
- Take a yoga class (seems low impact, but certain types of yoga can kick your butt!)
- Ride your bike
- Get outside and play with your kids
- Take up martial arts
- Jump on a trampoline
Of course, if you’d rather go to the gym and exercise there, that’s totally okay, too. As long as you’re exercising for at a minimum of 10 minutes you’ll be getting some sleep benefits.
Are there Exercises I can Do Before Bed to Help Sleep?
Exercising for better sleep doesn’t have to happen only in the daytime. There are quite a bit of easy relaxation exercises you can do before you go to bed that help promote sleep because it relaxes your mind and body.
One of the best exercises you can do before bed are stretches, like yoga, because it releases body tension and calms your mind. Doing a bedtime yoga sequence is an awesome activity to add to your bedtime routine.
Here’s a quick and easy bedtime yoga routine you can try tonight:
Ready to Try your Own Exercise Program for Insomnia?
It’s no secret that daily exercise is good for your overall health. But when you have trouble sleeping, exercise can be that one natural insomnia remedy that actually works for you.
To make sure you get the most sleep benefits out of your exercise program, be sure you don’t fall off the wagon after you notice a change in your sleep. Just like the pounds will creep back on after you stop exercising, your sleep difficulties will return, too.
What about you, are you going to try exercising for good sleep at night? I’d love to hear what type of exercises you do, so feel free to share in the comments below! 🙂