Want Better Sleep? Get Active!

Exercise

If you’ve ever struggled with falling asleep, you’ll notice how quickly your mind becomes obsessed with the topic. Who’s getting sleep? When are they getting it? How are they getting it? You might have one of those friends who just simply hits the couch on movie night and they’re fast asleep before the popcorn’s even been popped. How do they do it? What magical bean did they find that allows them to snap their fingers and fall into blissful slumber? Well, there’s a good chance that your friend might be doing something regularly that you’re not. Exercising!

Regular, moderate exercise has proven highly effective not only in helping people lead a healthier lifestyle but also in helping them get a better night’s sleep. You can do it and you can start reaping the benefits as early as tonight!

Why is exercise good for your sleep?
Exercise is one of the most effective ways to improve sleep and is widely regarded by sleep experts as a critical component of long-term sleep health. If you’re having trouble sleeping and exercise isn’t part of your daily routine, it may be time to get moving. You might be tired of all the advice about exercise as a way to lose weight or improve cardiovascular health. Or, you might just be tired, period! If that’s the case, you’ve just identified one more terrific reason for starting—and sticking with—a regular exercise routine. Studies have shown that regular, moderate aerobic exercise can decrease the time it takes to fall asleep.[1] Working out has also been shown to boost your time in deep, or slow-wave, sleep. Increasingly, exercise is regarded as a potentially effective treatment for sleep disorders including insomnia.[2] Exercise, especially the kind that leads to weight loss, can also contribute to improvements with sleep apnea.

Body temperature and Exercise

Body temperature and the brain’s sleep-wake cycle appear to be closely linked. The increase in body temperature during late-afternoon exercise, followed by the drop in body temperature that accompanies sleep onset, maybe one reason why sleep occurs more easily alongside regular physical activity. Exercise also eases muscular tension, reduces stress, and increases the body’s production of endorphins, which in turn create a sense of well-being. This overall sense of ease that exercise engenders may help you sleep better.

How do you get started?

Just do it! To make the most of your active days and your restful nights, pay close attention to your personal sleep habits and how physical activity late in the day affects your sleep. How much is enough? Moderate exercise typically means at least 20 to 30 minutes of brisk walking, cycling or similar vigorous movement. Fortunately, the body interprets lots of spirited activity as exercise, whether you’re jogging, vacuuming the stairs, raking leaves, or walking your dog.Although vigorous exercise near bedtime may interfere with sleep, light physical activity in the evening can be very helpful in getting the body ready for sleep. Gentle stretching and yoga, in particular, tend to be relaxing, helping to reduce stress and tension.

If exercise isn’t a part of your regular routine, or if you want to make sure that you’re doing the right moves at the right time, there are four essential tips that help you exercise your way to a better night’s sleep.

Timing matters. Generally, try to finish your moderate workout by the early evening hours, to give your muscles and circulatory system time to calm down and prepare for sleep. Late afternoon exercise can be beneficial to sleep, but working out too hard, too close to bedtime may disrupt sleep. If you can, try to avoid exercising three hours before bedtime.[3]

Push yourself just a little. Moderate aerobic exercise should be done for at least 20 to 30 minutes to reap the biggest benefits for your sleep. Examples of moderate forms of exercise include jogging, swimming, scrubbing floors, riding a bicycle, jumping rope, washing your car, brisk walking, using a treadmill or stationary bike.

Go light at night. Engaging in mild, non-aerobic activity can help you relax at the end of the day, and tell your body that it’s time to sleep. Examples of mild exercises are yoga, stretching, walking at a relaxed pace, breathing deeply, relaxation exercises. These light forms of physical activity are ideal for the end of your day.

Keep going! Getting into the habit of exercise will improve sleep habits over time. Some research suggests that the full sleep-related benefits of exercise accrue gradually.[4] For your health and your sleep, find an exercise routine you can live with and stick with it for the long term.

If you’re new to an exercise routine, remember to consult your doctor for advice on the best way to start. If you’re already in the habit of exercising regularly, keep it up! Any exercise is good for your body and mind, your health, and your sleep. By exercising each day, you’ll be prepping your body for falling asleep early and often. Just remember to let your buddies know on movie night.

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