How Does Exercising Help with Sleep?

Comfort is knowing how exercise can lead to better sleep.

We all know exercise is good for us. For years, we’ve been told that a healthy diet and exercise will help keep us fit and trim – but it can also help us get better sleep. And better sleep comes with a long list of other physical and mental benefits.

So how does exercise benefit sleep?

It Improves Sleep Quality

Many research studies link exercise with improved sleep quality (source). By getting your heart rate up for at least 20-30 minutes a day, you’re more likely to get more of the restorative deep sleep you need to increase immunity, strengthen heart health, improve focus, and manage stress levels (source).

It Helps You Sleep Longer

Humans are not meant to sit for extended periods of time. Our bodies are made to move! Many people spend their days sitting in front of a computer for 6+ hours, then come home to wind down vegged out on the couch watching TV. It’s no wonder that sleep problems are on the rise.

The negative impact of screen time on sleep is well documented (source), but that’s not the only problem in this scenario. A sedentary lifestyle prevents you from expending enough energy to feel physically tired at the end of the day. Exercise helps you expel more energy, which will help you feel more tired when it’s time for bed.

It Helps You Manage Stress and Anxiety

When you go to bed, how long does it take for your mind to stop racing? If you fall asleep quickly, that’s great, but for many sleepers, it’s not that easy. Ruminating on everyday stress and anxiety can keep you up much later than you want, despite your best efforts to get to bed earlier.

Regular exercise is proven to help reduce stress – a common cause of sleep problems (source).   The Anxiety and Depression Association of America report that just 5 minutes of exercise can trigger anti-anxiety responses in the body (source).

How Much Exercise Is Enough?

The Mayo Clinic recommends 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic (cardio) activity weekly – such as running or cycling – or 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity weekly – such as brisk walking or swimming (source). A healthy amount of aerobic exercise can help you get deeper, more restorative sleep.

The Mayo Clinic also recommends strength training for all major muscle groups at least twice a week, with high enough weight resistance to fatigue muscles after 12-15 reps. The National Sleep Foundation reports that strength training can help you fall asleep faster and wake up less frequently throughout the night (source).

Yoga is another sleep-friendly activity with many related health benefits. Stretching, breathing, and meditating can all help you manage stress.

To help you get the exercise you need for better sleep, Michael J. Breuss – “The Sleep Doctor” – offers individualized exercise recommendations based on your “chronotype” (source). You can take his chronotype quiz here (free).

Give Yourself Time to Wind Down

While vigorous exercise during the day can help you sleep better at night, it’s best to do it earlier in the day. Any exercise within 3-4 hours of bedtime should be light – such as relaxed yoga, stretching, or a light walk.

Why is this? At bedtime, your body temperature naturally lowers (link to Dressing for Sleep Article), helping you fall asleep. Not only will moderate to vigorous exercise energize and stimulate you before bed, it will also raise your body temperature, interfering with your ability to drift off into dreamland (source).