We all know that there are a multitude of reasons why we should exercise – the benefits are well-documented: it improves heart health and blood pressure; it builds and strengthens bone and muscle; it helps combat stress; it helps improve mood; and it helps you look and feel better, it can also help you sleep.
Sometimes sleeplessness can be caused simply because we have not been active enough during the day. This was shown by scientists at Northwestern University in America, who studied 23 sedentary adults, mostly women aged 55 years and older who had a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep. The participants were randomly placed in either a group who exercised for two 20-minute sessions four times a week, a second group who did a 30-40 minute workout four times a week, and a control group who did not exercise. After 16 weeks both of the exercise groups reported that their sleep quality had improved, that they had more vitality, less depressive symptoms, and felt less sleepy during the day.
Another study showed that the perception that we have of exercise improving sleep may also be a factor in helping us sleep.
For the study, 862 Swiss college students were asked to record how much they exercised, how fit they believed themselves to be, and how well they slept. More than 16 percent of the students who rated themselves low on the fitness scale actually exercised the most. In other words, they worked out more than many of the other students but felt they weren’t doing enough.
Those students who perceived that they weren’t exercising enough also tended to report sleeping less well, even though they were exercising more than some of the other students. In the end, the researchers found almost no correlation between how much students exercised and how well they slept. What mattered was whether they believed that they were being active enough. Those students who perceived that they were fit slept well, those who didn’t, did not.
Another reason that exercise may improve sleep is that there is a link between a good night’s sleep and lower body temperature.
Our body temperature goes up slightly during the day, and goes back down at night, reaching its lowest point just before dawn. This lowering of body temperature is another signal to the body that it’s time to sleep. Exercise can raise the body temperature, and the temperature will stay up to two degrees higher than normal for around four to five hours, before it drops to lower than it would be if you hadn’t exercised.
This lower body temperature is considered to be a factor in promoting better sleep in that it signals to the body that it’s time to sleep, and helps you enjoy a longer, more restful sleep.
Gerber, Markus; Brand, Serge; Holsboer-Trachsler, Edith; Pühse, Uwe; Fitness and Exercise as Correlates of Sleep Complaints: Is It All in Our Minds? Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: May 2010 – Volume 42 – Issue 5 – pp 893-901
- Exercise can help you enjoy better quality sleep and lower body temperature which also induces better sleep
- Don’t overdo it. Wearing yourself out physically is not particularly likely to induce sleepiness. In fact it can be counter-productive and lead to wakefulness and alertness when trying to sleep.
- Though it’s widely believed that working out too close to bedtime can disturb sleep, there isn’t evidence that backs this argument, so it’s better to exercise in the evening than not at all.
- The important thing is to exercise because it makes you feel fitter and better, and if you are experiencing sleeping difficulties, the more you exercise, the more likely you are to improve your sleeping patterns.