Having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep at night? Try exercise—just don’t expect to see improvements overnight.
Research has long suggested the sleep benefits of exercise, but more recent studies reveal that you won’t see those benefits immediately. In a 16-week study, volunteers didn’t notice much improvement in their sleep patterns until the end of the 16 weeks. In the same way that getting good sleep depends on exercise, getting a good exercise in is often dependent on getting a good night’s sleep the night before.
Negative effects of exercise on sleep
Contrary to popular belief, exercise before bed does not necessarily make it more difficult to fall asleep. For some people, exercise creates such a boost in energy that they find it hard to wind down at night. Research suggests, however, that the time of day you work out won’t necessarily impact your sleep patterns.
In fact, following the 2013 Sleep in America® Poll, the National Sleep Foundation concluded that exercise is always good for sleep, no matter what time of day: “While some believe exercising near bedtime can adversely affect sleep and sleep quality, no major differences were found between the data for individuals who say they have done vigorous and/or moderate activity within four hours of bedtime compared to their counterparts (those who did vigorous or moderate activity more than four hours before bedtime).
According to the 2013 Sleep in America® poll, the conclusion can be drawn that exercise, or physical activity in general, is generally good for sleep, regardless of the time of day the activity is performed.”
Tips for better sleep
If you want to sleep better at night, here are a few general tips:
- Exercise vigorously. Getting in a workout that is low on the intensity scale likely won’t have many benefits for your sleep. To get a better night’s sleep, increase the intensity of your workouts.
- Listen to your body. The best time to exercise is the time of day when you can consistently get in a workout. Whether that means exercising in the morning, afternoon or evening, do what works best for you and your schedule.
- Don’t let lack of sleep compromise your exercise. Make exercise a priority no matter what time of day you get it done. If you find that late night exercise keeps you up, then exercise in the morning or afternoon, but don’t skip your workout altogether. Sleep and exercise are equally important for your overall health, so find a way to prioritize both.
- Create an environment in your bedroom that promotes sleep. Your bedroom should be a peaceful sanctuary. Keep it dark, quiet and at a comfortable temperature. Turn off electronics at least an hour before you go to bed to help your mind wind down.
- Develop a sleep routine and stick to it. If your sleep habits change from one night to the next, you aren’t doing yourself any favors. Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time each morning (even on weekends) to feel energized and vibrant during the day.
If you want to sleep better at night, take a look at your exercise habits. Are you exercising daily? If not, make it a point to get at least 30 minutes of exercise every day, even if that just means going for a walk after dinner.