Have you heard the phrase “they’ll sleep well tonight” after a little kid spends all day running around? It’s not too far off from reality.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine suggests that even just a bit of routine physical activity has the potential to improve the quality of your sleep.
The trick is being patient and consistent: According to a small 2013 study, exercising consistently can lead to improvements in sleep over time in people with insomnia
Here’s why exercise may be just the ticket to more blissful Zzz’s.
Can exercise help me sleep better?
- Our Magic 8-Ball says signs point to yes, but the whys are still hazy.
- Science suggests that you get more benefit as you age, with older adults getting the most bangs for the exercise buck.
- Everyone may benefit in sleep quality from consistent physical activity.
We already know that adequate sleep is good and that exercise is good. But we’re also learning how they’re especially good as a dynamic duo. Yet, the facts behind why sleep may benefit from daytime moving and shaking aren’t completely clear.
A small study with adolescents found that exercise increased REM sleep, sleep continuity, and sleep efficiency. Another study with teens also showed a reduced time to fall asleep and longer sleep duration.
In adults, benefits of exercise on sleep have also been demonstrated. A small research review concluded that regular exercise had benefits for total sleep time, sleep efficiency, and sleep quality. Another small study suggested that an increase in exercise duration may have an impact on better sleep.
It becomes even less hazy when studies focus on older adults who may especially see sleep benefits from daytime exercise. Both consistent exercise and just a single exercise session show sleep improvements.
A systematic small research review suggested that, for older adults, a routine of moderate intensity exercise about three times per week showed the best results for sleep outcomes.
There’s even a 2014 study, which showed that leisure activity may have more of a positive impact than, say, exercise done for work. Does that mean your enjoyable yoga or basketball has more benefit than lifting heavy boxes for work? Scientists aren’t sure, but there’s potential.
The tl;dr? There’s some real evidence that consistent physical activity can make you hit the hay in a better way. This may especially be the case if you have a difficult time sleeping already.
So, how exactly do we go about using some killer moves for better sleep?
Now that we generally know that exercise can up our sleep game, what’s the plan of action?
Exercise timing for good sleep
A common assumption is that evening exercise might not be the best method. However, a small research review found that, for the most part, evening exercise is just fine.
Though the research review above did show that the time it takes to fall asleep and sleep duration may be impacted by vigorous exercise that ends within about an hour before you hit the sack.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, there are a few reasons why exercising right before bed may keep you up:
- higher body temperature
- those feel-good chemicals, endorphins
- the stress hormone cortisol
All these increases after activity and can prevent sleep. Your best bet is to leave a window of at least 2 hours to chill out before you try to sleep.
What kind of activities work best?
The good news is that we already have some hints that enjoying our workouts may give the best results. A study showed that outdoor activity may give you a boost. Score.
So, if you’re inclined to hike or cycle outdoors, you’re likely setting yourself up for success. But the real bottom line is to find an activity that you enjoy and will do consistently.
Spin class to hip-hop music? Restorative tai chi in the park? Doing some Dance Dance Revolution in your living room? It all counts and it can all aid in your quest for more dream time.
Workouts by time of the day
Check out some of these recommendations for good workouts depending on the time of day.
How much should I exercise?
Since the science is still looking into the most effective duration and intensity, we’re sticking with the current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines of 150 minutes of aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity per week.
It sounds like a lot, but you can break it down any way you like and make it work for your specific abilities. Plus, you can always work up to it if you’re new to the workout game. Take it slowly and work your way towards your goals gradually.
It can take time to adjust to a new exercise routine and see any sleep pattern changes. But there’s enough evidence to say it’s worth trying to commit to a more active lifestyle.
After all, being well-rested is sometimes a lofty, but dreamy reward.