Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your health. But how about for your sleep? It turns out, being active during the day can improve the sleep people get at night—with a few caveats. Learn more about the exercise-sleep relationship, including answers to these common questions.
How does exercise influence sleep?
Individuals who exercise regularly report better sleep than those who don’t, according to a National Sleep Foundation poll. Three-fourths of exercisers said their sleep quality was fairly good or very good over a two-week period, versus just over half or non-exercisers. Other research indicates that exercise increases total sleep time, delays REM sleep onset, and increases slow-wave sleep, all things that lead to greater sleep satisfaction.
The reason for these sleep benefits is due in part to the fact that exercise increases the amount of adenosine in the body. Adenosine is a chemical that can cause drowsiness, increase body temperature, and improve circadian rhythm regulation, explains Shawn Youngstedt, PhD, a professor at Arizona State University. In addition, an increase in body temperature due to daytime exercise may lead to a decrease in body temperature at night, allowing people to experience deeper sleep cycles.
What time of day is best for exercise?
For most people, the specific hour that they work out doesn’t matter—the main thing is that they make time to prioritize it. However, “in a minority of individuals, vigorous exercise ending two hours or closer to bedtime can have negative effects on sleep, Youngstedt said. He adds that for strenuous exercise, the late afternoon might be the best time, allowing the body’s heart rate and other vital signs to return to normal before bed. For ongoing training (for a sporting event such as a race), morning might be preferable, if only to ensure you get the workout in before the day gets too busy.
If you feel too amped up after exercising at night to sleep, try moving your workouts to earlier in the day. If night is the only time you have available to work out, you can also try a longer cool down and gentle stretching session after exercising. This will help let your body know it is time to wind down.
Which type of exercise is best for sleep?
In simplest terms, the best type of exercise is the type of exercise you enjoy enough to stick with it and make it a regular part of your routine. In other words, either spin class or lifting weights can help you sleep well, as long as you do it consistently.
How much exercise do you need for better sleep?
There is no magic number (and the amount will vary depending on factors such as age and fitness level), but it’s wise to aim for about 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (such as brisk walking) every week, or about 30 minutes, five days a week. Alternately, you can aim for 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (running, cycling) each week, to get your heart rate pumping.
If finding 30 minutes in your schedule seems impossible, know that it’s not just about the 30 minutes you spend in the gym that counts: Little things you do all day long can add up, from taking the stairs to walking instead of driving when you run local errands. Try to spend fewer minutes sitting during the day. The less sedentary you are, the better you’ll sleep at night.