How many hours of sleep do you get per night?
We all know that the CDC recommends that adults get at least seven hours per night. Yet statistical data shows that 45% of people in the US get less than the prescribed amount of shuteye. And while the most glaring consequence of rest deprivation may be a bit of sleepiness in the morning, research shows that there are numerous reasons to invest in healthy sleep.
Admittedly, there are many strategies you can employ to improve sleep quality. These can include getting proper light exposure, waking up at the same time every morning, or eating the right foods before bed. But the one overlooked habit that can help you sleep better is exercise.
So, if you’re willing to get your move on, here are the reasons a well-planned workout regime can help you get a better night’s sleep.
Working Out Lowers Cortisol Levels
One of the most widely-known benefits of exercise is that it has a positive effect on stress levels.
According to research, low-intensity exercise lowers cortisol levels, automatically making you feel more relaxed and at ease. And seeing that stress is one of the primary causes of insomnia, it’s clear that doing a low-intensity workout a couple of times per week could be the key to avoiding and managing sleep disorders.
Generally, you can use two types of exercise to manage stress and improve sleep quality. On the one hand, yoga is an excellent way to lower cortisol levels. On the other hand, you could very well get all the seep-promoting benefits from a morning walk or jog. According to scientific research, optic flow (the motion pattern you see when moving) effectively activates the parasympathetic nervous system. This makes you feel more relaxed and at ease, thus helping you fall asleep more easily.
High-Intensity Workouts Make It Easier to Fall Asleep
Homeostatic sleep drive — the natural need to go to sleep — is increased with every hour of being awake. According to scientists, homeostatic sleep drive results from brain activity and is, in simple terms, a byproduct of energy consumption. And while the phenomenon still hasn’t been fully explored, there is another theory that it can be triggered by physically demanding exercise.
So, if you’re searching for well-being hacks to help you sleep better, you might want to include high-intensity workouts in your weekly routine. Whether that’s aerobic exercise like running or old-school strength training is entirely up to you. Just make sure you choose an activity you enjoy that gets your blood flowing.
And, of course, if you decide to include more strenuous exercise in your day-to-day life, don’t forget to fuel your body in a way that will prevent muscle damage and speed up recovery. After all, investing in your physical fitness is great, but not if the cost is muscle damage, injury, or straight-out exhaustion.
Working Out Releases Endorphins
One of the widely-known benefits of regular exercise is that it can make you feel better. According to scientific data, working out releases feel-good hormones like endorphins, compounds that have the effect of pain relief, stress reduction, and an improved sense of well-being.
However, most people don’t know that one of the consequences of endorphins released through exercise includes improved sleep quality.
Two scientific articles published in 2020 studied the connection between exercise-triggered endorphin release and sleep quality. The first one discovered that working out limited sleep quality disturbances. And the other found that regular aerobic activity prevented and eased sleep problems.
So, if you already suffer from a sleep disorder, explore ways to incorporate exercise into your routine.
Generally, you’ll find that getting the recommended amount of movement — 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise combined with two strength training sessions per week — will be enough to help you fall and stay asleep at night. However, don’t feel like you have to go all in all at once. Instead, give yourself time to work your way up to the recommended amount of physical activity and be kind to yourself in the process.
How Not to Work Out When Aiming to Improve Sleep
Finally, remember that there are a couple of no-nos you must keep in mind if you’re thinking about starting a new workout routine.
First and foremost, you must remember that one of the natural ways the human body prepares for sleep is that it cools down by 1-2 degrees. Physical activity, however, does the opposite — it raises your body temperature. So, if you’re trying to improve sleep quality, you might want to move your workouts toward the start of the day. Not a morning person? Not a problem. Just leave at least three hours for your body to cool down from a workout before bedtime.
Secondly, don’t make the common mistake of thinking that a daily workout (even a strenuous one) will make up for other poor choices like drinking coffee too late in the day, getting too much blue light exposure at night, or not having a healthy bedroom environment with a naturally made mattress that promotes rest.
Proper, restful sleep is the result of a variety of daily habits. And, sure, small positive changes can have a beneficial effect. But changing one small thing while continuing to practice sleep-impairing behavior won’t be enough to make a genuine difference.
There you have it, the top three reasons why exercise could be the key to helping you sleep better. If you were on the fence about working out up until now, the reasons listed above are sure to help inspire you. And, if you still need a little extra motivation (or don’t know where to start), be sure to read this guide to starting a new exercise routine that’s sure to answer all of your questions.
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