Work Out, Sleep Better: 3 Things to Know about Exercise and Sleep
Amidst the barrage of health guidelines that we're exposed to every day—new diets, superfoods, and cure-all workouts—sorting through the clutter for simple, practical ways to stay healthy is difficult. We all know the basics: eating well, staying active, and getting enough sleep are key tenets of a healthy lifestyle. Putting those directives into practice is the difficult part.
If you've had trouble sticking to a regular fitness routine, listen up. Compelling new research confirming a link between sleep and exercise just might be the extra push you need to lace up your sneakers a little more frequently. Learn more below about the impact a workout could have on your shut-eye each night.
The Link Between Exercise and Sleep
1. It Keeps Your Body's Clock on Track
Not a morning person? As it turns out, that's okay. According to Sleep.org, there are benefits to exercising both early in the morning or in the evening hours. Research shows that morning exercisers “sleep longer, experience deeper sleep cycles, and spend 75 percent more time in the most reparative stages of slumber" compared to evening exercisers. But if the thought of dragging yourself out of bed in the pre-dawn hours fills you with dread, you aren't doomed to be a poor sleeper.
If you prefer saving your workouts for the evening hours, you can instead capitalize on body temperature changes brought on by exercise that can encourage sleep. During physical activity, your body temperature rises. Once you get home and relax, it falls again. That drop in body temperature is a natural cue to the body to prepare for sleep, which is why, for some, an afternoon or evening workout helps abate insomnia by encouraging drowsiness.
The benefits don't stop at afternoon and evening workouts, either. The National Sleep Foundation now no longer strictly discourages nighttime workouts. Contrary to popular belief, some people are fortunate enough not to be negatively affected by exercising as little as 90 minutes before bedtime. If you find your ability to fall asleep unaffected after a 9 p.m. workout, then the organization says to keep at it.
2. It Exposes You to Vitamin D
Any stroll through an aisle of natural sleep supplements will show that melatonin is one of the most in-demand commodities in our sleep-deprived world. While your body naturally produces the hormone, many people take extra supplements of it to induce drowsiness. But did you know that a vitamin we get from the sun, for free, could play a key role in quality of rest as well? Until recently, scientists hadn't explored the link between Vitamin D and sleep extensively, but that's changing.
New research suggests that people who have higher concentrations of Vitamin D experience better-quality sleep overall than those without it. Right now, as much as half of the population could be vitamin D deficient, but it's an easy problem to fix with a little extra time outside. If you're already on a regular workout schedule, try logging your miles outside instead of in a gym. Activities like hiking, running, and riding a bike are easy to do outdoors when the weather allows. Also, if you're running along a popular path in an urban park, you might notice fitness equipment placed every few tenths of a mile. These workout spaces, often referred to as fitness trails, help visitors add circuit-style exercises to their run or walk without having to head indoors.
3. It Helps Your Mood
Lack of sleep and insomnia have long been associated with physical consequences, but they can also wreak havoc on our mental health. Exercise is known for being a natural way to boost endorphins, hormones responsible for the feeling of elation and wellness post exercise, commonly known as “runner's high," but until recently, a link between endorphins and sleep wasn't obvious. Now, new research suggests that one does indeed exist.
Though the rush of a runner's high wears off eventually, new data suggests that its positive effects on mood can stick around. In a study that specifically focuses on adults 65 and older, researchers note that “the antidepressant and anxiolytic effects of exercise have been suggested as a mechanism through which sleep may be impacted."
After tracking the physical activity of older adults, psychologists eventually found that those positive effects on mood were more significantly present in an older population. Since adults tend to suffer more severely from sleep issues as they age, the potential for measurable changes in mood after exercise is especially exciting. Wherever you're at in the sleep-aging spectrum, developing a regular exercise routine now can only benefit you now and in the future.
Incorporating exercise into your daily schedule could be as simple as a pre-work spin class, a lunchtime jog, or an evening walk. Whatever you do, know that, over time, being active offers extensive benefits to your sleep and overall health—as long as you're patient. Experts say that seeing drastic changes in sleep quality immediately after starting a new exercise routine is unlikely, but after a few months, your patience could be rewarded with lasting changes that help you live a happier, healthier life with better-quality sleep.