Exercise & Sleep – Are They Connected?

Exercise & Sleep – Are They Connected?

If the TV is your favourite machine at the gym, you are not alone!  In fact, the Peloton bike’s shiny colour touch screen is a large part of its attraction.  But, just as Peloton’s star has faded, exercising regularly can lose its initial momentum.  We usually have the best of intentions when starting a new exercise regimen, but our motivation can falter when we do not see the impact of our efforts immediately.  Sleep could be the answer to both keep the motivation going and to improved health, as it has a symbiotic relationship with exercise.


No matter what the trigger was for you to start exercising, sticking to a regular exercise program is hard. Whether you exercise to build strength, lose weight, or rehabilitate from an injury, the process can be long.  But there is one benefit of exercise that will not take months for you to see the effects: better sleep.  Working out is great for your body and mind – and can boost your ability to get a good sleep the very same night.  Read on to learn what exercise to perform - and when in the day - to optimize your sleep quality.




Researchers have been investigating the relationship between sleep and exercise for years.  Numerous studies have found that moderate-to-vigorous exercise – like walking, swimming, yoga, etc. - can improve sleep quality in many people by reducing the time it takes to fall asleep and decreasing the number of sleep interruptions they experience during the night.  Additionally, physical activity can help alleviate daytime sleepiness and, for some people, reduce the need for sleep medications.  And, since regular exercise can prevent excessive weight gain, people suffering from sleep apnea (OSA) often find their symptoms reduced.


Furthermore, a recent study found that taking up strength training in old age provides health benefits above and beyond simply doing cardiovascular exercise.  A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine said that lifting weights helped preserve muscle mass which reduces the risk of age-related illnesses and frailty, boosting sleep quality.


The research is affirmed in a 2013 poll by the National Sleep Foundation, where approximately 79% of respondents who engaged in some form of exercise reported very good to fairly good sleep.  This was 25% higher than those that did not exercise.  The combination of cardiovascular exercise, strength training and stretching helps promote better sleep.  In addition, these activities are often performed in social environments, providing not only benefits to your physical health, but also your mental health.




In fact, mental health plays a vital role in our sleep quality.   How many times have you struggled to fall asleep at night with you mind racing with a worry, or woken up in the middle of the night, stressed about an issue?  Experts agree that mental exercise in combination with physical exercise is just as important for the body’s health.


Meditation or controlled breathing are two popular exercises that can provide a calming transition before bedtime.  Meditation helps to clear your mind of distracting thoughts. Similarly, controlled breathing uses your mind to consciously monitor how you inhale and exhale, which slows your heart and relaxes your body.  Studies have found that these mental exercises can release relaxing hormones, reducing cortisol, and increasing natural melatonin levels to help with more restful sleep. 




 As we know, physical exercise elevates heart rate, and is often linked with increased energy, not sleepiness.  So, it begs the question: when is the right time to exercise for optimal sleep?


Exercise causes the body to release endorphins, adrenaline and raises your core body temperature. Together, these changes signal your body clock that its time to be awake.  The additional jolt of vigour is the reason why many people enjoy exercising in the morning.


However, many find that exercising in the afternoon provides the best quality sleep, as the decline in endorphins, adrenaline, heart rate and body temperature a few hours later helps to facilitate sleep.  Certainly, experts suggest avoiding vigorous exercise within an hour of bedtime.


For working parents or busy caregivers, timing is often not a choice: early mornings are sometimes the only times one can fit in some exercise, often at the sacrifice of sleep.  If exercising will cut into your sleep duration, fret not as you can still maintain your sleep quality by raising the levels of the other sleep factors beside length.


Charlene Gamaldo, M.D. , medical director of Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep at Howard County General Hospital says that moderate aerobic exercise increases the amount of slow wave sleep you get. Slow wave sleep refers to deep sleep, where the brain and body have a chance to rejuvenate.  And, exercising can improve your Start factor: how quickly you can fall asleep when you first close your eyes.




In the end, sleep and exercise are intricately connected to one another.  Exercise is important for better quality sleep.  And, sleep is important for healthier workouts, reducing the risk of injury and allowing muscles to recover from exercise.


Patients often ask how much physical exercise they need for better sleep.  According to experts like Dr. Gamaldo, people who engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise may see a difference in sleep quality.  The most important take away is that carving out a little time for both physical and mental exercise can have a symbiotic benefit, improving the quality of both your sleep and exercise.


Do you know how your sleep is impacting your overall health? Do you know which steps you need to take to improve it? To learn more about improving your sleep quality, contact the friendly sleep experts at Ultramatic.