Getting the recommended 30 minutes of daily exercise five days a week will help you stay fit which may have a positive effect on sleep quality.
Regular exercise can reduce the risk of depression, of which insomnia can be a common symptom.
Physical activity has been shown to increase the length of slow-wave sleep, which is potentially the most important phase of sleep for maintaining a healthy metabolism.
This article was medically reviewed by Alex Dimitriu, MD, psychiatrist and founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry and Sleep Medicine.
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Looking for a deeper sleep at night? You might just need to move more during the day.
Sleep specialists agree that regular physical activity is one of the best – if not the best – ways to get a good night’s sleep.
How much sleep you need
A good night’s sleep is one that is both long and sound. According to the National Sleep Foundation, optimum length varies by age. For those ages 18 to 64, it’s generally best to sleep between seven to nine hours per night. But in order for that seven to nine hours to count as good quality sleep, it means you should be dozing off in 30 minutes or less and waking no more than once per night.
Scientists don’t fully understand why adults need 7-9 hours of quality sleep a night, says Charles Samuels, medical director of the Centre for Sleep & Human Performance in Calgary, Canada. What we do know is that getting enough sleep is crucial for concentration, memory, mood, and even weight loss.
5 Ways working out improves your sleep quality
“There’s no question clinically that exercise is important for sleep, as well as for general health,” Samuels says.
For example, a review published in 2017 in the Advances in Preventive Medicine concluded that exercise is especially helpful for those who have sleep disorders and for older adults who tend to have a harder time sticking to a regular sleep schedule.
There are many potential reasons why exercise helps improve sleep length and quality:
1. Maintain a healthy weight
Some revolve around how exercise can help maintain a healthy body weight, which can reduce the risk of obesity-related health conditions like sleep apnea, says Sara Benjamin, a neurologist with the Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep.
2. Improve fitness levels
Cardiorespiratory fitness, or the body’s ability to use oxygen during sustained physical activity, improves with exercise, and it’s also associated with a good night’s rest. A 2013 study, published in the journal Sleep, of almost 3,500 adults measured their oxygen intake while participants exercised on a treadmill; those who were more aerobically fit were less likely to have insomnia.
3. Regulate circadian rhythm
Exercise, especially aerobic, increases levels of mood-boosting brain chemicals like serotonin, which can enhance the regularity of your biological clock, otherwise called your circadian rhythm, says Phyllis Zee, chief of sleep medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. That’s because serotonin helps signal to different parts of the brain when it’s time to wake up or go to sleep.
4. Reduce the risk of depression
Breaking a sweat is also associated with reducing symptoms of depression, which can include insomnia. That’s because when we work out, our brains secrete a protein called the brain-derived neurotrophic factor that is important for healthy brain function. Experts think that this may play a role in easing depression.
5. Increases slow-wave sleep phase
Other effects are more subtle. For example, we typically cycle through five phases of sleep every night, each with its own pattern of brain activity and benefits. Research so far suggests that physical activity increases the length of the slow-wave sleep phase, also called deep sleep. Slow-wave sleep is potentially the most important phase for maintaining a healthy brain and metabolism.
Be consistent for best results
Getting the recommended 30 minutes of exercise at least five days a week is not only great for your health but also sufficient to improve sleep, says Samuels. However, he also says that there’s no evidence that working out for longer periods of time, whether that’s extending your workout or upping the number of weekly gym sessions, leads to better sleep.
You also don’t have to take up a high-intensity workout like running or rowing. Moderate-intensity leisure activities, like walking, gardening, or yoga, will get as good or better results in improving the quality of your sleep.
On the other hand, high-intensity exercise within an hour of your bedtime might disturb your sleep, especially if you’re prone to insomnia. Benjamin gives her patients a yoga-before-bed routine instead to help them relax and unwind.
Whatever physical activity you choose, what matters is that you do it regularly. The perks will probably take six to eight weeks to kick in, Zee says. The benefits work both ways: A good sleep improves how we function during the day both mentally and physically and can influence us to take up healthier behaviors, including committing to an exercise regimen.
“We studied the effects of exercise on sleep and metabolism in middle-aged and older adults. If they slept better, the next day they were more likely to exercise more,” Zee says.
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