There is significant evidence that exercise can help you fall asleep and stay asleep. Megan Spurling, manager of Sharp HealthCare’s employee wellness program, explains four benefits of exercise and sleep.
- Better quality sleep
Physical activity increases time spent in deep sleep, the most physically restorative sleep phase. Deep sleep helps to boost immune function, support heart health, and control stress and anxiety.
- More time spent asleep
Being physically active requires you to use energy, and makes you feel more tired and ready to rest at the end of the day. Research suggests that regular exercise, even in small doses, can help boost your length of sleep.
- Reduced stress and anxiety
Stress is a common cause of sleep problems, including trouble falling asleep and sleeping restlessly during the night. Exercise is a natural remedy for anxiety and other mood disorders — just five minutes of exercise can create anti-anxiety responses in your body.
- Help with insomnia and other sleep disorders
Research suggests that aerobic exercise may be effective in helping to reduce insomnia symptoms. It also indicates that for people with insomnia, the benefits of exercise may be gradual rather than immediate. Studies have also found that exercise can help lower the severity of sleep-disordered breathing and may help reduce the severity of obstructive sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome.
“Sleep is essential to good health and plays a critical role in your immune function,” explains Spurling. “It boosts your metabolism, improves your memory and makes it easier to learn new things.”
Going to sleep after exercise can make it harder to sleep — for some people
Aerobic exercise causes your body to release chemicals known as endorphins, which can create a level of activity in the brain that keep some people awake. A good rule of thumb is to avoid exercising less than one to two hours before bedtime to allow the effects of these endorphins to wear off.
“As anyone who has tried to lose weight or build muscle knows, when it comes to improving health, patience is necessary to see the benefits of a new behavior,” says Spurling. “However, when it comes to using exercise as a tool to improve sleep, you can start to enjoy benefits overnight.”