Are you into health and fitness yet? It’s well known that regular exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. As it turns out, there is an interesting relationship between exercising regularly and sleeping well—though that relationship is little more complex than typically assumed.
The effects that sleep and exercising have on each other have led researchers to conclude that while a single bout of exercise will not help you sleep better (and indeed might keep you up, if you exercise before bed), a consistent exercise routine will, over time, fight insomnia and help you sleep better.
Making Time for Health and Fitness in Your Busy Schedule
Poor Sleep, Healthy Exercise to the Rescue?
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that about 1 in 3 adults fail to get the proper amount of sleep each night. This lack of sleep affects our body and mind, not mention contributes to poor decision making and increased accidents.
In one pioneering study from 2010, sixteen women with insomnia were assigned to two groups. One group was asked to take part in an exercise program, exercising at least fifteen minutes four times a week, as well as take part in “sleep hygiene education” class. The other group only had the class.
After sixteen weeks—the length of the study—the group that exercised improved in their sleep across the board. It took the women in this group less time to fall asleep, they slept better, and they felt better during the day.
A follow-up study found, however, that it took almost the full four months for these results to show up. Even half-way through the study, there was little sign that the insomnia had improved.
This simply means that it is a healthy exercise routine that improves sleep. You can’t just decide to exercise one day and expect to sleep well that night. (On the other hand, a lack of sleep often causes people to shorten their exercise routine. It’s a two-way relationship!)
What About People Who Already Sleep Well?
Then again, people with insomnia and other sleep disorders have the deck stacked against them when it comes to sleep. Could exercise also be a benefit to people without severe sleep disorders?
There is much evidence to suggest that it can. For example, a much larger study of more than 2,600 men and women found that 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a week lead to an average 65% improvement in sleep quality. People also said they felt less sleepy during the day, compared to those with less physical activity.
There is also some evidence that exercise improves sleep through helping us moderate stress and anxiety. One study showed that moderate, daily exercise can lessen anxiety, which in turn helps us fall asleep faster and stay asleep through the night. Smaller studies also lend some evidence to claims that exercise can help regulate restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, and other common problems with sleep.
How Much Exercise is Needed to See Results?
Given that exercise has an effect on sleep, it’s natural to ask: How much exercise is needed to see results?
To reemphasize the findings above, a single workout won’t be enough to change the way you sleep now. You will have to commit to making exercise a part of your lifestyle. Do that, and you should start noticing better sleep in 3-4 months.
Experts suggest that to do this, you will need to get your heart rate up with moderate aerobic exercise at least 3-4 times a week, for at least 20 minutes. Less than this, and it might take longer to see results…if you see results at all.
Also be careful about when you exercise. While there is no hard data finding a correlation between the time of your workout and quality of sleep, many people report feeling “amped up” after a good workout, which can interfere with your sleep routine. Then again, working out can tire out your body, making it ready for rest and helping you fall asleep faster. Ultimately, you will have to find a time for exercise that works for you and your body.