Over the years, sleep science has improved dramatically. In fact, the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology of Medicine was awarded jointly to Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young for their discoveries related to circadian rhythms. We know that sleep is critical to our overall well being, and we’re finding out that exercise contributes to better sleep.
How does exercise help you sleep better?
Exercise promotes better sleep in a variety of ways. It can help us relax, fall asleep faster, and stay asleep longer at night. Exercise produces endorphins which can lift our mood and reduce stress. Plus, regular moderate exercise has even been shown to help sleep disorders like insomnia, sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome.
Recent studies suggest that the sleep benefits derived from exercise don’t necessarily kick in right away, but are noteworthy over time. Several measures of sleep — including quality and duration — showed significant improvement over a period of 16 weeks with regular exercise.
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The top 5 exercises for better sleep
- Walking/jogging. Brisk walking or jogging will increase your heart rate and enable your body to expend energy. Going for a jog is also a simple and flexible way to get aerobic exercise without the need to join a gym or attend a fitness class at a certain time.
- Yoga. Yoga and stretching can help you increase your mind-body connection, improve your breathing, and gain flexibility and strength. Whether you attend a group class or find a session online, make sure to start slowly with basic poses before moving on to more advanced variations. Vinyasa yoga is typically more aerobic and fast-paced, while hatha and yin classes will allow you to slow down and focus on stretching.
- Jump rope. Jumping rope is a great way to get in a cardiovascular workout in a short time. If your day is full or you don’t have time to get out of the house, ten to fifteen minutes of jumping rope will get your blood pumping.
- Weight lifting. Building muscle helps burn fat and balance out cardio activity. Strength training is important to a healthy body; it will ensure you can maintain muscular structure and proper bone density. Strength training also burns calories and gives you the feeling of being tired, which helps you fall asleep at night.
- Meditation. Meditation can be as simple as focusing on your breath for five minutes. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce stress and insomnia while improving sleep. If you’re new to relaxing your mind, there are great meditation apps that will guide you in short, effective sessions.
The best time to exercise
The best time to exercise is in the morning, but if you can't do that, then just find some time that works for your schedule. Find time in your daily schedule for your workout and try to keep it consistent. Working out in the morning can help you wake up, stay on track with regular workouts, and maintain a consistent sleep-wake cycle.
Afternoon or evening workouts are also beneficial. Some sleep experts think that a reduction in your body temperature post-workout can help you fall asleep more easily. And if you’re a night owl, there’s nothing wrong with an evening exercise routine.