Exercising obviously has many benefits to our health. Sleep is one of those benefits which we might not right away relate to exercise. There are some very simple exercises that almost all of us can do, that will improve sleep at night. For health benefits, exercise at anytime of the day is great- just get it in! But if you struggle from insomnia, wakefulness or not being able to get to sleep right away, then when and how you exercise, may help.
It really comes down to our circadian rhythm. This is a 24-hour cycle that allows our bodies to carry out certain functions at certain times. It is essentially our body’s internal clock, and its most important function is the sleep-wake cycle. This internal clock is directly influenced by environmental cues, especially light, which is why it is tied to the cycle of day and night (sleep-wake). So, if we can alter or tune into our circadian rhythm it should help us sleep better. Below are some benefits to different times of day and type of exercise to help alleviate your sleep struggles.
To fall asleep faster at night, do either aerobic (walking, jogging…), resistance training, stretching, or a combination of all 3 – for about 1 hour in the morning or early afternoon. This helps because at these times it stimulates melatonin release and shifts our circadian rhythm. Outdoors in the morning has an even added benefit because of sunlight exposure helping entrain our circadian rhythm, to fall asleep at night.
Whereas if you are looking for sound sleep throughout the night, then high-intensity exercise later in the afternoon may be the answer. Lowering levels of orexin, a neurotransmitter that promotes wakefulness can help at this time of day when many or us feel that midafternoon slump. Without enough orexins, the body has a hard time staying awake and alert, so by triggering them at this time of day, may be beneficial to sleep later.
If you have no problems falling asleep, but you find yourself frequently waking up throughout the night, then early evening exercise as resistance exercise or light aerobic exercise, may be best. Make sure not to be too intense at night however, as you don’t want to excessively raise body temperature, as the body need to be cooled down to sleep. Basically, give yourself 2-3 hours before bed for your body to cool down after exercise.
The most important thing is to experiment and find a schedule that fits you. Don’t be afraid to switch things around as exercise is beneficial anytime of day, but unfortunately sleep is. So, if you are having sleep issues, it is better to try adjust your workout time, and or type of workout, to allow for a better night’s sleep. Sleep will also ensure better workouts, help with weight loss or strength goals and of course overall health. If fact sleep is so important that if you don’t get enough sleep, not only can you jeopardize your health, but as well, defer the benefits of exercise towards the goals you may be trying to achieve.
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