How Exercising Improves Sleep

How Exercising Improves Sleep

Exercising improves sleep in a few different ways. Learn how you can make the most of your time training.

There’s a bidirectional relationship between exercise and sleep. While many athletes focus on the benefits sleep provides for their performance, there are implications that exercising improves sleep.

The Stages Of Sleep

Before we dive deeper into the correlation between sleep and exercise, let’s first explore how sleep actually works. There are two different kinds of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM). While REM sleep consists of just one stage, there are actually three different stages of NREM sleep.

Each stage is determined based on your brain activity during sleep. As you sleep through the night, you cycle through both REM and NREM sleep several times.

Stage 1

This is the stage in your NREM where you start dozing off. This stage usually lasts about five minutes, and consists of light sleep and slow breathing as your muscles start to relax. It’s easy to wake someone up out of Stage 1, but if they’re left alone they can move pretty quickly into Stage 2.

Stage 2

During this stage of NREM sleep, you start to enter a more subdued state. Your heartbeat and breathing slow even more, and your muscles relax further. In addition, your body temperature drops and eye movements stop. Stage 2 typically lasts between 10 – 25 minutes during the first sleep cycle. You spend about half your sleep time in Stage 2.

Stage 3

This stage of NREM sleep gives you the slow-wave, deep sleep you need to feel refreshed in the morning. When you’re in deep sleep, your pituitary gland releases a growth hormone that promotes tissue growth and muscle repair. During the first half of the night, we spend most of our time in Stage 3, usually lasting about 20-40 minutes. As the night goes on, this stage gets shorter, and you start spending more time in REM sleep.

REM Sleep

The most commonly known stage of sleep, REM sleep occurs about 90 minutes after you fall asleep. Your REM stage of sleep is where your brain activity picks up, resembling levels of when you’re awake. REM sleep seems to be critical to your cognitive functions, like learning, memory and creativity. This stage is also where most of your dreams occur, though your body is temporarily paralyzed so you can’t act out those dreams.

How does exercise affects sleep?

Physical activity can improve your sleep quality and sleep duration. Exercising helps reduce the time it takes you to fall asleep, as well as reduces your time lying awake in bed. Furthermore, exercising increases the amount of slow-wave, deep sleep you get, giving your mind and body the chance to rejuvenate. In addition, exercise can help decrease daytime sleepiness and potentially reduce the need for sleep medications.

There are also more indirect ways exercise helps with your sleep. For starters, exercise is a great way to relieve stress. Studies have shown that stress and anxiety can lead to insomnia and other sleep problems. So simply working out to de-stress can also lead to better sleep. Additionally, exercising can help prevent excessive weight gain, making it less likely for you to suffer from sleep apnea.

Exercising improves sleep. Try these tips.

While working out leads to improved sleep, there are things you should keep in mind first.

When should you work out?

The timing of your workout is a hotly debated subject. Almost everyone agrees exercising improves sleep, but some disagree on the best time to work out. Some studies claim working out before bed can negatively impact sleep, while other studies argue the opposite. Generally, a good rule of thumb is to exercise at least one to two hours before bed. This will give your endorphin levels some time to subside and your brain time to wind down.

It’s also important to consider your body temperature. Exercising elevates your core body temp, which signals to your body that it’s time to be awake. The temperature will start to fall about 30 to 90 minutes after you’re done. This decline will help facilitate sleepiness.

With conflicting studies about the optimal time to exercise, it is ultimately up to you. If exercising in the morning helps you get great sleep at night, go for it. If you find that you sleep better after a nice evening workout, full speed ahead. The important thing is that you are working out in the first place and getting the exercise your body needs.

What kind of workouts are best?

Different workouts can serve different purposes. This may sound obvious from the physical standpoint, we’re referring more to the mental side of things. It might be helpful to consider what your mind and body need before choosing your day (or night’s) workout. Exercising improves sleep, but there are some exercises that may be better than others.


Let’s start with the obvious one. Many people correlate yoga with relaxation and de-stress, and for good reason. Yoga has been shown to alleviate insomnia and improve sleep quality. If you’re looking for a specific yoga practice to help you get better sleep, try yoga nidra. Also known as yoga sleep, this meditative practice promotes deep rest and relaxation.

Strength Training

If hitting the weights is more your style, then keep at it. You can experiment with the intensity and duration of your nighttime workouts to see what brings better sleep. Strength training at night can help you burn off extra energy from the workday to bring on a relaxing night. One important note, try and stay away from supplements like pre-workout mix, especially for your nighttime lift sessions. They are loaded with caffeine and other ingredients, and can keep you awake no matter what time you ingest it.

Cardio Exercise

Whether you want to go for a run, swim or even a brisk walk, cardio exercise can help improve your sleep. Furthermore, cardio workouts with moderate intensity can lower the severity of sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea. Some studies even suggest that moderate-intensity aerobic activities are more beneficial to your sleep than vigorous-intensity exercise.

Exercising improves sleep and vice versa

When you take the proper steps to improve your sleep, you’ll be rewarded with improved performance. Various studies have shown a good night’s sleep can help athletes improve different aspects of their game. Better sleep can lead to longer endurance, faster speed, quicker reaction time, improved accuracy and less risk of injury. Be mindful with your training and you’ll be on your way to better sleep and better athletic performance.

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