Does exercise help sleep?
Surprisingly the answer is yes and no. In one research study women 55 years and older who complained of poor sleep quality were asked to engaged in vigorous aerobic exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes per day 4 times per week. After 16 weeks the women reported better quality of sleep, improved mood, and more energy. Researchers concluded that exercise improves overall health thus improving sleep.
When you exercise is as important as how. Exercising within 3 hours of bedtime has been shown to disrupt sleep, but vigorous exercise done late in the afternoon or early evening is the most beneficial in improving sleep. Our bodies naturally have a higher temperature during the day and lower temperature at night signalling the body to go to sleep. Exercising aerobically for a minimum of 20 minutes raises the body temp a few degrees for 4 to 5 hours. Researchers theorize that it’s the drop in body temperature after several hours after exercise that signals the body to sleep. Exercising 6 hours before bed seems to be an optimal time to improve sleep.
A recent Swiss research study found that the subject’s attitude towards their health and exercise is what determines quality of sleep. Over 800 college students were asked to grade their exercise and fitness levels, and sleep quality. Interestingly, a substantial percentage of students who actually exercised the most rated their fitness levels low, and their sleep quality poor. Researchers found that if the students believed they weren’t doing enough exercise they graded their sleep as poor. It was the student’s attitudes towards their fitness and exercise levels that determined their sleep quality.
There is no conclusive evidence that exercise improves sleep, but exercise does improve overall health, stress reduction, and depressive symptoms which do impact sleep quality. Research suggests that participating in vigorous exercise, later in the day, to a level that you believe to be challenging, is ideal for improving sleep.