Exercise and Its Benefits for Sleep
Use your chronotype to exercise at the right times.
Posted Sep 06, 2017
I am a runner. Well, I try to be a runner. It seems to be the only thing I can do easily while traveling so much. I can hit the gym in the am (not fun if you are a Wolf like me), or after a long day, but not too close to bedtime. When I am home my run is usually around 930am, or I take a spin class, and I recently started working out with a trainer. Its tough to keep it going, but my family has a history of cardiac disease so I try to stay on top of it. And I can tell the days I exercise based on my sleep!
When you’re taking care of yourself, and exercising regularly, you likely notice that you’re not only feeling better during the day, but sleeping better at night, too. Exercise can provide excellent benefits for your sleep.
There’s a substantial body of scientific evidence that exercise helps improve sleep. Making exercise part of your regular routine can contribute to healthier, more restful sleep—and may help improve sleep issues such as insomnia.
How can exercise affect your sleep?
Exercise can give a boost to sleep in several ways. Making time to exercise can…
Improve sleep quality. Exercise can contribute to more sound and restful sleep. Physical activity increases time spent in deep sleep, the most physically restorative sleep phase. Deep sleep helps to boost immune function, support cardiac health, and control stress and anxiety.
Increase sleep amounts. In addition to improving the quality of sleep, exercise also can help you increase the duration of your nightly rest. Being physically active requires you to expend energy, and helps you feel more tired and ready to rest at the end of the day. Research indicates that exercise—in particular, regular exercise that’s part of a consistent routine—can help boost sleep duration, in addition to sleep quality.
Reduce stress and relieve anxiety. A regular exercise routine can help to reduce your stress levels. Stress is a common cause of sleep problems, including trouble falling asleep and sleeping restlessly during the night. Exercise is a potent remedy for anxiety and other mood disorders—just 5 minutes of exercise can trigger anti-anxiety responses in the body. Mind-body exercise such as yoga can help quiet the parasympathetic nervous system, which can help you relax. Research shows that mind-body exercises such as yoga and stretching can help to lower cortisol levels and reduce blood pressure, as well as having positive effects on mood.
Help with insomnia and other sleep disorders.
Scientific evidence indicates that exercise can be an effective natural therapy for insomnia. We have a lot to learn about how exercise may help treat insomnia and other sleep disorders. Studies suggest that aerobic exercise may be particularly effective in helping reduce insomnia symptoms. Research also indicates that for people with insomnia, the benefits of exercise kick in over time, rather than immediately. Studies have also found that exercise can help lower the severity of sleep disordered breathing and may help to reduce the severity of obstructive sleep apnea.
How much exercise is right?
There is no one right answer to this question. The National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association recommend at least 150 minutes of exercise a week for healthy adults—that’s 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Studies indicate that sleep may receive some of its most significant benefits from exercise that is consistent and routine over time, especially for people who experience difficulty sleeping.
It may surprise you to hear, but too much exercise can pose problems for sleep. Many people don’t give it much thought, but over-training is a common problem—and can lead to sleep difficulties. In fact, one of the first symptoms of over-training is insomnia and difficulty sleeping, according to research.
How bio time can help you exercise—and sleep—better
You can use bio time to help your exercise routine feel more like fun and less like work, to improve your fitness and athletic performance, and to get the maximum boost to your mental and physical health.
There is no one right time of day to exercise. The best times to be physically active depends on your chronotype (do you know yours? Find out here: https://thepowerofwhenquiz.com). The right time of day for exercise also depends on what you what you want to achieve in your workout.
Here are some strategies for using your body’s bio time to make the most of your exercise:
If you want to sleep more soundly, try a morning jog. Morning exercise gives a particular boost to deep sleep. Just be careful about doing any vigorous exercise—like running—too early in the morning. Running at dawn, when your body temperature is still low and your muscles and joints are more vulnerable to strain, may make you more prone to injury.
Looking to maximize your athletic performance? Physical performance peaks later in the day, for all chronotypes. Research indicates that athletic performance is strongly influenced by the timing of exercise in relation to your preferred wake time. Lions—who prefer to rise early—hit peak performance in the late morning, while Bears hit their strongest stride in the afternoon. With their preference for later wake times, Wolves are at their athletic best in the evening.
If a fat-burning workout is what you’re after, consider exercising before breakfast. A fasting workout can help you burn more fat. Follow up your workout with a breakfast of 50-50 carbohydrates and protein to keep your metabolism revved and take full advantage of your body’s fat-burning rhythm. That fat-burning rhythm kicks in again at the other end of the day. A late-in-the-day workout can help suppress your appetite and make it easier to avoid over-eating in the evening.
Do you like to stay active by playing team sports? Belong to your company’s softball team or indoor soccer league? The best time for team play is around dusk (a little earlier for Lions). You and your teammates will benefit from good moods, strong on-the-field performance, and a shared sense of fun.
Your physical power—your ability to exert strength and speed—fluctuate throughout the day, in accordance with your body temperature changes. The higher your core body temperature, the more flexibility you’ll have, the quicker your reflexes will be, and the more stamina you’ll bring to your workout. For Bears, physical power peaks in the early evening, starting around 6 p.m. Lions will hit their power peak a couple of hours earlier and Wolves about an hour later.
Muscle strength reaches optimal levels in the late afternoon and early evening for most chronotypes. That’s when you’ll get your best performance from strength training. The worst time to strength train? Very early in the morning, when your body temperature is at its lowest.
Want to build muscle mass? Research suggests it’s not the time of day that matters, but the consistency of your strength-training routine.
For exercise that requires flexibility, it’s a good idea to schedule for when your body temperature is at its peak. For all chronotypes, that’s about three hours after waking and again in the early evening. (Yoga is a great end-of-day exercise, as it helps you relax and unwind physically and mentally.) You’re most likely to be stiff when your body temperature is at its lowest—that’s during the first 90 minutes of your waking day, again around mid-afternoon, and starting around three hours before bed.
When exercising, watch out for bedtime
When it comes to the timing of exercise, all chronotypes should be aware that exercising too close to bedtime may interfere with sleep. Working out too late in the day can leave you feeling energized and stimulated right before bed, and delay your transition to sleep.
Body temperature stays elevated for about four hours after you finish exercising. A higher body temperature can interfere with your ability to sleep. What does body temperature have to do with sleep? As your body prepares itself for sleep, you experience a drop in core body temperature—a drop that begins in the late afternoon. Falling core body temperature contributes to feeling drowsy. Exercise too close to bedtime can reverse that downward shift in body temp, and keep you awake. For all chronotypes, it’s a good idea to avoid everything but the gentlest forms of exercise—light stretching, relaxed yoga, and after-dinner stroll—within 3-4 hours of bedtime.
Get out for a jog, cycle around your neighborhood, hit the gym for some weight training or a cardio session on the treadmill. Every bit of exercise you commit can help you feel better during the day and sleep better at night.
Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor™