Why we sleep better when we exercise and how to improve sleep habits.
According to sleep experts, adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep every day to be well-rested. However, many adults don't get enought sleep and over 50% of people middle-aged and older complain of chronic insomnia. Increasingly, young people are also reporting getting too little sleep.
The importance of getting quality sleep
Chronic sleep deficiency increases the risk of accidents behind the wheel and at the workplace. It has huge health repercussions, including impaired performance, poor decision-making, irritability, low mood and memory loss. It’s also linked to weight gain, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
It’s clear we need to prioritize sleep if we want to enjoy good health.
How exercise affects sleep
Studies show regular physical activity improves both the quality and quantity of sleep. A good workout expends energy and prepares the body for sleep at the end of the day. Regular exercise reduces stress and elevates mood by triggering anti-anxiety responses in the body (e.g. release of endorphins and improved circulation). Exercise increases time spent in deep sleep, which helps to boost immune function, cardiac health and resiliency to stress.
According to sleep researchers, “aerobic physical activity with sleep hygiene education is an effective treatment approach to improve sleep quality, mood and quality of life.”
Getting the right amount of exercise at the right time
Whether you love sports or individual exercise, all physical activity will benefit your quality of life and your sleep. While there is no right amount of exercise for everyone, Health Canada recommends at least 150 minutes of exercise per week for adults (approximately 30 minutes a day, five days a week), and 60 minutes daily for children and youth.
Getting regular aerobic exercise is the key. Even walking or cycling just 10 minutes a day can improve the quality of your nighttime rest. Additional benefits can be gained if you exercise outdoors where your body gets to absorb natural sunlight and fresh air.
The ideal time to exercise is highly individual but studies show that following your body’s bio rhythm is best. In order to reap optimal health benefits and to avoid injury, it is best to exercise when your body temperature is at its peak (typically, about 2 hours after waking and in the early evening). The body tends to be coldest and stiffest in the first 90 minutes of waking and about 3 hours before bed.
Tips for improving sleep
Studies show that consistent, nighttime routines set you up for the best night’s rest. Here are a few tips to establish an excellent routine:
- Exercise and get some fresh air every day – balancing physical and mental fatigue naturally balances you for a good night’s rest. People who are sedentary may be tired mentally but their bodies are often not tired enough to sleep.
- Experiment to find the best time of day for you to work out – every body is different and it pays to know your own bio rhythms.
- Avoid or limit caffeine consumption in the afternoon and evening – caffeine can stay in the system for 5-9 hours and be a big disrupter to sleep.
- Avoid a big meal or spicy food before bed – finish eating 2-3 hours before turning in so your digestive system isn’t working hard all night.
- Turn your screens off 1-2 hours before bedtime – put your TV, laptop, phone and all electronic gadgets to bed a couple of hours before you – they are stimulants and attention seekers!
- Go to bed at the same time every night – don’t wait until you’re droopy-eyed to go to bed. By having a consistent bedtime your body can anticipate and regulate sleep.
- Introduce some relaxation time before you climb into bed – to slow down thoughts and calm the mind, try a few minutes of meditation, gentle yoga poses or a hot bath before bed.
- Try an eye mask and earplugs – it can be difficult to get away from light and noise pollution in the city (or in bed next to you), so it might be helpful to block out and tune out.
- If something is on your mind preventing sleep, get up and write it down – by writing down your to-do list (or worries and anxieties), you are transferring them from your head onto paper, which helps to calm the mind.
- If you are getting enough sleep (hours) but wake up feeling tired all the time, see your doctor – find out if you might have an underlying cause like depression or sleep apnea (the condition where your breathing pauses during sleep).
Remember that NVRC is your passport to physical fitness, sports and wellness! Check out the NVRC Leisure Guide
for hundreds of fitness classes every week plus drop-in or sports programs for all ages and levels.
Wiley is a long-time North Vancouver resident. She works as a technical writer and is the current newsletter editor for the North Shore Writers’ Association. She spends her free time feeding her twin passions of creative writing and hiking. She recently discovered a potential third passion - the pottery studio at the Delbrook Community Recreation Centre.