Running to the medicine cabinet for sleeping pills won’t help your sleep as much as a run at the gym…
Unless you live under a rock, you know exercise is good for sleep – research study after research study has documented the relationship between sleep and exercise. Exercise can elevate mood and reduce stress as well as fortify a flagging circadian rhythm by promoting daytime alertness and encouraging sleepiness at night. Exercise has also been shown to help improve sleep for people with insomnia and other sleeping disorders. What’s more, exercise can help enhance the quality of sleep by promoting longer spans of slow-wave sleep, the most restorative stages of sleep.
Exercise seems like a simple fix for our sleep challenges. But we all know simple fixes are rarely easy…
Recent research from Restonic found that people who exercised regularly were more likely to sleep better than those who never exercise. Only 11% of people surveyed who don’t workout feel they get enough sleep. The type of exercise also impacts sleep, as those who participate in high-impact activities like cardio, running and CrossFit report getting enough sleep at double the rate of those who engage in low-impact exercises like yoga (22 % for CrossFit and 18 % for cardio and running, versus only 10 % for yoga).
But here’s the really startling insight – 49% of respondents say they NEVER workout. Never.
With all the health and sleep benefits associated with exercise, why aren’t we working out?
If we know exercise is good for us and our sleep health, it makes sense that we should all be doing it, right? But clearly we aren’t. According to Psychology Today, not exercising could be us simply giving into our aversion to being physically uncomfortable in the short-term, despite the long-term benefits. “Theories of human behavior have long shown that immediate experience often outweighs future rewards. What this means is that it is hard to do something uncomfortable even if it earns us something good later.”
Because exercise and sleep are so closely linked, a bad night’s sleep can discourage a trip to the gym the next day. And that can become a downward health spiral that’s hard to break free of – unless you focus on maintaining good sleep health AND regular exercise at the same time.
“Sleep is a barometer of health, like someone’s temperature. If a person says he or she isn’t sleeping well, we know they are more likely to be in poor health, with problems managing their hypertension or diabetes,” Phyllis Zee, MD, senior author and director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Northwestern Medicine, told WebMD.
Understanding the sleep & exercise connection to improve your life
Now that we know how important sleep is to exercise and exercise is to sleep, it’s time to learn how to sweat your way to better sleep and how to sleep your way to better workouts. Enjoy the full power of the Sleep/Sweat Connection by following these steps.
- End your day with a high protein bedtime snack. Protein breaks down into amino acids, which build up muscles. Since sleep is the recovery vehicle for your muscles, having protein available throughout the night allows your body to use those sleep hours to their full potential.
- Protect your sleep environment. Bright lights, noise, clutter, temperature and an uncomfortable mattress can all affect the quality and quantity of sleep. If what’s in your bedroom – or outside of – is keeping you awake at night, it’s time to think of your bed gear like you do your workout gear. Outfit your bedroom so it can deliver the sleep you need.
- Slowly increase the intensity of your morning workout routine to sleep better at night. Just 20 to 30 minutes of moderate daily exercise can improve sleep – but more is better. Adding on another 5 minutes to your treadmill or elliptical workout will send signals to your body that it needs more repair time overnight, which will – over time – increase both the quality and quantity of your sleep.
- Go to bed earlier. Sleep affects your desire to even go to the gym. If you sleep poorly and manage to get to the gym, your workout may feel unusually challenging. Going to bed 15-20 minutes earlier can help your body rebuild those resources, leaving you wide awake and ready to take on the world when you wake up.
- Be kind to yourself. If you’re new to working out, adjusting your body’s sleep and exercise schedule can take time and patience and maybe even a few restless nights. Exercise stresses the body (in a good way) and that can lead to sleep disruption in the first few weeks of a new exercise program. Keep at it and when sleep is challenged, go easy on the workout – you’ll catch up next time as your body adjusts to this new normal.
Do you believe it’s possible to sweat your way to a better night’s sleep and sleep your way to a better workout? How do you prioritize sleep and exercise in your life?