Exercise and Sleep: The Best Workouts for a Better Night’s Sleep

The Relatable Quest for Sleep

Can't sleep? You're not alone. The struggle is real when it comes to catching that elusive slumber.  Millions struggle with getting the sleep that they both want and need.  

But what if the solution is not in your bed but in what you do between waking up and falling asleep? There's plenty of buzz about the wonders of working out, and rightfully so, but did you know that breaking a sweat was one of the most important things you can do to ensure you get the necessary rest each night?

Exercise is the key to a healthier life and a more peaceful slumber. This article will dive into the sleep-exercise connection, revealing the best workouts for a better night's sleep.

The Sleep-Exercise Connection

Remember the saying, “Healthy body, healthy mind?” It turns out it's not just a cliché. The science is clear – exercise has a profound effect on sleep. When you exercise, your body temperature rises, and post-workout drops, which can signal to your body that it's time to sleep. Not to mention, it helps to regulate those sleep hormones.

You know about REM and Deep Sleep, right?  These are parts of your sleep cycle, and exercise plays a role in making the transitions smoother. Various workouts help reduce sleep onset – the time it takes you to nod off – and increase the time spent in deep sleep. 

Let's not forget the brain! Exercise reduces stress and anxiety levels. The post-exercise endorphin rush, often called the “runner's high,” can be a real mood lifter. So, not only does your body get primed for sleep, but your mind also settles down.

Unraveling the Best Workouts

Finding Your Sleep-Enhancing Match

So, what makes a workout stellar for sleep? It's a mix of factors – how vigorous it is when you're doing it and what you enjoy. Ultimately, the best exercise is the one you will do. 

A word of caution to the night owls out there – exercising too close to bedtime can be a no-go for some folks. Generally, it is probably a good rule of thumb to wrap your workout up at least three hours before bedtime (unless we talk about some gentle yoga or a relaxing walk). It's vital to listen to your body and find the sweet spot that lulls you to dreamland, not keeps you counting sheep.

Weight Training for SleepThe Secret Sauce for Deeper Sleep

Did you know that pushing iron could help you to count sheep? Weight training helps you achieve a deeper sleep by physically tiring the body and reducing stress. When you lift weights, your body has to work overtime to repair muscle tissue, which makes you feel sleepier at bedtime and often leads to more deep sleep overnight. 

Iron-Pumping Routine

Ready to hit the weights? 

Anything that involves pushing weight could be good, but spend your time with the bigger, compound movements whenever possible.  Squats, deadlifts, presses, rows, pull-ups, and the like all engage multiple muscle groups and thoroughly work the body in ways that isolation movements can’t compete.

Remember, it's not about trying to be the biggest guy in the gym.  It’s about consistently working your body in a way that will push it to crave the rest it needs to repair and restore. 

Running Your Way to Dreamland

The Happy Hormones

Let's talk about that runner's high. Running triggers the release of endorphins, the feel-good hormones, and also boosts serotonin, often known as the happiness hormone. Both play an important role in helping to calm your mind and prepare you for sleep. 

Mind Cleansing Magic

While running is good for the body, its true benefits can really be found when it comes to the health of your mind. It's like hitting the reset button on your brain. The repetitive motion of running can be meditative and help clear your mind from the day's stress.

Hit the Ground Running

Ready to lace up? Here are some tips:

  • Ease into it: Especially if you're new to running. Feel free to mix in walking as much as necessary until you build the necessary endurance. 
  • Find your time: Some people find a brisk morning jog invigorating, while others prefer a sunset sprint. 
  • Stay consistent: Make it a regular part of your routine.  

Swimming: The Unsung Hero of Restful Nights

There's something incredibly calming about water. The buoyancy eases the strain on the body, and the rhythmic strokes can be meditative. The gentle resistance of water also makes for a fantastic workout.  There might be no other exercise option that does such an excellent job of being a challenge for the elite athlete, the woefully undertrained, and everyone in between. 

Dive into Insomnia Relief

Swimming is a heavyweight when it comes to tackling insomnia. It tires the body and is incredibly soothing. Plus, it's often more appropriate for those with physical limitations than other forms of exercise.

Make a Splash With These Routines

  • Laps: Good old-fashioned laps are a fantastic way to start.
  • Water Aerobics: Mix it up with some water-based exercise classes.
  • Relaxed Backstroke: Slow and steady to wind down your day.

Remember, it's not just about the speed or intensity; it's about finding a pace and stroke that feels relaxing and sustainable.

Walking Towards a Peaceful Slumber

While pumping iron and sprinting have their perks, let's not forget the tortoise in this story – walking. Walking is a low-impact exercise that can do wonders for sleep. It's gentle on the joints and perfect for all fitness levels.  I dare you to increase your daily step count by 50% and see you are healthier all around and sleeping much better each night. 

Embrace the Great Outdoors

What's better than a stroll? A stroll in the great outdoors! Walking outside, especially in natural settings, can help regulate sleep patterns. Exposure to natural light during the day helps keep your internal clock on schedule.  Plenty of research indicates that natural light first thing in the morning is what your internal circadian clock needs to get you attuned to a healthy waking and sleeping schedule. 

Step It Up

Here's how to make the most out of your walks:

  • Consistency is key: A daily walk can work wonders.
  • Pick a scenic route: Nature walks can be more calming than city strolls.
  • Invite a friend: Sometimes, a little chatter can be incredibly therapeutic.  Relationships matter when we are talking about overall health as a part of sleep. 

Yoga: The Ancient Key to Modern Sleep Woes The Diverse World of Yoga

Who knew that stretching and bending could be so diverse? Yoga has a plethora of styles, each with its distinct flavor. Some like it hot with Bikram yoga, others prefer the synchronicity of Vinyasa, while many find solace in the gentle movements of Hatha.

1. Hatha Yoga is the gentle giant of the yoga world. Its slow pace and focus on basic postures make it excellent for beginners and those looking to wind down.

2. Vinyasa Yoga, often called “flow yoga,” is all about harmony. The postures synchronize with your breath, creating a dance-like flow. It's more intense than Hatha but can be deeply calming.

3. Yin Yoga is the sloth of yoga styles – in a good way! It involves holding poses for extended periods, sometimes up to 5 minutes. It's great for deep stretches and introspection.

4. Restorative Yoga is like a warm blanket on a cold night. It's all about comfort and relaxation, using props like pillows and bolsters to support your body.

Yoga's Magical Melody for the Mind

Why is yoga such a reliable option for helping to facilitate sleep? It's like a lullaby for your brain. The combination of movement, breath control, and meditation creates a symphony that drowns out stress and anxiety.

Poses and Sequences to Send You to Slumberland

Here's the real deal – a selection of poses and sequences that are like counting sheep with style:

1. Child's Pose (Balasana) – Great for calming the mind. Kneel, touch your big toes together, separate your knees, exhale, and lay your torso between your thighs.

2. Legs-Up-The-Wall (Viparita Karani) – Fantastic for relaxation. Lie on your back with your sit-bones as close to the wall as comfortable. Extend your legs up the wall so that the backs of your legs are resting fully against it.

3. Corpse Pose (Savasana) – Perfect for deep relaxation. Lie down on your back, arms by your side with palms facing up, and breathe deeply.

4. Forward Bend (Uttanasana) – Good for stretching and calming. Stand, exhale, and bend forward from the hip joints, not the waist.

5. Seated Spinal Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana) – Great for releasing tension. Sit up with your legs straight, bend one knee, cross it over the straight leg, and twist your torso toward the bent knee.

6. Nighttime Goddess Stretch (Supta Baddha Konasana) – Perfect for opening up the chest and relaxation. Lie on your back, bring the soles of your feet together, and let your knees fall open.

Crafting Your Nightly Yoga Routine

String these poses into a sequence, and voila! You have your nightly yoga routine. Start with a couple of minutes and gradually increase as you feel comfortable. Remember, it's not a race. It's about finding your groove and sailing into the land of dreams.

Perhaps you’d enjoy making yoga your primary workout option or as an alternative, as long as you stick to the more gentle options, it is also an excellent way to wind down before bed and prepare your mind and body for sleep. 

Tai Chi and Other Mindful PracticesThe Gentle Art of Tai Chi

Enter Tai Chi: A martial art that's more about flow than combat—often described as meditation in motion.

The Mindful Path to Dreamland

Mindfulness is the art of being present. By focusing on the now, mindfulness can alleviate stress and promote sleep. Whether it's through meditation, breathing exercises, or Tai Chi, a little mindfulness goes a long way.

Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Start with short sessions: Even a few minutes can make a difference.
  • Create a tranquil space: Set the stage for relaxation.
  • Be kind to yourself: Mindfulness is a practice, not a destination.

The Role of Diet and NutritionThe Symphony of Food and Exercise

Let's face it, folks – what we stuff into our mouths affects our sleep. Just like a car needs the right fuel to run smoothly, our bodies need proper nourishment to keep up with exercise and sleep our best.

Mighty Nutrients for the Sleepy Heads

Certain nutrients wear a superhero cape when it comes to sleep. Here are the sleep MVPs:

1. Magnesium – This muscle-relaxing mineral is like a lullaby for your body. Chow down on nuts, seeds, and whole grains.

2. Melatonin – The sleep hormone itself! Some foods like cherries and tomatoes have it in spades.

3. Tryptophan – This amino acid is a precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter key for sleep. Turkey and dairy are your pals here.

4. Potassium – Helps to relax your muscles and steady your heartbeat. Feast on bananas and sweet potatoes!

Foods to Dodge Before Hitting the Hay

1. Caffeine – Oh, the beloved java! But keep your hands off it later in the day.  Caffeine has a half-life of 8 hours, so caffeine is still circulating in your system from that after-dinner coffee when you try to crash at 11.  

2. Alcohol might make you drowsy, but it isn't great for sleep quality. It’s notorious for waking you up after a few hours as your body works on processing it and making your sleep the rest of the night a bit of a fitful adventure. 

3. Heavy, Spicy Foods – Heartburn city!  As you lay down, that extra stomach acid tends to come back up.  It's not exactly what you want when sleep is the goal. 

When to Exercise for Optimal Sleep

The Great Timing Debate

Morning, noon, or night – when's the golden time for breaking a sweat? Research says earlier is generally better for sleep, but the best time is when you can commit consistently.

Your sleep cycle love routine. Regular exercise helps synchronize your body's internal clock so your body gets the hint when it's time to hit the sack.

Be your own time, detective. Experiment and find the best schedule, energy levels, and sleep time.  We all have different commitments and times when we are free to exercise, but if late evening is your only option, you are probably best off trying to keep your workout gentle. 

Exercise Tips for People with Sleep Disorders

Getting a Handle on Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders like insomnia or sleep apnea can throw a monkey wrench in your sleep. Don't throw in the towel just yet, though. Exercise can still be your ally.

1. Insomnia – Engage in moderate aerobic exercises like brisk walking or cycling. Avoid high-intensity workouts close to bedtime.

2. Sleep Apnea – Focus on breathing exercises and yoga to improve respiratory function.  As Sleep Apnea often goes hand in hand with carrying too much weight, you may find some success in reducing this problem as the exercise also helps reduce the reading on your scale. 

3. Restless Leg Syndrome – Leg stretches and moderate-intensity workouts earlier in the day can ease symptoms.

If sleep disorders are keeping you up despite your exercise efforts, don't hesitate to seek professional help. 

Creating a Balanced Routine

Everything in Moderation, My Friend!

Easy does it! Diving headfirst into a new exercise routine is tempting, but overdoing it is like trying to win a marathon by sprinting. Too much too soon might leave you more wired than tired.  I can’t emphasize enough that finding something you can do on a regular schedule is perhaps the most important aspect of this entire discussion. 

As your sleep improves, don't be afraid to shake things up. Listen to your body, and adapt your routine to what feels best.

 Monitoring Your Progress

The Perks of Keeping Tabs

Welcome to the 21st century, where there's an app for everything!

Sleep Trackers: Gadgets like Fitbit or apps like Sleep Cycle can monitor your sleep stages.

You’ll have to figure out whether this is right for you.  It can be incredibly helpful for some in that it helps keep you aware of your actions and needs.  Unfortunately for others, it can turn into a little bit of a head game, a struggle that those who have a hard time with sleep are sadly well aware of. 

Exercise Logs: Apps like MyFitnessPal or a good old-fashioned journal can keep track of your workouts.

Once you have some data, it's tweak time! You may discover that swimming makes you sleep like a baby or that late-night workouts make you toss and turn. Adjust accordingly!

Conclusion

So, let's take a step back and consider all the gems we've uncovered. Exercise and sleep are like two peas in a pod. From pumping iron to doing downward dogs, moving your body is a golden ticket.

Now, lace up those sneakers and give it a whirl! Experiment with different workouts, keep tabs on how you sleep, and find what makes you feel like a million bucks.

Remember, Rome wasn't built in a day! Improving your sleep through exercise is a journey, so take it one step at a time. 

FAQs

 Is there such a thing as too much exercise for sleep? 

Absolutely! While exercise is usually beneficial for rest, overdoing it can have the opposite effect. Too much exercise, especially close to bedtime, can leave you too energized to fall asleep. The key is balance and listening to your body. You might need to tone it down if you're having trouble sleeping.

I'm not a gym person; can simple activities like walking help improve my sleep?

You bet! Walking, especially if it's done outside, can do wonders for your sleep. Combining physical activity and exposure to natural light can help regulate your sleep patterns. So, put on those walking shoes and take a stroll!

How soon can I expect to see improvements in my sleep after starting an exercise routine?

It varies from person to person, but generally, you might start to see changes in your sleep patterns within a few weeks of regular exercise. However, for some people, it might take longer. The key is consistency and patience.

I have insomnia. Can exercise help me, or should I consult a doctor?

It's a twofer! Exercise is vital for people with insomnia, but it shouldn't replace professional medical advice. If you're struggling with chronic insomnia, it's a good idea to consult a healthcare provider to discuss your options.

Are there specific yoga poses that can help me sleep better?

For sure! Several yoga poses can help calm the mind and prepare your body for sleep. Some of the poses that can be particularly helpful include the Child's Pose (Balasana), Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose (Viparita Karani), and Corpse Pose (Savasana).

References

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  3. Halson, S. L. (2014). Sleep in elite athletes and nutritional interventions to enhance sleep. Sports Medicine, 44(1), 13-23. Link
  4. Hertenstein, E., Feige, B., Gmeiner, T., Kienzler, C., Spiegelhalder, K., Johann, A., … & Riemann, D. (2019). Insomnia as a predictor of mental disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 43, 96-105. Link
  5. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2018). Yoga: What You Need To Know. Retrieved from https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/yoga-what-you-need-to-know