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Exercise Your Way to a Good Night’s Sleep

| January 19, 2012

In a study published in the journal Mental Health and Physical Activity, researchers have found that moderate weekly exercise is linked to a better night’s sleep. Getting the recommended amount of physical activity or more can do more than make you stronger, healthier and more energized. We now know that exercise can help boost the quality of your sleep.  Moodtraining principle 6 states that smart = strong = smart.  Smart exercise can create strong sleep, thereby improving our moods and our lives.

The Mental Health and Physical Activity Journal found that individuals who exercise at a moderate to vigorous rate for at least 150 minutes weekly get a better night’s sleep than those who exercise less. In fact, 65 percent of individuals who exercise reported better quality sleep. These individuals also reported feeling less tired throughout the day and experiencing fewer leg cramps while sleeping. Researchers indicate that the exercise guidelines set forth for cardiovascular health can have benefits on many other areas of your health including your sleeping patterns. Regular physical activity may just serve as a non-pharmaceutical alternative to a better night’s rest. This study included 3,000 men and women ranging in age from 18 to 85. Participants wore an accelerometer on their right hip for a week after they were examined and answered questions about their tiredness and energy levels as well as their quality of sleep.

So, what does this mean for you?

For many, exercise and sleep can have a complicated relationship. If you choose not to exercise simply because you’re too tired, you may want to think again. In addition to the many other benefits of exercise, you are also very likely to experience a better night’s sleep after a day of exercise. Another benefit, you’ll feel more awake during the day. However, the time you choose to exercise also plays a very large role in how good of a night’s sleep you get.

When exercise makes sleep worse…

For those of you who are night exercisers (or earlier morning exercisers if you work the night shift), exercising too close to bed time can actually make it more difficult for you to fall asleep. Why? A vigorous workout right before bed stimulates the heart, muscles and brain. This is the exact opposite of what you want when trying to fall asleep. As a result, exercise within three hours of your bedtime can make it very difficult to get the sleep you need.

The best time of day to exercise for the best rest…

Are you a morning exerciser? Morning exercise can help to relieve stress and improve your mood. These effects can indirectly improve sleep. Want to step it up a notch? Consider exercising outdoors in the morning. Exposure to natural light in the morning, whether you are exercising or just sitting outside eating breakfast, can help to improve your sleep by reinforcing the sleep-wake cycle of your body.

If morning exercise is not for you, that’s okay. When it comes to a good night’s sleep, vigorous exercise in the late afternoon and early evening are extremely beneficial. This is because vigorous exercise raises your body’s temperature above normal for a few hours before you hit the sack. This allows your body’s temperature to fall just as you are heading to bed; which can trigger you into sleep-mode more easily.

What kind of exercise?

Not sure what type of exercise you should engage in to help balance your sleep-wake cycle? The study’s mention of a vigorous workout means a cardiovascular workout. This is any type of exercise that elevates your heart rate and gets your muscles moving for at least 20 minutes at a time. Cardiovascular exercise is the most beneficial when it comes to a good night’s sleep.

For maximum benefits, try to engage in vigorous exercise three to four times per week. Choose an activity or multiple activities you enjoy (this can help to beat exercise boredom).  Consider walking, jogging, swimming, biking, sports, dancing, an aerobics class, jumping rope or skiing. Ultimately, the choice is yours!

Image by CDRaff, used under Creative Commons licensing, borrowed from Flickr.

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