Can exercise improve your sleep?

We explore the connection between exercise and a good night’s sleep

Experts have called it an epidemic. Somewhere between 33 to 45% of Australian adults sleep either poorly, or don’t get enough sleep most nights.

Could exercise be the key to better sleep?

The idea that that exercise helps you sleep better seems like common sense. We expend energy when we’re exercising, then we restore energy when we sleep.

Simple right?

The connection between sleep and exercise has been well researched in the last 20 years. Researchers have been keen to prove the connection and explore how sleep and exercise influences each other.

Some of the questions they’ve looked at include:

  • How much exercise do you need to get the benefits?
  • Is it better to exercise in the morning for a better night’s sleep?
  • Does exercise affect older people in the same way?
  • Can doing ‘too much’ exercise impact sleep?

How much exercise do you need for a good night’s sleep?

It’s not 100% clear what is the ‘optimum’ amount of exercise that you need for a great night’s sleep. What the research does point to is that:

  • ‘Regular’ exercise is beneficial. This means about 150 minutes per week.
  • Exercise increases sleep quality and boosts your energy levels throughout the day.
  • Active people also tend to fall asleep more quickly.

True or false? When you exercise can impact your sleep quality

Many people find that getting their daily exercise done and dusted first thing in the morning puts a spring in their step.

Yet, for those of us who can only fit in a workout in the evenings, research has given you the green light. Turns out, evening exercise gives you the same ‘good sleep’ benefits as an early morning workout.

Exercise helps insomnia in the over 55’s

Around 50% of people over 65 years of age suffer from chronic sleep problems. They have trouble falling asleep, waking up, awaking too early, needing to nap and generally not feeling rested.

One study involved a group of people over 55 years of age. Before the study, the participants did little exercise and all complained of chronic insomnia. After 16 weeks of aerobic physical fitness, the group reported an improvement in their sleep quality and their overall mood. 

An earlier study looked at the effect of supervised weight-training in a larger group of people over 60.  They found this type of exercise was effective in “improving subjective sleep quality, depression, strength, and quality of life”.

Exercise can help with sleep apnea

Sleep apnoea, or obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), happens when a person’s throat is partly or completely blocked while they are asleep. Without the person even knowing, they may stop breathing anywhere between a few and 90 seconds, hundreds of times a night. This usually leads to an interrupted sleep and chronic tiredness.

A 2011 study was run over 12 weeks to see if regular exercise could improve sleep quality and the impact of OSA.

The conclusion?

Exercise moderately reduced of the occurrence of OSA in sedentary overweight/obese adults. The study suggested that exercise may be beneficial for the management of OSA beyond simply helping people lose weight.

Is there a downside?

For some people, it’s possible to do too much exercise.

An early study, which compared 12 fit older men with 12 sedentary men in the same age group, found that exercise had significant positive effects on sleep quality.

However, the results also suggested that high levels of body heating resulting from a single exercise challenge may have adverse effects.

Intensive exercise can stress the body to the point that it interrupts sleep patterns.

So, a one-off burst of exercise may not be the answer, but regular, moderate exercise could be.

Sleep also affects exercise

We’ve so far discussed the impact of exercise on sleep quality, but it also works in reverse.

  • It’s clear a good night’s sleep has an immediate and significant effect on how you exercise.
  • Equally, a poor night’s sleep can lead people to cut short their exercise sessions because of sheer exhaustion.

Of course, after a busy day going to work and hitting the gym, there’s nothing better than sliding into a comfortable bed. Check out our range of mattresses and pillows for the best night’s sleep you’ve had in ages.