It’s official: Exercise helps us to sleep better

Exercise helps us to sleep better but there’s a catch.  A recent study with chronic insomniacs found that those who started walking, biking or running three times a week for 30 minutes at a time noticed an improvement in their sleep habits at the end of 16 weeks, according to the results published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine .

Kelly Glazer Baron, a clinical psychologist and director of the programme, said: “If you have insomnia you won’t exercise yourself into sleep right away. It’s a long-term relationship. You have to keep at it and not get discouraged.”

The study is believed to be the first to show aerobic exercise during the day does not lead to a better night’s sleep ‘overnight’. The University claimed most previous studies that suggested this may be the case worked with “healthy sleepers”.

Sleeping poorly changes people’s perception of their capabilities

The work by the University also showed that people are less inclined to exercise after a bad night’s sleep, but that a restless night does not change someone’s aerobic capacity. Ms Baron said: “Sleeping poorly changes people’s perception of their exertion. They feel more exhausted.” Personally, this is a game-changing line for me. I used to think that when I was exhausted I should not burden myself, but then I read about people who ran marathons after a 3-hour-sleep and realized that this is untrue, and now my assumption is confirmed.

Ms Baron continued: “People have to realise that even if they don’t want to exercise, that’s the time they need to dig in their heels and get themselves out there. Write a note on your mirror that says ‘Just Do It!’. It will help in the long run.”

Young woman running outdoors on a lovely sunny winter/fall day (


Coach potatoes – kick yourselves up and out

Equally interestingly, also another typical myth related to sleep and exercise seems to be gone with the wind. Couch potatoes looking for a reason to forgo working out after a long day at work in the evening may no longer be able to use difficulty sleeping afterward as an excuse, according to a recent study.

Researchers found that people who exercised in the evening reported sleeping just as well as those who weren’t active in the hours before bed. People who worked out in the morning reported getting the best sleep, on average.

“Sleep recommendations suggest avoiding exercise prior to bed,” said Matthew Buman, lead author of the study from Arizona State University in Phoenix. “We found evidence to the contrary suggesting that individuals need not avoid exercise at night.”

He and his colleagues analyzed responses collected from 1,000 adults participating in the 2013 National Sleep Foundation Sleep in America Poll. The poll also asked participants about their exercise habits, such as whether they worked out regularly and, if so, whether they were active in the morning, afternoon or evening. Evening was considered to be within four hours of going to sleep.

There was no difference in any of the sleep measures between moderate or vigorous evening exercisers and non-exercisers, according to findings published in the journal “Sleep Medicine“.

Researchers said the online or printed resources to which some doctors direct patients advise against evening workouts. It’s important to remember that sleep is different for each person; what helps one person’s slumber may lead to insomnia in someone else, researchers said.

“Sleep hygiene recommendations are just that – things that might work in general. They are not written in stone,” Dr Matt Bianchi told Reuters Health. He recommends people who are having trouble sleeping be “thoughtful and introspective about finding patterns in their own lives. Each patient may find by trial and error the best combination of things to do or to avoid,” he said.

How do we create to create an exercise routine with lasting results?

Now we know that the amount of physical activity that we expend during the week is a key ingredient to helping you sleep restfully at night. With regular exercise, our sleep quality will be improved and the transition between the cycles and phases of sleep becomes smoother and more regular.

Keeping up your physical activity during the day may also help you deal with the stress and worry in your life. Several studies indicate that there is a direct correlation between how much we exercise and how we feel both emotionally and physically by changes in our brain chemistry that occur from regular exercise.

5 Tips to get started and get results

1. Find your ideal time to exercise. Test and try. Don’t follow strict sleep hygiene rules: Instead find out what suits best to your body, mind and life. Personally, I love mornings but as long as I worked in corporate life it was rarely possible. At that time I often used my lunch breaks – or any breaks! Commit to exercise 3 x per week, put it into your schedule if nothing else works!

2. Do aerobic activities: To increase the amount of oxygen that reaches your blood and to get some dopamine and serotonin into your system. There are many types of aerobic activities to choose from. These include running, biking, using a treadmill, jumping rope, and dancing. Aerobic exercises seem to work best to battle sleeplessness and they perk up your mood as well. It’s a double win.

3. Some non-aerobic activities help you to relax and calm your restless mind. Yoga has a stimulatory effect on your nervous system, particularly the brain. Yoga uses breathing techniques and yoga postures to increase blood circulation to the brain centre, promoting regular and restful sleeping patterns. Tai Chi is a form of breathing and movement that was developed by ancient Chinese monks. The movements involved in Tai Chi are precise and slow, which is ideal if you have joint pain or are unable to participate in high impact aerobic exercises. Studies have shown that Tai Chi and Restorative yoga may help people with insomnia by promoting relaxation.

4.  Take the stairs instead of the elevator whenever possible. Walking to 5th floor 3 times per day means your minimum daily exercise is fulfilled. Also, try parking your car around the corner and walking that extra block to your appointment. Got off from tube a bit earlier and walk the extra 20 minutes.  There are many small ways that you can incorporate some added activity into your life.

5. Be patient with results. My sleep improved in phases. Yoga helped me to sort out my breathing and find relaxation. Also, yoga enabled me to move forward – it made me stronger and encouraged me to demand more from myself. When I started running (for the first time in my life really) the results on my sleep were dramatic and fast. It felt strange how everything got into its place. And it still does so.

Question for your consciousness – Do you think you exercise enough (to sleep better)?

Stop the fight and sleep tight, every night.

With love,


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2 Responses to It’s official: Exercise helps us to sleep better

  1. Sleep challenge October 23, 2014 at 8:06 am #

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    • Helena Lindfors October 24, 2014 at 3:16 pm #

      Thank you for this encouraging and positive feedback – stay tuned, more is on its way :)

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