We know that exercise can help you sleep better but which type of exercise is best for sleep? To answer this question, here I look at the research surrounding exercise and sleep, plus find out how exactly exercise can improve sleep and whether it's good to exercise before bed.
Louise Baillie S.A.C. Dip (Diet, Exercise & Fitness), Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology Level 3 @ActiveLouise Ask Louise
26 May 2021
Which exercise is best for sleep?
Aerobic exercises that get the heart and breathing rate up, including running, cycling and sports such as tennis, are some of the best forms of exercise for sleep. Other exercises which can help you sleep better include yoga and strength exercises, such as weight lifting.
What exercises help you sleep?
There's a breadth of evidence to show us that exercise can help you sleep, so let's take a closer look at a few types have been praised for being particularly helpful to discover why they are the best exercise for sleep:
We know that fairly intense activities like speed walking, jogging or cycling can improve sleep. This is because, in research, people suffering from insomnia got better sleep when they participated in these kinds of activities. However, these benefits were only seen with regular uptake of aerobic movement, so you'll have to keep this up long term to see improvements to your sleep! (1)
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Yoga groups have been studied to determine the effect of practising this activity on quality of sleep. It was found that engagement with regular classes was beneficial in managing sleep problems. In contrast, those who were non-active did not see any benefits to their sleep. (3)
There are various ways in which exercise can improve the quality of sleep. The natural rise and then fall in body temperature is thought to mimic what happens when we go to bed at night. This may send signals to the brain, making you sleepy.
There is also the fact that exercise helps to release endorphins which we know have a beneficial effect on mood. If we are feeling positive, we are more likely to achieve a night of restful sleep, free from tossing and turning.
We also know that, in some cases, exercise may release the sleep hormone serotonin. This may make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.
With activities like Yoga, there is also a focus on breath work which may have a calming effect, thus helping to improve sleep.
Is it good to exercise before bed?
So, with various forms of exercise being very good for sleep, you may be thinking, great, I'll do my workout before going to bed.
Whilst moderate-level activities, such as an evening walk or a short Yoga session, haven't been seen to disturb sleep quality (4), we may want to avoid more vigorous activities right before bed.
When lots of endorphins are released during exercise this makes us feel upbeat and energised. Whilst this is great for our mood and overall wellbeing, it takes time for these chemicals to settle down which may make it more challenging to get to sleep.
Therefore, if you want to exercise in the evening, make sure to do so a few hours before you go to bed, or practise simple, gentle exercises if you want to get moving closer to bed time.