The Dream Team: Exercise and Sleep
Whether it’s time spent sweating in the gym, or time spent chasing the kids around the house, you probably get at least a little exercise in every day. While you’ve probably heard a plethora of reasons why you should be exercising daily, you may not know that it’s also really great for your sleep. Here are a few reasons why, and some tips on how you can make the best use of your exercise to get an awesome night’s sleep (and vice versa!).
The vigorous cycle
Research shows that when you exercise, you sleep longer and feel more rested upon waking. Even those who get a light amount of exercise report getting more high-quality sleep than those who get no exercise. Getting the right amount of sleep, in turn, gives you greater energy the next day, giving you the ability to exercise to your full potential. When you get consistent exercise and great sleep, you are starting up an invigorating cycle that will only result in greater improvements to your health.
For those who include a more intense workout in their weekly routine, sleep also helps with muscle recovery. During sleep, there is a surge of growth hormones that help to repair muscle tissues (among many other parts of your body), allowing you to bounce back faster and be ready for exercise the next day. When you miss out on sleep, your body is missing out on much-needed repairs.
Sleep, exercise, and aging
Need more proof that these two heavyweights of health work hand in hand? We can take a look even deeper, down at the genetic level. The spirals of your individual packets of DNA are capped with telomeres that keep the strands from “fraying” and breaking down. Getting less sleep than you need or getting poor quality sleep causes these telomeres to weaken.
Sleep scientist Matthew Walker in his book Why We Sleep tells us that this damaging of the telomeres from sleep deprivation appears to correspond with the aging of our bodies at an accelerated rate compared to our actual chronological ages. Exercise, on the other hand, has been found to do the opposite.
In a recent study, it was shown that consistent exercise keeps telomeres strong and intact, keeping your body biologically younger than your non-exercising peers—up to nine years younger in fact. If you’ve ever encountered an active older adult who’s kept up an impressive workout routine throughout their life, this finding may not come as much of a surprise.
The main takeaway? Whether you make daily exercise a high priority and let good sleep fall by the wayside, or you luxuriate in great sleep but give up on exercising—ignoring one and excelling at the other means that you’re not reaping the full benefits of either on your health.
Sleep and exercise tips
Looking to establish a good routine? To make the most of exercise’s impact on your sleep, it’s all about timing:
- Don’t exercise right before bed, as this will raise your temperature, and a higher body temperature before bed prevents the onset of sleep.
- If you must exercise in the afternoon or evening, try to schedule it for two or three hours before your bedtime.
- The most ideal time to hit the gym is in the morning, as this will provide you with energy to begin the day. If you can get outdoors and soak up some sun, even better, as this will help to regulate your circadian rhythm and help you to have more alert mornings and an easier time falling asleep at night.
If exercise has not exactly been your “thing”, getting great sleep may just give you the burst of energy you’ve been needing to hit the gym in the morning. And, if you’re a superstar exerciser but you only sleep a wink, improving the quality of your sleep can give you the extra few reps you might be missing.
It’s clear then that, even on the genetic level, sleep and exercise are meant to work together, as excelling in one while ignoring the other will cancel out many positive effects. All of this serves as just another reminder to us that, when it comes to your body’s efforts to keep you healthy, sleep is the ultimate team player.