You already know exercise is important to your health—we don’t need to tell you that.
The Mayo Clinic recommends 30 minutes of physical activity a day for the average adult, it can improve just about ever aspect of your health. You might also know that working out can have a profound impact on the quality of your sleep. When and how you get your exercise in might be impacting your health in more ways than you think!
When should you workout for better sleep Everyone has a different preference when it comes to when they workout. Some people can’t get out of bed without hitting the ground running, others prefer to wear themselves out at the end of the night before crashing. But which one is getting the best sleep?
Studies show that working out first thing in the morning has plenty of benefits—namely, consistency. If you kick your day off with a quick workout, you’re much less likely to give into the “I’m too tired” excuse later in the evening. Working out in the morning also helps get some much needed sun exposure in right away, helping boost your natural circadian rhythm and leading to better sleep when you hit the hay at night. Not only are you likely to get to sleep at the right time, but you’re much more likely to get deeper, more restorative sleep. People who workout in the morning spend 75% more time in restorative sleep phases.
Don’t count yourself out if you’re hitting the gym in the afternoon, though! Studies have shown there are benefits to working out about 4-5 hours before bedtime, too. Not only are you a little warmer than you are in the morning so your muscles are ready to put in some work, but you’re raising your core temperature just enough that the fall in a few hours signals your brain to prep for some serious shuteye. If you find that you’re experiencing insomnia or other sleep disorders, you might be able to overcome them by squeezing in a workout on your lunch hour or your way home. Another benefit to working out in the afternoon? Testosterone in both men and women play a huge role in performance and your body naturally produces more testosterone during the afternoon.
The people getting the worst sleep? Night owls hitting the gym long after the happy hour crowd has come and gone. Cardio or strenuous workouts right before bed get your heart pumping and might justify the dessert you had with dinner, but it also makes it difficult to get to, and stay, asleep. Everyone is different, of course, but if you find that you have difficulty getting truly restorative sleep and you work out at night, try and switch up your routine and see if that helps.
The most important aspect of timing a workout is consistency—working out at the same time every daycan train your body to reach peak performance on a schedule.
What kind of workouts are best for sleep Now that you know when to hit the gym, what kind of workouts help you sleep?
Aerobic exercise Anything that gets your heart rate up—running, Zumba, cycling, etc—can make bedtime easier on your body. Getting 75-150 minutes of aerobic exercise a week can increase the quantity and quality of your sleep.
Strength training Building muscle has a few effects on your overall health. Developing muscle strength can have an impact on your ability to withstand and alleviate stress, which in turn leads to better, more restful sleep. Weight lifting helps balance hormones, improve posture, and keep your body in better alignment while you rest, too.
Yoga Yoga is often thought to be more like stretching than working out, but holding complex poses is great to train your muscles, get your blood flowing, and alleviate pain and soreness. Yoga can be relaxing and meditative while still challenging your body, giving you some of the great effects of strength training and meditation. Check out some of Harvard’s recommended yoga positions for better sleep.
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