Exercise Affects Your Sleep in Many Positive Ways

If you have ever expressed concerns or complaints about your sleep, you might have heard in response, “just try exercising more!” You may be tempted to roll your eyes and change the subject, because don’t you already do enough in a day? But there is a reason why exercise is so often linked to improving sleep, so take a moment to reconsider just how exercise could help you. 

How does exercise affect your sleep in positive ways?  Exercise allows for a better night’s rest. In turn, a better night’s rest means the chance for exercise that could facilitate mood boosts and weight loss.   

Determine your Chronotype

Exercise has long been linked to sleep quality, and for good reason. Aside from all the different benefits exercise has, from boosting mood to losing weight, exercise also does have an effect on sleep health. This article will explain how exercise impacts sleep, what the connection is between the two, and how you can start exercising for a better night’s rest. 

How does exercise affect your sleep in positive ways?  Exercise allows for a better night’s rest. In turn, a better night’s rest means the chance for exercise that could facilitate mood boosts and weight loss.   

How Can Exercise Affect Your Sleep?

There are a few different ways that exercise can influence your sleep: 


1. Can Treat Insomnia and Other Sleep Disorders

Many studies have been conducted to determine if exercise can, in fact, help alleviate symptoms of a sleep disorder or insomnia. There is evidence that supports the idea that exercise is effective in doing so. 

While there is a lot more research needed to have a better understanding of this, studies that have been conducted highlight aerobic exercise training in treating insomnia. A particular study showed that 4 months of this exercise training significantly improved sleep quality for those with insomnia. It also reduced daytime fatigue levels and symptoms of depression. 

Additionally, regular exercise was also found to reduce sleep-disordered breathing severity, specifically with obstructive sleep apnea. This study showed a 32% decrease in severity of OSA when subjects exercised regularly. 

2. Can Improve Sleep Quality and Quantity 

Regular exercise can improve both your quality and quantity of sleep. Physical activity helps to increase the amount of time you spend in deep sleep, which is what you need to feel refreshed in the morning and function at your best throughout the day. This phase is what helps your body restore itself; it supports cardiac health, reduces stress, anxiety, and depression symptoms, and boosts the immune system. Having a regular exercise routine will help you get significantly more amounts of deep sleep.

Exercise doesn’t just improve the quality of sleep, it improves quantity, too. Exercising on a regular basis can help you have a longer night’s rest, because it requires you to spend more energy and so you will feel more tired earlier at night.

3. Can Reduce Stress and Anxiety 

Finally, exercise can help reduce stress levels and symptoms of anxiety. Even just 5 minutes of aerobic exercise can induce anti-anxiety responses in the body that help reduce stress. A regular exercise routine can help decrease tension and improve and stabilize mood, self-esteem, and sleep. Mind-body exercise, such as yoga, can help you relax, lower cortisol levels, reduce blood pressure, and boost mood. 

Stress has long been linked to sleep problems of all kinds, so based on that alone, exercise that reduces stress can very well improve your sleep health as well.

As if exercise didn’t already have so many benefits, science shows that exercise does have a profound effect on sleep health and can make or break your sleep quality. It’s important to develop a regular exercise routine, even if it’s just 10 or so minutes a day, to have a healthier and more fulfilling lifestyle. 

Is There A Connection Between Poor Sleep and Physical Inactivity? 

This bidirectional relationship between sleep and exercise has been assumed for a long while, but only recently have more studies been conducted to find evidence that supports this claim. Overall, these studies found that adults with poor sleep were less active than those who didn’t have sleep problems or complaints. 

For instance, one study found that adults with insomnia were less active and had lower cardiorespiratory fitness than those without insomnia. The same can be said about adults with any sleep-disordered breathing in comparison to those without. Some reasons for this lack of physical activity could be excess weight that is associated with sleep disorders, an overall low energy level, and excessive daytime fatigue that results in a lack of motivation.

Additionally, there is more recent evidence that suggests a person’s diurnal preference, or the time they prefer to be awake and active, and the timing of sleep, is greatly related to physical activity. Those with greater levels of physical activity are found to be more “early birds,” with earlier wake times and more activity during the day. This may very well be connected to how exercise impacts the body’s circadian rhythms, but more research is required to determine this.

What’s most important to note is the fact that most of the studies conducted on these topics did show a connection between poor sleep and lack of physical activity. 

In this case, it’s reasonable to question whether or not improving sleep would also mean increasing physical activity. Unfortunately, very few studies have been conducted with this question in mind specifically, and the few that have been conducted don’t support the question. Rather, the studies show that simply improving sleep with either behavioral treatment or other forms of treatment isn’t sufficient enough to automatically increase physical activity levels as well. 

So, while there is definitely a correlation between physical activity and sleep quality, it’s important to note that improving one doesn’t necessarily mean improving the other. Taking action to increase your physical activity and exercise regularly will likely bring results in improving sleep, but not the other way around. 

When Should You Work Out? 

The time of day you should work out depends on your chronotype, which is your body’s biological clock, and the type of exercise you are striving for. 

According to Dr. Michael Breus, your chronotype is a classification of when your genetic propensity is to sleep, and it’s determined by the PER3 gene. If you have a long PER3 gene, you tend to be an early riser and need at least 7 hours of sleep to function, while shorter PER3 genes mean later rising and you can survive on less sleep (although 7 hours is still recommended!).

There are 4 chronotypes: dolphins, lions, bears, and wolves.

  • Lions are the earliest of risers and tend to go to bed earlier.
  • Dolphins are the lightest of sleepers and are easily awoken.
  • Bears run on a cycle that coincides with the sun and are most productive in the daylight.
  • Wolves stay up later and tend to sleep later as well. 

To learn what your chronotype is, take the quiz here

Here’s some suggestions for when you should work out based on what you want to get from your workout:

  • If you want to get more deep sleep, try jogging in the morning. Morning exercise is incredibly helpful for promoting deep sleep. Don’t exercise too early in the morning, though. Give yourself an hour or so after you wake up for your core temperature to rise and your muscles and joints to loosen; otherwise, you will be more prone to injury during your workout. 
  • If you want a workout that burns fat, try exercising before you eat your breakfast. A workout in which you fast helps burn more fat, because you don’t have the carbs and caloric density in your body yet to burn. So, your body looks to fat to burn energy. After you workout, make sure to eat a breakfast that is half carbohydrates and half protein, to keep your metabolism burning fat. If your chronotype doesn’t like mornings, you could also try this late in the day, as your body’s second fat-burning rhythm kicks in later. Doing this in the evening can help keep you from overeating in the morning, as well!
  • If you want to build muscle mass, time of day is not so important. Rather, look at the consistency and intensity of your strength training routine. 
  • Speaking of strength training, if you’re looking to optimize strength training, most chronotypes reach optimal levels of muscle strength in the afternoon or early evening. Try doing a strength training workout somewhere in those hours to get your best performance. On the other hand, you’ll want to avoid doing any strength training early in the morning, because your core temperature is at its lowest. 
  • Finally, if you’re trying to maximize your athletic performance, later in the day is your best bet. This is because physical performance peaks for all chronotypes a bit later in the day. For Lions, this is typically late morning, for Bears, mid-afternoon, and for Wolves, early evening. 

There are a few other things you’ll want to keep in mind about your chronotype and how it affects your exercise performance:

  • Physical power is your ability to exert strength and speed, and it fluctuates throughout the day, just as many things do! Your power depends greatly on your body temperature; the higher your core temp, the more flexible you are, the quicker your reflexes are, and the more stamina you have. Bears’ physical power peaks in the early evening at around 6 pm, while Lions peak a couple hours earlier and Wolves about an hour or so later. 
  • Team sports are best played around dusk, and slightly earlier for Lions. This is because all chronotypes will have relatively better moods and strong physical power around this time!
  • Flexibility, as mentioned before, is determined greatly by our physical power. So, if you are doing a workout that requires more flexibility, like yoga, pilates, or gymnastics, try and schedule it around your body’s peak temperature. This is about three hours after waking up and again in the early evening. Your body temperature is significantly lower within the first hour and a half of your wake time, again in the mid-afternoon, and lastly, starting about three hours before bed onwards. 
  • Avoid exercising near bedtime. Exercising too close to bedtime may interfere with your sleep, no matter your chronotype! Because exercise releases endorphins and raises your core body temperature, it can leave you feeling energized and stimulated. Which, if done before bed, might leave you tossing and turning for a while, so be mindful!

How Much Should You Exercise?

Another concern we often hear is how much exercise you might need to actually see or feel improvements in your sleep. Don’t worry; it’s not as much as you think!

Just 30 minutes of moderate exercise should be enough for you to enjoy better sleep that night. While it might seem daunting, breaking this up throughout the day can make it even easier to fit into a busy schedule. Even just taking a 10 minute walk on your break and doing a bit of yoga in the evening can be sufficient. 

Of course, each person is different and will need different things. Take some time to see how exercise affects you and your sleep personally, and adjust accordingly. We also recommend finding a specific exercise you enjoy, as it will help you stay motivated and actually stick with it regularly. 

Getting Started 

If you have not taken the time to exercise before or are worried about how to get started, don’t stress! It’s a lot easier than social media, dieting books, and other things may make it seem. 

Here are some simple tips on how to get started with exercising regularly:

  • Consult with a specialist to ensure you don’t have any health conditions that might put you at risk of injury. This is especially important for those 45 years and older, and for those who aren’t used to physical activity. If you do have limitations, this consultation can help you make a plan for workouts that work with your limitations. 
  • Create a plan that helps you reach your goals. Include attainable steps that will bring you closer to achieving them in a reasonable portion of time. Start with small goals!
  • Make exercising a habit by including it in your weekly routine and holding yourself accountable to it, as you would with work or a doctor’s appointment.
  • Make a schedule that works with your chronotype and correlates to what you want to achieve in your workouts. Start small; even just a few workouts a week can make a big difference. 
  • Stay hydrated. Drinking fluids throughout the day is essential to good health and will help you perform better workouts!
  • Stretch. Make sure you warm up before your workout and cool down afterwards. This helps improve flexibility and reduce post-workout soreness.
  • Have fun! Make exercising enjoyable. Listen to your favorite music, get some nice athletic gear, switch up your workouts, and even workout with friends! Keeping variety in your routines will help you not get bored and stay motivated, especially within the first few months before you start to see results. 

If you are struggling to sleep at night, are suffering from snoring, or just are interested in improving your sleep quality, we’re here to help! Our highly-trained team of sleep specialists are dedicated to your well-being. You can call us today at (703) 689-2480 for a free consultation, or schedule it online. We look forward to working with you! 

*Please keep in mind if you are dealing with snoring, you may be asked to use the app Snorelab prior to your consultation. 

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