How can exercise improve quality of sleep?

Dr. Kathleen Hall
Preventive Medicine
Exercise helps create deeper sleep patterns and patients fall asleep faster when they exercise. Dr. Gregg Jacobs of Harvard University maintains the benefit of exercise on sleep is because exercise is a stressor on the body. The brain compensates for the extra physical stress of exercise by increasing the depth of sleep of the individual. He also says that people with insomnia are many times more sedentary, which inhibits the rise and fall of the body temperature rhythm.
A Life in Balance: Nourishing the Four Roots of True Happiness

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A Life in Balance: Nourishing the Four Roots of True Happiness

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Dr. Daniel Hsu, DAOM
Alternative & Complementary Medicine
Exercise helps you sleep better because your stress hormone levels drop several hours after you exercise. Most people who have trouble sleeping have increased levels of stress hormones in their blood, keeping them chronically hyperaroused and awake. Exercise initially increases stress hormones, but the levels soon fall. That's why exercise is called “nature’s best tranquilizer.”

Studies show that regular exercise works well for preventing insomnia among older adults who find it harder to sleep as they get older.

Exercise also helps everyone experience a deeper, more restful sleep.
Exercise is most helpful if it is undertaken well before bedtime and dinner. Several hours before bedtime, do any doctor-approved moderate-intensity exercise that you enjoy, for about 30-45 minutes.
If possible, exercise before eating dinner.

Some types of exercise, such as yoga and tai chi, have been studied for their effects on insomnia. In a Harvard study, people who did yoga for 30-45 minutes daily fell asleep 30 percent faster and had 35 percent fewer night wakes than people who did not do yoga every day.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
We know we talk a lot about how important it is to get enough sleep and how vital it is to stay active. Here's a reason why: You can't have one without the other.

This news didn't rock our world. We've long known that exercise helps you sleep better. But that fact has been highlighted in neon pink, thanks to very specific data from a recent study.

If you get more than 20 minutes (go for 30 minutes) of exercise a day, you won't just sleep better. You'll sleep much better, getting 65% more restorative REM sleep. You'll also have energy to burn and you’ll be more alert, which means you’ll be less likely to zone out during meetings and more likely to know what your spouse said to you two minutes ago. Bonus: If you're prone to leg cramps at night, you can likely kiss those goodbye. Pretty slick for just 20 minutes of walking! Go for 30 minutes. (Did we say that already?)
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Mild nighttime exercise can actually help you wind down and decompress, plus it helps lowers your body temperature, which helps you fall asleep faster. 
You don’t need to do a full exercise routine; a quick workout like simple stretching or holding the plank position is a good way to slowly increase your heart rate without energizing you too much before bed. Every day, you’ll wake up fitter and better rested -- a win-win combination for your health and a more youthful appearance.

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A study from Northwestern Medicine published in the journal Sleep Medicine showed serious promise of the dramatic effects of exercise on people diagnosed with insomnia.

The people in the exercise group fared far better than the non-exercise group when it came to their sleep. Exercise not only improved their sleep quality--elevating them from being a “poor sleeper” to a “good sleeper” but they also reported feeling better. Their moods improved, and had more vitality and less daytime sleepiness.

Aerobic exercise has been shown to aid in sleep primarily by doing two things: 1) helping you fall asleep quicker; and 2) plunging you into deep (or delta) sleep for a longer period of time, which is where you need to be to feel refreshed and restored the next day. Other studies on people who participate in aerobic activities show that they have a tendency to secrete more growth hormone at night, which aids in repairing and rejuvenating the body. And let’s not forget the stress component to exercise: getting active tends to help us lower our stress levels, which allows up to calm down enough to welcome sleep!
Many people complain they do not have enough energy to exercise, they complain they are constantly tired and cannot sleep at night; they are up tossing and turning or dealing with insomnia. How can one improve their quality of sleep? One way is to do cardio exercise regularly.

Sleep is regulated by our body's temperature. While we are asleep at night our body temperatures are at their lowest, while we are awake our body temperatures are at their highest. When our body temperature starts to dip down this signals to our body it is time to get ready for sleep.

Cardio exercise can improve the quality of sleep you experience. While we exercise we raise our body temperature about 2 degrees, it takes about 3 hours for our bodies to lower its temperature back to average and then about 3 more hours to lower its temperature to get ready for sleep. This makes the late afternoon the best time to exercise. This was your body temperature is starting to go down around the time you want to go to sleep. By being able to regulate your body temperature along with your bed time you will get the full night's rest you have been craving. Also, the effects of burning calories, getting your blood flowing and your heart pumping will help you exert energy, release tension and stress, and allow you a peaceful night's sleep.
Many people report having better sleep when they exercise regularly. Typical improvements include falling asleep more quickly, longer periods of deep sleep, and feeling more refreshed in the morning. Because exercise has a positive impact on stress, anxiety, and depression, all of which interfere with sleep, exercise helps improve sleep and reduce emotional health problems. Outdoor exercise is beneficial because it also provides light therapy, adding extra sleep benefits.

There are many important qualities inherent in a good night’s sleep, including:
  • resistance to stress-related illnesses and immune function
  • start the day feeling invigorated and refreshed
  • reduced feelings of stress and an improved mood
  • allows you to experience all the effects of regular exercise
Maoshing Ni, PhD, LAc
Geriatric Medicine
It’s been shown that people with regular exercise routines have fewer bouts of insomnia. This could be because exercise promotes sleep and improves its quality by altering brain chemistry. Exercise moderately in the morning or afternoon 20 to 30 minutes, three times a week. Do not exercise before bed.

Exercise combined with meditation or tai chi in the evening will not only help you fall and stay asleep but may also increase the amount of time spent in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

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Exercise is considered part of a good sleep hygiene regimen. It is recommended to exercise for at least 20 minutes per day for most days of the week and preferably four to five hours prior to bedtime. There is some data showing that exercise too close to bedtime can make it difficult to get to sleep. If you are relatively inactive, even a ten-minute walk per day has been shown to improve sleep.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.