5 Exercise Habits to Get Better Sleep

D.C. dwellers, if you’ve been tossing and turning lately, it turns out you’re in good company. Not only was the city recently named “the undisputed Insomnia Capital of America” by the Calm app (and that was before the pandemic hit...or January 2021 rolled around), “coronasomnia” has taken hold everywhere. But it doesn’t have to be this way! In addition to developing a night-time routine, exercise can have an effect on your sleep. 

Here are five exercise habits you can start today to set yourself up for better sleep tonight.

Get some sunshine! Move outside within 2 hours of rising.

Perhaps you’re aware of the concept of circadian rhythm, the 24-hour biological clock that determines how our hormone levels fluctuate and signal to us when it’s time to do things like eat or rest. Much of the guidance out there connects with how light in the evenings (ahem, screen time) can mess with your circadian rhythm, which is true. But it’s also the case that getting sunlight first thing in your day helps to “reset” your sleep-wake cycle, signaling to your body that the daytime portion of your day has begun. If you miss out on sunlight, it can push this window back and make it harder to fall asleep at a desirable time in the evening. Even if you just walk around the neighborhood for 20 minutes, you’ll still get some UV light even on a cloudy day.

Elevate your heart rate. Get 10 minutes of aerobic exercise each day.

Aerobic exercise is the kind of movement that spikes our heart rate and requires the use of oxygen to adequately meet energy demands via aerobic metabolism. While the American Heart Association already recommends that people reach 30 minutes of some form of cardiovascular exercise at least 5 days per week, there’s more than just heart health at stake here. According to the National Sleep Foundation, exercise as short as 10 minutes of daily cardio can help you to fall asleep faster and wake up feeling more rested.

Add in mind-body movements.

Practices like yoga, qigong and Tai Chi have all been found to be excellent exercise practices to use on a daily or weekly basis as part of your overall workout regimen to help support solid sleep. Not only have these types of meditative movement practices been shown to reduce mental stress, but they also train us to notice where we may be holding tension and understand how to focus our breathing. Both of these are helpful tools that can be utilized to support anyone who may typically struggle to fall asleep or experiences sleep apnea.

Add in strength training.

If you don’t already have resistance training as part of your regimen, add ‘better sleep’ to the growing list of reasons to start. According to a paper in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, strength-based workouts (like leg presses, crunches, and curls) performed at moderate intensity in the morning helped the college students in the study to fall asleep about 45 minutes faster, and lifting weights in the evening improved the total quality of sleep. Either way, sounds like a win. If you don’t have weights at home (they’ve become a hot commodity these days) you can still use body-weight exercises like planks and pushups for upper-body and squats, lunges and wall sits for lower body.

Complete your workout at least 2 hours before bed.

There are two big reasons why this is important: For starters: it’s been shown that aerobic exercise can increase endorphins, which is terrific for our mood and appetite, but may also cause brain activity that sends your mind buzzing and keeps you awake. Plus, a workout right before bed can raise your core body temperature, which may also keep you awake. On top of that, considering you will want to take in some food—including protein to promote muscle protein synthesis—after a workout, you want to avoid that meal falling right before bedtime. That’s because when we eat and flop, the muscles that metabolize our food then have to work when they should be resting. Working out in the evening is totally fine, just make sure you leave enough time to eat and digest before bed. And if you must work out late, try to have a lighter, high-protein post-workout snack instead of a big meal.


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