How Does Exercise Affect Sleep?

First added 5th July 2021

By Sophia Rimmer 

3 min read 

The link between exercise and sleep is one that has been extensively studied over the years. Whether you’re a competitive runner or more of a couch potato, the level of exercise you do can affect the length and quality of your sleep each night. To help you get the best night’s sleep possible, we look at how exercise affects sleep and how the amount of sleep you get consequently affects your exercise routine.

Related: Should You Drink Water Before Bed?

Why is Exercise Important?

Regardless of your age or condition, exercise has always been recommended to improve your physical and mental health. According to Mayoclinic, regular exercise can help you:

  • Lose weight or prevent weight gain
  • Prevent health conditions such as high blood pressure, a stroke, or diabetes
  • Improve your sex life
  • Improve your mood and ease symptoms of depression or anxiety

How Does Exercise Impact Sleep?

While exercise clearly has a range of benefits elsewhere, the link between exercise and sleep is also a positive one. According to a 2018 study exercise has been proven to increase the amount of time you spend asleep and decrease the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.

Another study found similar results. Roughly 76% of the adults studied who engaged in exercise reported very good or fairly good sleep quality. However, out of the participants who did not exercise, only 56% reported a decent night's sleep.

According to Charlene Gamaldo, M.D., medical director of Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep, exercise improves sleep quality by increasing the amount of slow wave sleep you achieve. This is a type of deep sleep where your brain and body can rejuvenate. As well as this, Gamaldo says that exercise can also help your mind get ready for sleep and is "cognitive process that is important for naturally transitioning to sleep".

Can Exercise Be Harmful Before Bed?

Although exercise has a positive effect on sleep, timing is important. Several studies have found that intense exercise during the 3-hour period before bedtime can in fact have a detrimental effect on your sleep. This is because immediately after exercise, your body temperature, heart rate, and adrenaline levels are increased. To prevent this, try to avoid heavy cardio-based exercises within the three-hour window before bedtime and opt for more relaxing exercises instead, such as yoga or meditation.

Can Sleep Help You Exercise?

While exercise helps you sleep, sleep can also help you exercise and be more physically active. As the above studies have found, those who experience light or insufficient sleep tend to be less active than their peers. In general, a lack of sleep will result in fatigue the following day, which will obviously make you less likely to do your daily workout.

As well as this, deep sleep helps the body to repair itself, so without it, you’re more likely to be at risk of injuries and not perform as effectively as you would after a full night’s rest. According to a study which monitored sleep and athletic performance amongst a men’s basketball team, those who were examined showed improved performance after a good night’s sleep. With improved sleep quality, their sprint times and shooting accuracy both improved.

What is the Best Time of Day to Exercise?

With exercise having a positive effect on sleep and vice versa, it’s important to schedule at least 30 minutes of exercise each day. Whether that’s a light walk or something more intensive. While we recommend avoiding exercise just before bed, the best time of day to exercise is completely dependent on your schedule and there are benefits to both a morning and afternoon workout.

The Benefits of Exercising in the Morning

Exercising in the morning releases endorphins, allowing you to start your day on a positive note according to Healthline. It is also beneficial for those losing weight as it boosts your metabolism, meaning you can burn more calories throughout the day.

The Benefits of Exercising in the Afternoon

For those who prefer an afternoon or early evening workout, one of the main benefits is increased performance. According to Healthline, your body temperature and reaction times are at their highest between 2pm and 6pm, meaning a workout will be most effective during this window, which is ideal for those who are training.

To sum up, exercise has a great effect on sleep duration and quality, as long as you don’t workout just before bed. We’d recommend a morning or afternoon workout followed by some relaxation exercises or yoga in the evening to help you get maximum snooze. For more sleep advice, browse our range of articles on our Snooze Hub.


More from Snooze Hub