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How Your Exercise Influences Sleep

In the quest for a healthier lifestyle, exercise and sleep emerge as cornerstones of well-being. Their interconnectedness is a subject of significant interest, leading to numerous studies exploring how physical activity impacts sleep quality and the onset of sleep, particularly in relation to the timing of exercise. This article delves into the systematic reviews and research findings that illuminate the effects of exercise on sleep.



a man exercising with dumbbells, sleepy ambience


The Positive Impact of Exercise on Sleep

Exercise is universally recognized for its myriad health benefits, extending significantly to the improvement of sleep quality. Systematic reviews have consistently shown that regular physical activity, whether aerobic or resistance-based, enhances all aspects of sleep, with notable improvements in sleep quality, efficiency, and duration. Specifically, resistance exercise has been highlighted for its effectiveness in improving sleep outcomes, demonstrating the greatest benefits for sleep quality when practiced consistently over time [1][2].


Furthermore, the benefits of exercise on sleep are not confined to any specific age group. Studies encompassing older adults have found that physical activity programs positively affect various aspects of sleep, suggesting that moderate-intensity exercise programs, executed with a frequency of three times per week for a duration ranging from 12 weeks to 6 months, yield significant improvements in sleep outcomes [3]. This indicates that the path to better sleep may lie in the regularity and type of exercise, with moderate activities being particularly beneficial.


Timing Matters: The Relationship Between Exercise Time and Sleep Onset

The timing of exercise plays a crucial role in its effects on sleep. Evening exercise, often thought to be potentially disruptive to sleep due to the stimulating effects of physical activity, has been examined with intriguing findings. Short-term evening exercise has been shown to delay melatonin rhythm and increase nocturnal core body temperature but does not negatively affect sleep quality or efficiency. This suggests that the timing of exercise, even when performed in the evening, can be compatible with maintaining good sleep quality, provided the intensity and type of activity are appropriately managed [4].



Exercise Intensity and Sleep

The systematic exploration of exercise intensity and timing has revealed that both acute and regular physical activity, irrespective of the time of day, contribute positively to sleep outcomes. High-intensity exercise does not significantly impair sleep quality; instead, it underscores the adaptability of the human body to various forms of physical exertion without compromising sleep [5].


Studies have demonstrated that moderate-intensity physical activity seems to be more effective than vigorous activity in improving sleep quality. This effect is evident across different populations, suggesting that moderate exercise can enhance sleep in both young and older adults. A systematic review highlighted that moderate exercise leads to better sleep outcomes compared to vigorous exercise, which may be associated with more pronounced physiological arousal potentially disrupting sleep [6][7].


Exercise Duration and Sleep

Regarding the duration of exercise, evidence suggests that longer bouts of physical activity, especially those extending beyond the typical durations recommended for health and fitness, may not necessarily provide additional benefits to sleep quality and might even be counterproductive if they lead to excessive fatigue or overtraining. However, regular, moderate-duration exercise, consistent with public health recommendations (e.g., 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity per week), is associated with significant improvements in sleep outcomes [2][3].


Combined Effects and Recommendations

  • Moderate-intensity exercise, characterized by activities such as brisk walking, cycling, or swimming at a comfortable pace, is beneficial for sleep when performed for recommended durations.

  • Timing of exercise also plays a role, with some evidence suggesting that engaging in physical activity too close to bedtime may disrupt sleep for some individuals, although this effect can vary widely [4].

  • Regular physical activity, irrespective of its intensity, tends to promote better sleep patterns, including reduced sleep onset latency (the time it takes to fall asleep) and increased sleep duration and efficiency [1].


Conclusion

The symbiotic relationship between exercise and sleep is undeniable, with extensive research supporting the notion that regular, moderate-intensity physical activity can significantly enhance sleep quality, duration, and efficiency. The timing of exercise, while important, is not as detrimental to sleep quality as previously thought, especially when activities are chosen wisely and performed regularly. This confluence of exercise and optimal sleep underscores the importance of integrating physical activity into daily routines for overall health and well-being.



 

References

  1. Kovačević, A., Mavros, Y., Heisz, J., & Fiatarone Singh, M. (2017). The effect of resistance exercise on sleep: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 39, 52-68.

  2. Dolezal, B., Neufeld, E. V., Boland, D., Martin, J. L., & Cooper, C. (2017). Interrelationship between Sleep and Exercise: A Systematic Review. Advances in Preventive Medicine, 2017.

  3. Vanderlinden, J., Boen, F., & Van Uffelen, J. G. Z. (2020). Effects of physical activity programs on sleep outcomes in older adults: a systematic review. The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 17.

  4. Kim, N., Ka, S., & Park, J. (2023). Effects of exercise timing and intensity on physiological circadian rhythm and sleep quality: a systematic review. Physical Activity and Nutrition, 27, 52-63.

  5. Kline, C., Hillman, C., Sheppard, B. B., Tennant, B., Conroy, D., Macko, R., Marquez, D., Petruzzello, S., Powell, K., & Erickson, K. (2021). Physical activity and sleep: An updated umbrella review of the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee report. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 58, 101489.

  6. Wang, F., & Boros, S. (2019). The effect of physical activity on sleep quality: a systematic review. European Journal of Physiotherapy, 23, 11-18.

  7. Kim, N., Ka, S., & Park, J. (2023). Effects of exercise timing and intensity on physiological circadian rhythm and sleep quality: a systematic review. Physical Activity and Nutrition, 27, 52-63.

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