How to use exercise to sleep better

Numerous studies have shown that the right kind of exercise done at the right time will help you feel more energized throughout the day and sleep better at night. If you’re sleep deprived, it’s likely that you fit into one of these patterns when it comes to exercise:

1. Feeling too tired to do any exercise.
Lack of physical activity inhibits the daily rise and fall of body-temperature your body clock needs to function well. It also promotes stagnation, which causes poor digestion and circulation issues. It’s common to get stuck in a cycle of reduced energy, lack of physical activity, and continually worsened sleep.

2. Exercising excessively or at night in an attempt to become totally exhausted.
This backfires on good intentions because your body becomes more stressed and stimulated under the added strain of physical exertion. If you have this ‘exhaust yourself to sleep’ approach, you may also tend to exercise in the evening. This increases your core body temperature at a time when it needs to be cool in order to wind down and fall asleep.

If you’re currently in either of these patterns, it’s okay—things will change quickly when you apply the following principles and make exercise your ally to great sleep.

Timing is key

The most beneficial time to exercise is in the morning because it raises your core body temperature at a time that is in sync with your body clock. When you exercise before 8.30am, you support your bodies’ natural rhythm of being switched on physically and mentally in the morning, which prepares you for a great day and a better sleep.

If you can’t exercise in the morning, do it around 3-4pm so your body temperature has time to decrease before bed. We need to be cool in order to fall asleep, so if you do exercise after 4pm, do a mild form of exercise that doesn’t raise your core temperature too much.

Avoid making the mistake of thinking you need to exercise for an extended period of time to gain any benefit. This isn’t true. Even just fifteen minutes of exercise each day—like walking around the block or moving freely to your favorite music—will make a noticeable difference. Our bodies are inherently cyclical, so it’s better to do a little exercise regularly than a lot once in a while.

Moderation is your friend

If you’re already exhausted and highly stressed by lack of sleep, it’s not helpful to exercise in a way that causes more stress to your system. So, only do mild or moderate exercise until you’re sleeping well and feeling stronger. If you haven’t been exercising at all, start easy—at a pace that feels good for you. If you start gently, you’ll soon get stronger and start sleeping better and then you’ll naturally want to do more.

Mild exercise lifts your mood and helps you relax. Try: Leisurely walking, gentle stretching, making love, mild yoga or tai chi. Its impact on sleep is variable, for example; gentle stretching is helpful just before bed, whereas leisurely walking is a little more stimulating, which means you’ll require some wind-down time before sleep. Experiment to see what works best for you.

Moderate exercise increases brain activity and core body temperature, which makes you feel more energetic, alert and positive. It’s best to do it in the morning or five to six hours before bedtime. Try: Walking at a good pace with gentle inclines, swimming, yoga, weight lifting, biking, dancing, belly laughing, trampolineing, playing frisbee, gardening, cleaning the car.

Enjoyment is paramount

The way you think about exercise has an undeniable effect on your motivation to do it or not. If you associate exercise with pleasurable benefits like feeling energized and sleeping well, you’ll be more inspired to do it regularly. Many people have very limited and uninspiring ideas of what exercise is, like running or going to the gym. But there are literally hundreds of ways you can exercise and enjoy yourself at the same time.

For example, walking is one of the easiest ways to exercise. It’s free and totally adaptable. You can do it almost anywhere, anytime, and easily fit it into your routine. It also has a positive impact on your mental and emotional state. Try making walking dates with your friends, rather than meeting in a café.

No matter what form of exercise you choose, you can use these tips to make it more enjoyable:

  • Listen to music or audio books while you exercise
  • Invite an uplifting friend to join you
  • Vary what you do to keep it interesting
  • Go to a class or play a team sport
  • Feel the deeply relaxing effects of exercising by lying down afterwards, closing your eyes and letting your body rest for a few minutes. You may start exercising just to experience this feeling of deep relaxation.

Try this: Imagine doing some form of exercise that you enjoy and feeling good as you do it. Imagine breathing deeply and feeling grateful for being alive. See yourself flooded with oxygen and positive hormones. Then imagine being deeply relaxed in the evening and able to fall asleep with ease.