How Does Exercise Affect Sleep? 8 Benefits

How Does Exercise Affect Sleep? 8 Benefits

Posted in Sleep Science
read time
10 mins

Exercise is great for your body and your sleep! It can benefit your sleep in many ways such as helping you fall asleep quicker, helping you sleep longer and resetting your sleep pattern. We’ll also explain the effects of exercising at night, when’s best to exercise for your sleep and why your sleep may be worse after exercising.

8 ways exercise can make you sleep better

Exercise can positively affect your sleep in many ways as good sleep and good exercise go hand in hand! Read on to discover exactly how incorporating exercise into your daily routine can help you get the most out of your rest.

1. Fall asleep faster

Your muscles will be more tired from the physical exertion and you’ll feel more worn out. This means you may fall asleep more quickly as your body needs to restore the energy it lost during exercise.

2. Sleep more deeply

As your body needs time to recuperate from all the energy you burn exercising, you might find yourself having a deeper sleep. This is because when you sleep it gives your muscles a chance to recover from your physical activity.

Man sitting up in bed and stretching

3. Sleep for longer

Who doesn’t want to enjoy a little bit of extra sleep in the morning? Depending on how much exercise you do, your body may need longer to recover and so you might find that you’ll sleep for longer.

If you’re worried that exercise may make you sleep in longer than you want, then going to bed earlier can help! Or, if you can, have a quick nap after exercising to help your body rest.

4. Relieves stress and anxiety

One of the main reasons why you might find it difficult to fall asleep or feel restless in the night is because of stress and anxiety. Implementing exercise into your day to day routine may help to ease these feelings of anxiety.

Below we’ve explained exactly how exercise can improve your mood:

  1. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins (happy hormones)
  2. The release of endorphins decreases the release of adrenaline and cortisol - so you’ll start to feel less anxious and stressed
  3. The more endorphins your body releases, the more your mood will improve!
  4. Overall, this means you might fall asleep faster and have a better sleep due to the reduction in your stress hormones

You don’t have to do vigorous exercise to help relieve stress and anxiety either! Certain exercises, such as yoga, in the evening can calm your mind so you're ready for sleep.

A woman doing yoga on her bed

5. Helps create a more structured sleep schedule

If you stick to a good exercise routine, it might help to reinforce a more structured sleep pattern. If you try to stick to a regular sleep schedule, the exercise you do in the day will help to wear your body out so you might feel tired enough to fall asleep at a more reasonable time.

6. Exposure to sunlight can help make you feel less tired

Exercising outside can have a great impact on your sleep! This is because exposure to natural sunlight suppresses the sleep hormone, melatonin, which can help to make you feel less tired in the day. By spending more time in daylight, melatonin will be suppressed. This means your sleep pattern will be based more on sunlight, so as it gets darker you’ll feel more tired.

Try going for a walk or run for some fresh air on a regular basis and see how much of a difference it makes for you!

A couple jogging in a park

7. May reduce the effects of sleep disorders

After exercising, your body and mind will be more tired than usual. This means you may fall asleep faster, and you may experience deeper and more restful sleep. These benefits could help to reduce the effects of sleep disorders.

If you’d like to know more about the effects exercise can have on your sleeping disorder, consult your local GP to receive specialised advice.

8. Can have similar effects to sleep medication

Physical activity has been shown to have similar effects to sleep medication. The combination of endorphins being released to reduce stress and anxiety, tiring your body out and helping to reset your sleep pattern all help to promote healthier sleep hygiene.

Always consult your doctor before making any changes to your lifestyle or how you use your medication.

Does exercising at night affect sleep?

It has been proven that vigorous exercising at night can negatively affect your sleep. Below we've explained why exercising within a few hours of sleep may not be very beneficial.

It raises your core temperature

As you exercise, your body temperature increases because of all the extra movement you’re doing. Although this means you're having a great workout, if you raise your core temperature too much before you go to bed it can impact your sleep. This is because your body temperature actually needs to drop by around 2 degrees before sleeping

Below we’ve explained exactly why this could be a problem for you and how to prevent this:

  • Your core body temperature increases as your muscles contract to create heat energy
  • This makes you warmer, so your body sweats to cool you down
  • If you don’t cool down and stretch properly after your evening workout, your body temperature will take longer to return to normal, which can impact your sleep

To avoid raising your core temperature too much at night, try exercising earlier on in the day or make sure that you take the time to stretch and fully cool down before going to bed.

For more help tips on how to keep you cool, check out our guide for keeping you and your mattress cool.

It makes you more alert

Exercise is beneficial in reducing the stress hormones, but it can make you feel more alert which can impact your sleep if you exercise too close to bedtime.

  • The release of the ‘happy’ hormones - endorphins - can make you feel a lot more awake and alert
  • This is great during the day as you’ll feel less sleepy, but making yourself feel more alert at night will make it harder for you to fall asleep
  • There’s also some evidence to suggest that exercise increases blood flow to the brain, which can make your brain more active, meaning it’ll be more difficult to fully relax before bed

To prevent this from happening, you could try a different type of exercise in the evening, such as:

  • Going for a leisurely walk
  • Yoga and stretching

These exercises allow you to still remain active but focus on clearing your mind and relaxing. If you do still want to do intensive exercise in the evening, it’s important to remember to always cool down and make time to relax before you head to bed.

Do what’s best for you

Not everyone fancies exercising in the morning, which is why it’s important to find a routine that works for you. Take this advice with a pinch of salt as exercising at night may work better for you or you might find it doesn’t impact your sleep at all. You could try exercising at different times in the day and see what works best for your sleep pattern. Just remember to be mindful as you know what’s best for your body.

A woman stretching on a bed

If you’d like to read more tips on improving your sleep quality, check out our guide to getting a better night’s sleep.

When is the right time to work out for sleep?

There’s no right or wrong time - it’s all down to preference. However, exercising at night may not be as good for your sleep as exercising earlier on in the day. Below we explain how you could exercise at each time of day to improve your sleep.

Morning

  • Moderate to vigorous exercise
  • Exercise outdoors
  • Stretches and yoga

If possible, try to do some moderate exercise outside before you start your day as this is when you’ll have the most energy. It’ll also help you to feel more alert and ready to start your day. The exposure to sunlight will help you to feel less tired as it suppresses your sleep hormone, melatonin, and help to reset your sleep cycle.

However, if you don’t want to spend too much energy exercising in the morning you could always begin your day with a couple of stretches to wake yourself up.

Man exercising in front of laptop

Afternoon

  • Moderate to vigorous exercise
  • Exercise outdoors

Try to get outside as this is when it'll be the brightest outside and melatonin, the sleep hormone, will be suppressed. This will help you feel more awake and help to reset your sleep cycle. Exercising in the afternoon also gives your body plenty of time to cool down and recover before going to bed, so you’ll find it easier to relax and fall asleep.

Evening/night

  • Light exercise
  • Stretches and yoga
  • Deep breathing and meditation

Intense exercise within a few hours of going to bed may negatively impact your sleep negatively so why not try some less strenuous physical activity? You could try yoga and stretching as it can help relax your body and clear your mind so you can feel more relaxed. Meditation is also great at night as it gives you the opportunity to let go of any anxieties you may have so they won’t keep you up at night.

Try different times to exercise to see what works best for you. If you’re more of a night-owl you might feel more productive and ready to exercise at night and sleep later on, or if you prefer early mornings you might like to get all your exercise done when you feel most awake. It’s completely up to you!

The NHS recommends that adults should try to do around 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of high-intensity activity a week.

Can exercise cause sleep problems?

There’s no proof that exercise can cause sleeping disorders, but exercising too close to bedtime can make it harder to fall asleep and cause restlessness. As long as you cool down correctly and are mindful of your body, it shouldn’t cause any major sleep problems.

Exercise can actually have the opposite effect - it can help with sleep problems. The extra physical activity will tire your body out more which can help you to fall asleep faster and have a deeper sleep. It can also help to promote healthier sleep hygiene because your body needs the rest.

If you’re concerned about the effects your exercise may be having on your sleep, speak with a healthcare professional for more advice.

Someone sleeping with trainers on in bed

Why is my sleep worse after exercising?

If you exercise too close to bedtime, you might find that it takes longer to get to sleep or that you’re more restless in the night. Exercising within a few hours of falling asleep can have the following effects on your sleep:

1. Restlessness

2. Feeling too warm

To avoid your sleep being disturbed by exercise, try exercising earlier in the day so your body has enough time to recover before you fall asleep. Alternatively, you could make sure that you cool down properly after you exercise so your core body temperature returns to normal. A lighter form of exercise, could be a better option than strenuous exercise.

Now you know all about how exercise affects sleep! Exercise can have many positive impacts on sleep, so it might be worth considering how to incorporate exercise into your routine. If you’re looking for some more general ways you can get a good night’s sleep, why not take a look at our top tips? Or if you’d like to find out more about the effects of exercise, try reading our guide to running and sleep. Remember to try different ways of exercising and see what helps your sleep the most. See your doctor if you have any concerns.